TFWF#33: where I get interviewed and the pigs learn about electricity

Every week on the farm I have a number of work goals to achieve. Of course daily chores like feeding, pumping the water, testing the fences and checking the health of the pigs, all have to be done, but because we are still setting up the farm I also have a large amount of structural and livestock management projects to attend too.

This week/month the key goal is to wean the piglets, move the Sows from the rooted up land to grassy paddocks and introduce the gilts to the boars. Starting with Paula and Marigold, the Large Black sows who have clearly had enough of their 17 children, I have fenced off another section of the breeding paddock with four strand electric wire fencing and built another farrowing house.

pig, hut

One of the farrowing huts. Measures 2.4m x 2.4m, has no floor, it fitted with straw and pallet walls (which provide insulation).

Weaning piglets is something that I have not had to do yet so I can only rely on what I have read to find the best way. The Sows (mothers) are being literally drained by the piglets and they need to be moved asap to ensure all the pigs (mother and children) are healthy. The plan is to firstly move the sows into their new paddock and then construct a small pallet feeding ‘room’ that I can feed the piglets in, close the door and lift them into the ute (to transfer them to the grower paddock.) Having set up the paddock for the mothers I then needed to build a new Ark for the piglets in the grower paddock. Followers of my blog from the start will have already seen the Ark’s that I built months ago and by now I am pretty good at building stuff so I set to work.

The first job was to buy wood and having found my favourite timber merchant (Rangitikei Timber) I bought over $1000 worth of wood. Then I bought a mitre saw and with the help of a few half pallets and an old kitchen cupboard I built my first workbench.

With this in place I enlisted Reuben to help me cut the 4.8m lengths of wood in order to construct Ark3 (so named because it is the third Arc I have built). The Ark took about 4 hours, even with some major modification to the build in order to account for the roofing steel being too short (my fault).

IMG_2369

Ark3 – the latest addition to pig town.

Having completed all the works required for the big move all I need to do now is to move the pigs. Given that this is the hardest part of pig farming I managed to convince myself that I was too busy this week and left if for a another week. That said I will be immensely relieved when all the movements are complete.

One of the related issues to the piglets growing up is that they totally destroy the paddock and therefore the ground needs to be rested. Unlike the big ruts that the sows make the piglets just soften the top few cm of soil and in particular they like to dig around the boundary. As they create little waves of soft soil they gradually push it towards the electric fence line and once on the fence it earths and reduces the power of the shock throughout the whole farm. This week I had not got around to walking the perimeter to check for soil on the wire and Thursday afternoon I paid the price for not making sure the electricity was on.

As I went around to feed the pigs I noticed Hugh and Ruth (who live in a paddock that has an outer perimeter fence adjoining the DOC forest) were missing, thinking they would be in their hut I slowly made my way to their paddock, they were not in the hut. Panic took over me as I know that any escape outside the farm puts the animals at risk of being hunted (I live in fear of pig hunters thinking they have hit the jackpot and have since installed cameras and signs around the whole farm), I ran into the paddock and the far fence line.

I really didn’t have to go far because there, just behind an old 7 wire fence line, was Hugh and Ruth looking me straight in the face (with a sheepish look in their eyes). My heart stopped, how on earth did they get there, how would I convince them to come back and how would they get through the fence!

Now, if this was a Stephen King novel or a suspense thriller of some kind then the story is about to get very tense, the reality is a lot less interesting. Ruth spotted the green bucket I was carrying and like a Bambi version of a 100kg pig she launched herself through the fence and bounded towards me, ears flying in the wind. Hugh, a little more aloof, looked at Ruth and realised he was about to miss out on dinner and literally rammed the fence, lifting a section about 5 m long, and bounded over to the bucket.

That night I hastily put up a single strand of electric tape around the fence line and went to bed. The next morning they were still in the paddock and I set off to Feilding farmers market knowing that I would be out in the dark that night making sure that electric tape was working, secure and powerful.

