Our Pork Farmer
Pasture raised pork from Near River Produce
Located on the NSW mid-north coast inland from Port Macquarie, Andrew and Therese Hearne at Near River Produce raise rare breed heritage pork ethically on pasture and, in better times, seasonal vegetables are grown in the fields. They firmly believe it is important for you to connect with the food you eat and know the story about how it is produced and by whom, and to also be aware of the impact that the quality of the food that you eat has on your health, the health of society and the health of the environment.
Near River grow, Berkshire and Wessex Saddleback heritage breeds, prized for their flavour and intramuscular fat, attained by slower growth rates than many commodity breeds use in other systems. At times this can lead to a greater fat content than recent cultural training has condition society to, though as any chef will tell you, the fat is where all the flavour is.
In addition to the pig’s daily grain ration and the pasture and roots available to them, recovered feed inputs from food businesses are sourced. This includes whey from the local creamery and brewers’ grain from craft breweries, utilising items that may otherwise end up in the waste stream.
The animals spend their whole lives outdoors, with access to rudimentary shelters in the paddocks and for the sows when farrowing. Weaning occurs at eight weeks rather than earlier in the commodity pork field. There are no confinement practices like sow stalls or gestation pens, nor any tail docking. We believe that fresh air and sunshine along with a good, varied diet provides the best medicine, allowing for no vaccines or dip use. What we do do is provide an environment for the pigs to range within their rotated paddocks, eat the grasses and roots they find, and wallow in the mud at will.
When it comes to processing the animals, they personally load and transport their animals for their one bad day further ensuring minimal stress prior to processing.
Previously Andrew and Therese were very active at farmers market and direct sales, though now find relationships with folk like us more suitable to their lifestyle.
Their pasture raised pork has garnered State Award wins in the prestigious delicious. Produce Awards in the From the Paddock category in 2021, 2020, 2018 and 2016 which they are most proud of, along with it being sought out by many leading chefs.
What is pasture raised pork?
According to Pork Australia, around 90 per cent of Australian pigs are housed indoors, often referred to as factory farms, for each stage of their life. The pasture raised free range pork we sell is different.
Pasture raised pork describes pork that has come from pigs that are:
- Raised outdoors and have unlimited access to fresh pasture.
- Obtain a significant benefit from the pastures they are raised on, are able to root and forage, and express their natural pig instincts.
- Receive supplementary feed and self regulate when and how much they eat.
- Experience rotational grazing on pastures that have not been depleted below 40% ground cover (to dirt and dust).
- Are part of a herd where the stocking density does not exceed the welfare standard 20-25 pigs per hectare.
- The animals are provided with shade and shelter which they are free to access at any time.
- No mating stalls or farrowing crates.
At any one time, Melanda Park will only have 160 sows on their farm which they divide into 8 groups of 15 depending on their developmental stage. Those 15 sows then share 2 hectares of pasture and a couple of Maremma sheepdogs for protection. These conditions far exceed the minimal welfare standard set out in the free range guidelines.
Not all free range farms are the same. To be sure of the life quality of the animal, look for clear information on the brand’s website to determine their definition of free range to ensure you are getting the meat quality you believe you are paying for.
If you are interested in adopting a nose-to-tail, whole animal approach to eating, our 1/4 pig shares are a great way to consciously and sustainably consume pork meat.
Understanding pork labelling in Australia
Did you know? 70% of Boneless Pork sold in Australia is Imported.
Boneless pork is the pork predominantly used to make bacon and hams. While Australia’s system for raising pigs is far from perfect, the conditions for pigs grown overseas is generally worse.
We should commit to buying pork raised in Australian, and sustainably consuming the animal by embracing a nose to tail approach to eating—this will reduce the demand on imported boneless pork.
What does Bred Free Range Mean?
This type of labelling can be easily confused with Free Range Pork but it is different. Bred Free Range means the pigs were born in a free range environment (that is their mother lives in a free range environment but once weaned the piglets are raised indoors either in large open sheds with straw bedding called ‘ecoshelters’ or in pens on concrete floors as in conventional pig farming systems like ‘loose housing’.
What is the definition of Sow-stall Free Pork and Loose Housing?
Sow-stall Free Pork refers to pigs that have come from indoor group housing not stalls. Since 2017 pork from Australian producers is sow-stall free. 95% of pork raised in Australia comes from Loose Housing farming.
Loose Housing means:
- A sow can be placed in a mating stall for up to 5 days to mate. These stalls have enough room for the male and female pig to mate and are used to protect the sow, in conventional farming, from other sows during the early stages of fertilisation.
- Once the sow leaves the mating stall until until one week before she gives birth/farrows (about 115 days) she lives in loose housing. The size of the housing only requires enough room for the sow to turn around and extend her limbs. The sow may be a pen with other sows (enough room for each) or an individual pen.
- At one week before giving birth/farrowing until the piglets are weaned (about 5 weeks in total), the sow is placed in a farrowing pen (also called farrowing crates). These pens are designed to limit the sow from moving so piglets aren’t accidentally squashed. Farrowing pens are a concern for the industry and animal rights groups but to date no alternative within the conventional farming industry has been successfully developed to eliminate or replace them.
- After weaning her piglets, sows are typically on heat within a few days and will return back to a mating stall.
Picture: Lindsay Moller Photography