Farmer aims to put Weka back on menu

Last updated 05:00 05/02/2010
MORSEL: A Canterbury entrepreneur is hoping to put Weka back on the menu

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Banks Peninsula entrepreneur Roger Beattie has won the support of many farmers in wanting to put eastern-buff weka on dining tables.

Farmer lobby group Federated Farmers has put its weight behind Mr Beattie in his quest to secure approval for a trial to supply farmed weka.

The businessman is the largest paua quota holder, runs livestock farms mainly on the peninsula and has branched out to less conventional initiatives such as producing seaweed pepper, making blue pearls from paua and bringing buff weka at his own expense from the Chatham Islands.

Now he wants people to eat the birds, which are protected on the mainland.

Mr Beattie said it was heartening that other farmers saw the merit in farming the native species despite bureaucratic obstacles.

"If we want to make sure wekas are not threatened or endangered we should farm the lot because no farm species has ever died out.

"If we look at kiwis over half the population is in gradual or serious decline, with less than 5 per cent of the eggs laid reaching adulthood."

There was no reason why kiwis should not also be farmed. "Of course we should eat kiwis or sell their feathers or do whatever. As long as people have a vested interest in saving them they will find a way to multiply them.

"They will do a better job than well-meaning but misguided bureaucrats in Wellington."

To enable farming of wekas would require a change in part of the Conservation Act, with trial approval needed from Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson.

Mr Beattie has 20-something birds in predator-proof enclosures he designed at properties in Lansdowne Valley and Wainui and has gifted other birds to wildlife reserves and groups such as Ngai Tahu.

He said the cost of weka fencing was cheaper than deer fencing and had the potential to offer a better return of $3000 a hectare at 10 breeding pairs producing six chicks a season.

The wekas are expected to provide an income of $50 each. Breeding pairs would need a tenth of a hectare and be separated by smaller internal fencing.

They generally breed twice a year, producing between two and five chicks each time.

Mr Beattie said weka operations could be run within conventional farming to provide more income.

Federated Farmers game spokesperson Donald Aubrey said Mr Beattie was a true Kiwi entrepreneur who ought to have every policy encouragement to see if a new market could be created.

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"Roger Beattie firmly believes that the weka can be domesticated and if that is the case, it could well become our version of the turkey. After all, that is a bird native to the Americas that is now commonly farmed around the world."

He said farmers would agree that farming the birds would help increase their numbers.

As many as 85 per cent of 8000 viewers in a Close Up TV One survey on Monday felt Mr Beattie should be allowed to try weka farming.

- The Dominion Post

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