Pig farming in New Zealand can be a rewarding and potentially lucrative venture. There is increased demand for protein in the food supply chain and pig products are optimally suited to meet this need. With the vast expanses of land in New Zealand, there are ample opportunities for raising livestock for profit, but raising pigs has unique challenges when compared to sheep or cattle. These challenges go beyond just their healthy appetites. Pigs need shelter and controlled temperatures, but also need social interaction and segregated birthing, or farrowing. Additionally, most farms have dedicated facilities for the increased demands of farrowing, rearing, and weaning piglets. Each of these factors requires that farmers accommodate the needs of their pigs, though this can be accomplished in different ways depending on the goals of the pig farm. 

There are different methods of pig farming in New Zealand suited to different climates, breeds, farm size, production capacity, and lifestyle. Pigs require shelter, a balanced diet, comfortable temperatures, and have complex social, health, and reproductive needs. These have to be managed safely and humanely, while running a profitable operation.

Say you’ve decided to take the plunge into pig farming in New Zealand. While the best way to learn anything is to do it, not everyone has that choice. If you can, we’d recommend spending some time working on a running pig farm to get to know the big picture, as well as the ins and outs of a pig farm’s operation. Ultimately, your goal is to raise healthy pigs because a healthy pig is a happy pig; a happy pig is a growing pig; and as they say (if they don’t, they should!), “the bigger the pig, the bigger the payday.”

Pig Farming Primer

Pigs are a lot like people. They are needy and have to have good genes, proper nutrition, shelter, good physical and mental health, and reproductive support to thrive. Without these things, like us, they will still survive and grow and reproduce, but they will not reach their potential. Luckily, thousands of years of agricultural advancements and science have enabled us to fine tune what exactly a pig needs, not just to survive, but to thrive and grow so their characteristics meet our needs.

The first ingredient when raising pigs is genetic lineage. Among the 2 billion pigs alive today, most of them share a majority of their genes, but this was due to the intentional selection for breeding pigs, or boars, that were best adapted to the life of husbandry, as well as for the characteristics of the pigs when it comes time for slaughter. There is still variety among pig breeds and some breeds may be better suited for certain climates and husbandry environments, but the domesticated pig predominates. Pigs were traditionally raised on small farms because they could consume much of the byproducts of other agricultural commodities such as whey or other dairy waste streams. After radical changes in diet developed in the 1970s shifting pigs toward an all-meal barley and maize diet, much of the pork production has shifted to larger operations able to take advantage of economies of scale while maximizing pig health and growth. In spite of this, pigs can still be fed most any agricultural byproducts provided you have a steady supply.

Raising a Healthy Pig

Beyond genes and nutrition, pigs also need social interaction with each other and their handlers. This is a two-way street as regular interaction of a farmer with his pigs will ensure he catches any pigs that are unwell before their problems worsen. Pigs have a number of health issues that are manageable if caught on time and treated properly. A pig’s health starts with their shelter because they can’t effectively thermoregulate. Contrary to popular belief, they need warm, dry, draught-free, comfortable, and clean housing to truly thrive. Dirty or unsanitary conditions encourage parasites and allow other illnesses to take hold and can devastate your piggery. Likewise, crowded conditions can encourage disease spread and cause hierarchical conflicts, particularly when it comes to breeding time. Female pigs, or sows, are very competitive and can bully one another to compete for superiority. It is often necessary to separate weaker sows to ensure they are able to feed sufficiently. When it’s time to farrow, pigs are more susceptible to disease and complications and these can be passed on to the piglets. For this reason, a sow is often isolated in clean, fresh, regularly changed bedding and shelter to minimize the inherent risks of the farrowing process until mother and piglets are out of the woods. While this isn’t comprehensive, you can already see how much more complicated raising pigs might be than cattle or sheep and some of the important considerations before you get started.

Pig Farming Methods

A pig farm can take many forms depending on the particular methodology a farmer chooses to follow, with each style having its advantages and disadvantages. Available choices are the more common indoor pig farming and less common outdoor pig farming, which can be either free farmed systems or free range systems.. As noted above, a pig needs constant access to shelter to preserve their comfort and their health and among the different farming methods, this aspect of their husbandry is nonnegotiable. A pig’s inability to thermoregulate determines when they seek shelter, as well as their feeding habits and social interactions. The farm composition must take this into account along with the number of pigs and the climate they’re in to find the right balance for the pigs’ optimal well-being.

Indoor Pig Farming

Indoor pig farming in New Zealand accounts for about 55% of all pig farms. This method enables farmers to more meticulously control the pigs’ environment and all its repercussions. Particularly useful in this method is the ability to compartmentalise pigs depending on their stage of growth or reproduction to more ideally suit their developmental needs. These can be situated in any climate since the elements will only determine insulation levels.

Outdoor Pig Farming

Alternatively, outdoor pig farming comprises the other 45% of pig farms in New Zealand. This can take the shape of either a free farmed or free range pig farm. Common to these systems is a moderate climate, relatively low precipitation, and free-draining soil which limits the geographic extent of them primarily to the South Island. A majority of outdoor pig farms in New Zealand are free farmed whereby there is an outdoor-based breeding herd that lives permanently outdoors but with access to clean and temperature-controlled shelter. There is also a controlled indoor component to the free farmed system where pigs are grown after weaning. The free range method only makes up about 2% of the pig farms in New Zealand. Similar to the free farmed method, free range pig farms also have an outdoor breeding herd with access to shelter. The primary difference from free farmed is that free range pig farms have sheltered outdoor pens for pigs while they wean and grow before they are transitioned to fully outdoors as they reach their grower-finisher period. These styles are in use in the large pig farms in New Zealand, but it is possible to apply these same methodologies to smaller farms depending on your farming interests, land availability, budget, and personnel. 

Pork Industry

Pig farms generate several different products for the pork industry and are an essential part of New Zealand’s economy. Knowing how to get involved and start or operate a pig farm are prerequisites to playing a part in this growing industry. Farmers have to communicate with their family, their neighbors, their local and regional councils, as well as processors to identify proper techniques and channels for their pork products, waste products, and administrative responsibilities. Legal requirements can be a major impediment to setting up and running a successful pig farm so communicating clearly with councils from the start can eliminate some of the headaches you may encounter down the road. Additionally, knowledge of and compliance with the Animal Welfare Act of 1999 will help farmers to meet many of their legal obligations regarding rules governing animal husbandry and slaughter. Another important document is the Animal Welfare Code of Welfare 2010 which establishes 19 minimum standards for producers to meet when working in animal husbandry. 

The trade group New Zealand Pork works to educate farmers, consumers, the government, and community about the advantages of pig farming in New Zealand, while also providing abundant resources for these stakeholders. At an estimated $1 billion contribution to New Zealand’s economy annually, the industry is strong and growing and there are ample opportunities for continued growth. 

Related Questions

How do I raise a pig in New Zealand?

A pig has unique needs compared to other animals commonly raised in New Zealand including shelter, diet, and social interaction. Before acquiring a pig, it is best to consult relevant councils and animal husbandry support organizations for guidance on applicable rules and legal matters.

What regulations govern pig farming in New Zealand?

Regulations governing pig farming in New Zealand, as well as other animal husbandry, are implemented at the national level for sanitation and animal welfare, disease prevention, employer obligations, and more. There are also relevant laws on zoning, boundaries, resource use, and waste disposal implemented at the regional and district council levels. 

How big is the pork industry in New Zealand?

There are over 125 large-scale pig farms and countless smaller operators in New Zealand, collectively raising more than 700,000 pigs each year. The pork industry in New Zealand is valued at over $1 billion annually.