Farmer Jim Mather takes great pride in “growing fantastic animals” on his farm near Foxton - but he was still surprised to find a ham from one of his pigs had won the highly coveted Supreme title in the 2022100% New Zealand Bacon and Ham Awards.
“We know it’s fantastic pork - because our pigs want for nothing,” says Jim.
“But you don’t usually get a lot of validation for your product as a farmer. We really appreciate that the winner made a point of making sure we knew it was one of ours - we’re absolutely delighted.”
Jim and wife Katie, along with Jim’s parents Rob and Karen, farm sheep, beef cattle and pigs over 320 hectares. They produce over 9000 pigs for market each year. The winner came from a pig processed by Cabernet Foods in Carterton and then sold on to Westmere Butchery in Auckland, which prepared the bone in leg ham that took the top title.
Judges said the Westmere ham was a stand-out entrant, describing it as “insanely delicious”.
Fourth generation farmer Jim has worked with pigs all his life. His father started a small piggery in Longburn in the 1970s before establishing a larger operation when he moved to their current Castle Glen Farms location.
“I was born in 1980 and on the same day I was born, a sow farrowed for the first time on the farm,” he says.
“When I was a baby, Mum would take me to the piggery and put me in a box with my toys, under one of the heat lamps we use to keep the piglets nice and warm. I’d be happy as anything, playing, while she helped Dad with his work.”
The pigs are farmed indoors in temperature-controlled facilities to ensure the most comfortable living conditions.
“Our philosophy for our pigs is that they never want for anything,” says Jim.
“They always have ample food, water, comfortable conditions and optimum temperatures.
"We don’t skimp on anything. That’s to the detriment of the bank balance sometimes - we get through 1900 tons of high-quality grain every year - but happy pigs, who are never stressed, are the key to really good pork. You come in here at any time of the day and you’ll find them just eating or chilling - pigs like to sleep a lot.”
Jim says he enjoys the character and personality of pigs, which makes them a pleasure to work with.
There are currently 340 sows on farm, all sourced from the world-leading Pig Improvement Company (PIC). Jim’s passion for the quality of his product is evident as he talks about “exciting developments on the horizon as PIC has a new Duroc pig breed, which produces exceptionally succulent and delicious pork”.
He’s also enthusiastic about the increasing choice for consumers around how their 100 per cent New Zealand born and raised pork is prepared.
“In the past, it has mostly been about chops and roasts required by the consumer, but now the choice of cuts are increasing which is nice to see . We supply to Cabernet Foods and they are doing good things with different cuts which is exciting for us as a producer and great for promoting the pork industry.”
“There’s a butcher in Levin doing Spanish style porchetta with macadamia stuffing with our pork. No part of the pigs get wasted nowadays and every part is delicious.”
Jim’s personal favourite pork cut is a stuffed shoulder but he’s also partial to barbecued pork.
“We have supplied barbecue restaurants in Auckland and they loved it.”
Jim employs five full time staff and says they are critical to the comfort and welfare of the pigs and the quality of the pork.
“They are so hard-working and dedicated to the welfare of the animals, we have a great team who are very skilled and experienced at what they do. Winning the Supreme Title is a real feather in their caps, an accolade for them.”