23 Feb 2024

'He's a very good looking pig, that one!'

From Country Life, 7:27 pm on 23 February 2024
Country Life

Hello, my name is Griffin Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Rick Martin and Nairn Illingworth farm a drove of happy heritage pigs on their small farm in Marlborough's Onamalutu Valley.

When Country Life visited it was a hot and dry February day. The pigs didn't seem to mind though.

Weaners wallowed in pools of mud and fossicked in long grass, a sow snored as she fed her hungry litter, while other bigger pigs enjoyed an early dinner.

Country Life

Rick Martin and Nairn Illingworth Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Country Life

Clara Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Rick and Nairn moved to their bushy little farm about 12 years ago. Before that, they ran the Junction Hotel at Spring Creek, just north of Blenheim.

Rick says transitioning from hospitality to farming wasn't too challenging.

"When I left school I went dairy farming for a few years, and Nairn's parents had a farm at the top of the Waihopai Valley, so we both have a farming background."

Now they run a Duroc boar, six breeding sows and whatever offspring they have.

"We can get up to 60 and we've been bigger than that, but since Covid we've dropped the numbers back," Rick said.

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Jules, Griffin, Betty and her mum Morag Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

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The piglets love wallowing in mud. Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The couple take a nurturing approach towards their animals and try not to get too attached, but this doesn't always work.

When sows have litters that are too big to feed, Nairn cares for the hungry runts in the house, until they're strong enough to go back to the paddock.

"They sleep by the fire for the first couple of nights and then we have other areas with heat lamps, and it's funny, the TV's going or there are dogs barking, but they sleep through it," she said.

Most of the food the pigs eat comes from local businesses.

"We collect the spent barley from DNA Brewing, we get whey from Cranky Goat cheese, vegetable scraps from a couple of greengrocers in town and we also get bread, so it's all recycled," Rick said proudly.

"He's a very good-looking pig that one," Nairn said of one of the bigger piglets with large black spots, "rather cute when he was smaller but now they're big and growing out nicely so they will be going to Harris Meats within the next few weeks.

"When they're in the paddock, they don't look that big, but once they're on the hook, they are a lot bigger."

Country Life

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Country Life

Rick spends a lot of time caring for his pigs.  Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Depending on how fast they grow, pigs are at the farm for six and eight months before going to Harris Meats in Cheviot for slaughtering.

Rick takes them to the abattoir himself, so it's less stressful for them.

"It's the worst part of the whole process. But that's what has to be done. But when they come back and they're hanging in the chiller, you know, you can see the benefit of all that hard work."

When they're returned to the farm the next day, Rick butchers the carcasses, averaging about 85 kilograms, in his commercial kitchen and butchery.

The fresh pork is sold at the Marlborough Farmers' Market every Sunday. He also cooks some of the meat and sells it in buns.

"So we do bacon butties and a porchetta, which is an Italian style, slow roasted pork with garlic, rosemary and thyme."

"It's a little bit of work," he says, "but people have been coming to the market every week for years to buy them."

Country Life

A piggie adventure. Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes