Lack of processing facilities is becoming a greater challenge for pig producers especially smaller scale farmers.

Free range Large White cross sows at Coquon Farm Gosforth near Maitland. Photo supplied.
Free range Large White cross sows at Coquon Farm Gosforth near Maitland. Photo supplied.

Once regional centres throughout the state each had their own abattoir often owned by councils or operated as co-operatives.

Think Maitland, Newcastle, Gosford, Wyong, Gunnedah, Wingham, Macksville, Mudgee and Tamworth to name but a few.

Today only two of those centres still have fully operational meat works and in the case of Wingham it is a cattle only export licenced works.

Urbanisation and extremely tight margins would be the two main reasons for their demise during the past 40 years although some would add the cost of government regulations and power to the reasons for the closures.

But less abattoirs is not good news for producers, especially small, boutique producers, and the need to move livestock over greater distances for processing raises many animal welfare concerns plus the economic costs involved in transport.

In the Hunter Valley and Mid North Coast we still have four abattoirs at Scone, Kurri Kurri, Whittingham and Wingham with only Kurri Kurri doing sheep as well as cattle.

If you want pigs processed the options are very limited, especially since Eversons Food Processors, Frederickton near Kempsey, ceased pigs processing earlier this year.

You can take pigs to a meatworks at Binnaway or Northern Co-operative Meat Company's facility at Booyong near Byron Bay or Tablelands Premium Meats at Canowindra.

Tablelands Premium Meats, founder and owner Steve Tamplin said Oberon, Picton and Wollondilly have all now ceased pigs processing, usually because they have halal certification, and therefore can no longer process pigs on the same meat chain.

"Unless you have two facilities once you gain that certification you can no longer have pigs at the meat works.

"We chose not to follow that path and in fact we have invested money, a great deal of money, on a new automated facility to increase our pigs processing throughput"

Mr Tamplin's abattoir employs 11 full time staff and it's truly multi-species processing emus, quails, rabbits, duck, poultry, deer, pigs as well as cattle and sheep.

He has been involved in the industry for decades having worked as a auditor in work health and safety at abattoirs before starting his own in 2012.

According to Mr Tamplin, who is an accredited meat inspector, it is much easier and much more cost effective to process just one species which means producers of livestock other than cattle and sheep struggle to find a processor.

Offering the complete processing option from slaughter through to packing and labelling Mr Tamplin who also owns a farm and retail outlet in Orange said his aim is to support independent growers who market their own meat.

But Tablelands Premium Meats is a rarity these days and for pig producers even mobile abattoirs generally confine their businesses to sheep, cattle and goats.

This fact is one reason Adriana Mansueto, Coquon Farm, Gosforth near Maitland is currently in a 'hiatus' when it comes to producing pork.

Coquon Farm Gosforth near Maitland used to supply pigs to Hunter Valley hatted restaurants.

Coquon Farm Gosforth near Maitland used to supply pigs to Hunter Valley hatted restaurants.

Following the closure of the Eversons pig processing chain and no way of getting the pork back to the Hunter from other processors she decided to look for other markets for her suckling pigs.

Operating a mixed farm the 15 sows are run free range along with cattle, sheep, bees, turkeys and chickens. Crossing a Duroc boar with Large White sows Adriana said the offspring were suited to the outdoors and produced beautiful meat without too much fat.

For a number of years she was supplying hatted restaurants in Pokolbin and the Hunter with suckling pigs with the chefs using the whole animal in their meals.

"I have people buying the sucklings from us at present but the restaurant market we cannot supply due to the lack of processing facilities. It is frustrating and it would be good to see more local processing facilities to change the current situation."

Also very concerned about the lack of processing facilities throughout the state for pigs is Jayce Morgan, Development Officer Pigs, Livestock Systems, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Tamworth.

Ms Morgan has long sought an increase in facilities but understands they are businesses and therefore subject to all the vagaries of operating a profitable enterprise in a challenging environment.

"Abattoirs that are kosher or halal certified stop doing pigs and there is also the fear of African Swine Fever as if there is a case for example at a multi species works then they would have to close and go through the necessary procedures before reopening and that affects there processing of other livestock," she said.

"Anywhere south of Cowra or Young these days pigs have to go to Victoria for processing. Also concerning is should any of the few pigs processing works shut, for whatever reasons, the remaining abattoirs would be unable to handle the extra work."

At a time where people are worried about food supplies during the COVID-19 lockdowns the scarcity of service kills works for independent meat retailers is a real concern.

Mr Tamplin said COVID-19 had seen his business boom as more and more people wanted to buy direct from producers.

Ms Morgan agreed that the pandemic had made consumers more aware of where their food came from and the need to consume locally grown products.

"But unless we can have a more locally based processing sector for pigs the option for growers and consumers will be limited," she said.

"On so many levels its important to have easily accessible processing of livestock."

This story Pig producers in need of processors first appeared on The Scone Advocate.