Auckland Council is one of the largest urban farmers in the region, covering nearly 1500 hectares of coastal pasture across 20 of its farmed regional parks, spreading from Rodney in the north down to Franklin in the south.
With some of the most spectacular coastal farmland in the region, council farming operations provide a cost-effective means of retaining these large open spaces, while also providing a rural experience for urban visitors and reducing the rates burden on Aucklanders.
Our approach to farming
We take a holistic approach across the region to ensure we have quality pastures, healthy animals, sustainable practices that balance the natural environment and recreational activities and return a profit.
Our parks offer visitors access to operational farms and opportunities for close encounters with farm animals, including around 1000 head of cattle and 5500 ewes. Ambury Regional Park, for example, functions both as a working farm, as a recreational destination, and plays an important role in environment education for Auckland schools.
Managing our livestock
We farm cattle either for beef or as part of our cattle breeding programme, and last year we calved 380 cows. We are now in a position of having what’s called a ‘closed cattle system’ which supports biosecurity and means we only need to purchase bulls because all other cattle will be born on our parks; non-breeding cattle are sold for meat when they are around 18-30 months old.
Ewes are farmed for their meat and wool, with lambs being sold either as meat or to other farmers between November and July. We also shear the sheep every six months and sell the wool.
A key focus is on animal welfare and ensuring we farm the right animals to suit specific soil conditions. We treat the whole region as one big farm and move stock around depending on feed levels, seasonal breeding or to work around events, such as Splore.
Our livestock export trial
In 2020, Auckland Council’s farm operations team arranged for 26 heifers, which are female cows, to be part of an overseas breeding programme as part of a one-off trial. The heifers travelled by ship to China late last year where they now live as breeding cattle.
The council’s Farm Business and Operations Manager, Dene Noonan, says the animals exported were part of the beef herd and didn’t meet the strict criteria to be part of the council’s cattle breeding programme in New Zealand.
“We decided to export our cattle as part of a trial because the heifers would then get to live out their life as breeders in China, rather than being sold for beef here. It also meant Auckland ratepayers would receive premium prices from the sale.
“Animal welfare is always the first priority of our farming team who were given all necessary assurances before agreeing to have the cattle included in the breeding programme.
“The export company used was only able to leave the country once New Zealand authorities were satisfied all the strict new welfare measures and requirements introduced last year were met.
“While we believe the trial of exporting the cattle for breeding was the right decision at the time, we can confirm that no future livestock exports will be undertaken by Auckland Council,” says Mr Noonan.
Council’s Regional Parks Management Plan review
The Regional Parks Management Plan is the council’s plan that guides how we manage our 28 regional parks and last year we asked Aucklanders for ideas to contribute to the 10-year review of the plan.
We received feedback from 758 people and organisations, including some regarding farming practices at our regional parks. Positive feedback included our farms providing an opportunity for Aucklanders to see sustainable farming practices in action. A petition from 3681 people sought an end to the killing of farmed animals for food production at Ambury and other regional parks, on the grounds animals deserve to live out their full lives.
These suggestions will inform the updated plan, which will go for further consultation before the Governing Body considers adopting the plan in 2022. Reviewing the plan allows further opportunities to assess whether we need to alter any of our regional parks’ management practices.
You can view a full summary of community responses to the plan on the council website.