Te Taunga is a rugged 900 hectare property near Owaka in South Otago that supports over 4500 sheep and breeding cows.
It looks like any other farm in the Catlins, the only difference is it’s certified organic. Bruce and Denise McGill switched from conventional to organic farming about 30 years ago.
Bruce says. “We started to question some of the things that farmers were doing automatically. You’ve got to spray for everything, whether it’s weeds, its bugs in your pasture or bugs in your crops, people are always using chemicals out of a drum, and we thought why put chemicals into the food chain when we know that humans are going to eat it, it just seems to be a crazy thing to do!”
When the McGill’s began farming organically they found that stock were just as healthy and production levels could be maintained, but they also learnt that the organic system requires greater management skills because there is not the flexibility of using a chemical product to fix a problem.
After processing, most of the lamb from Te Taunga goes to the UK and because they farm on hard hill country, the weaner calves go to organic finishers and are eventually sold to organic meat markets around the world.
“We get an additional premium for our organic meat and that’s what makes it satisfying, you’re producing high quality product and the consumer recognises that and is prepared to pay a bit more than the conventional because you buy conventional meat in New Zealand you don’t know whether it’s been jabbed with some nasty in its lifetime, in some cases it has, with certified organic there’s a guarantee that there’s been no nasty input put into the animal.”
Bruce and Denise’s daughter Cara and her husband Neil assist with the running of the farm. They also produce honey and have a horse trekking business, Te Taunga Adventures which is based on the property. In the off season Cara’s horses have the run of the farm.
Cara says “They actually live the winter on a 70 acre hill block so they get to be real horses, they get to socialise with each other, they’re all bare foot trimmed and not covered so that fits in with the organics too as we treat them as naturally as we can” she says.