Stewards of the Heartlands

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Longbush Free Range Pork — New Zealand's springtime brings operational changes

The arrival of spring brings new changes to the farm's operations with new marketing and distribution arrangements and a significant increase in herd size and added genetics — all with a continued focus on best practices with the farm's husbandry and welfare policies. Above is a view of the Longbush's expansion into rejuvenated old sheep paddocks to offer plentiful free range grazing for the Longbush pig herd.

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Catching up on the latest news from Longbush

During John’s visit to New Zealand in September, he and Kent travelled to the North Island and the Wairarapa region to visit Naya Brangenburg and Jeremy Wilhelm’s Longbush Free Range Pork operation and to see what progress and changes they have been making since the last visit in November 2016.

A wet winter in the Wairarapa made life rather more difficult for Longbush as the rain and weather slowed down fencing projects and continued rehabilitation of its paddocks. During our visit the rain was periodic and allowed minimum time for on-the-farm photos, however, we were pleased to be able to spend time with Naya and review what changes were in the wind for their business model and pork production.

John and Kent had the privilege of meeting one of Longbush’s loyal customers in Masterton, Joe Baker of Joe’s Meat Market who butchers and retails the Longbush brand of welfare-friendly pork. Joe let us photograph his retail shop and his butchering operation as ten Longbush pork carcasses arrived at the loading dock during our visit.

Afterwards, we met with Naya for an interview to learn how she and Jeremy are modifying their business plan to focus on pork production and relinquish retail and marketing activities to Woody’s Forequarter operation in Levin, New Zealand. Woody's has better transport options for national distribution and strong marketing resources. In turn, Woody’s has sent its pigs to Longbush for breeding and rearing with the carcasses going back to Woody’s for processing and distribution to its wholesale and retail clients, including Longbush’s high-end restaurant customers.

While this has meant a number of major changes, Naya was positive about how this was going to strengthen both the production and marketing activities because with Longbush's growth, it was too difficult to manage the development of both activities.

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Longbush will be able to concentrate on providing Woody’s with high health, high welfare, quality pork demanded by a growing, discerning clientele of chefs and consumers who are keen to support the locavore movement for ethically produced pork protein.

To achieve the quality pork to meet the discerning customer demand, Longbush starts with their genetic base of Large Blacks, Durocs and Berkshire breeds. The high-end market is moving away from the modern hybrid breeds that have tended to produce overly lean protein resulting in lost flavor and moisture characteristics.

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Durocs are crossed with Large Blacks to produce highly sought marbling characteristics that add colour, flavour and moisture to the pork. This genetic cross called “Blackrocks” has enabled hybrid vigour resulting in higher health and highly-sought after carcass quality and flavour characteristics. The Berkshire breed is highly rated for its quality pork characteristics as well.

The branding as Longbush Free Range Pork remains an important element and has already earned a valued trademark recognized in the high-end marketplace of demanding chefs that put the name on their menus.

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A new innovation has been the development of an app for chefs to use to conveniently order their pork, as well as vegetable and fruit produce. This has eliminated a manual system of ordering and streamlined the distribution. The new app is available at HospoConnect.com

Naya’s background as a veterinarian and her first-hand experience looking after animal welfare issues for the NZ government are major driving forces behind establishing Longbush’s reputation for best welfare practices that ensures pigs have access to pasture for their whole life. There is no castration or immunocastration. Pigs are also fed a vegetarian diet that is GMO free. The basis of Longbush’s animal welfare philosophy is to accept that pigs are sentient animals and while they are on the planet, they need to be happy. This is another reason for moving the marketing activities outside the farm business so the focus can be on raising happy, healthy pigs.

The conventional wisdom of what establishes animal welfare is moving to another paradigm away from the “Five Freedoms” generally espoused as the accepted minimum level of animal production welfare requirements: hunger and thirst; discomfort, pain or injury; fear and distress; and the ability to express normal behavior.

Naya’s conviction comes from the animal welfare research being driven by New Zealand’s Massey University’s Professor David Mellor who contends animal welfare is more than the five freedoms and extends our understanding into realizing animals need rewarding experiences of exploring, bonding, care of their young, sexual interaction and playtime.

The net result is that removing physical and physiological stress reinforces the health of the immune system, and with less stress better meat quality results. A worthwhile article on Professor Mellor’s work is found here:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/87572537/massey-prof-recognised-for-animal-welfare-work-over-29-years

We will continue to follow Longbush’s evolution as it breaks new ground in establishing its position in the New Zealand pork market with high health, high welfare, high quality pork that differentiates itself from the imported, intensively produced pork from abroad that lacks the valued characteristics expected by demanding chefs and consumers.

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Scenes from our visit to Longbush Free Range Farm and Joe's Meat Market, Masterton, New Zealand

© John Gevers 2017 // Powered by liveBooks