This week I continued my marketing blitz and general climb up the ladder of fame with an at home interview with the Otaki Mail. Vivienne came round to see me and ask the tough questions, actually they weren’t too tough and she was a lovely lady. We chatted for a bit and then I took her for a tour of the farm. After a few cheesy photos of me with the pigs we returned to the house and the interview was over. I hope to be able to share it with you next blog.

This weeks ‘farm school detention’ comes in the form of a very tired piece of driving and all the blame is squarely placed on Fred. Having had a few late night and early morning I realised that I was starting to make a few mistakes. I had accidentally left the water running twice and drained the storage container (which causes a air blockage and silt build up), I was constantly forgetting things on the opposite side of the river and the worst was to come one very chilly morning.

As I was feeding the pigs in the breeder paddock, silhouetted by the snow capped Tararua range, I decided to take a short cut through one of the paddocks. The paddock was resting and so with no pigs in residence the gates were open. I had driven through this gate many times and at 2.44m wide it is a little wider than the car, not a problem for a careful driver. But this morning I was not careful, I was tired and as I took the corner too early I heard a terrible scraping noise as the gate post and the car met. Getting out the car, almost in a stupor, I was relieved to see that rather than the paintwork being destroyed all the way down the side of the car I had actually only just cracked, smashed and pulled off the plastic running board. Maybe not the $1000’s worth of damage I initially thought, but still I reckon Fred owes me a couple of hundred bucks.

And finally, before I go to bed, I would just like to thank all the customers that I met at Feilding and Hill St (Thorndon) last week. I love seeing the regulars and having a chat but I also like meeting new people and talking about what I do and why. Please keep coming, please keep telling me what you think about our products and most of all please say hello, even if you don’t need any delicious bacon, sausages or pork that week. THANK YOU!

Week 28: Piglets, Martha and Marketing

The Large Black piglets are now nine weeks old and making a total mess of their farrowing paddock. Digging and rooting is a normal activity for pigs, they obtain nutrients from the grass, the bugs and even the soil. An adult pig will plough into the soil and leave big ruts whereas the piglets will just turn over the whole paddock, leaving the soil aerated and flattened. Traditionally farmers would use pigs to turn over the soil ready for a new crop and now that I see what the piglets can do to the land I intend to do the same. At nine weeks old the piglets need to be weaned from the mothers and moved to their ‘grower’ paddock, the mothers (Sows) will then be moved into a new farrowing paddock and I will be planting a foraging crop in the old paddock, maybe peas. But first I need to fence out another grower paddock, build a new pig arc and catch the piglets.

piglets

Large black piglets ready for weaning at 8 to 10 weeks old

Staying with the Large Black pigs my latest concern is Martha. Martha is my oldest lady at 3 years and 7 months old, she joined us on the farm at the end of March and was supposedly ‘in pig’ at that time. Pig breeding is very date specific, they come on heat every 21 days, after that the gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. With a little bit of maths and a lot of help from an Excel spreadsheet I can tell that the last date she will farrow is the 27th July and if that doesn’t happen then she most definitely is not pregnant (when she first moved onto the farm she had already been living with Jimmy for two months). So I have to start asking the question of myself, “what do I do with a pig who is not getting pregnant” after all it is a business? Obviously the first step will be to tell if she is still coming into heat and then I will introduce her to another Boar (sorry Jimmy) and take it from there. But if all else fails it will be time to consider what to do with her, but for now lets all just think positive thoughts.

Martha, the old lady of the herd.

Martha, the old lady of the herd.

Due to a lack of stock, a lack of sleep (thanks to Fred) and a need to recharge the batteries I did not attend any of the farmers markets this week (sorry to my regulars). This gave me time to get stuck into the marketing of the business. I have always said that the business can be split into three jobs:

  1. Farming
  2. Produce (inventory and selling)
  3. Marketing

Marketing for me is the easiest part of the job, I have been marketing products, brands and companies for 17 years, so it tends to get relegated to the bottom of the pile of jobs. This week, with time on my hands, I managed to get some artwork done for business cards and even a hoodie to wear at the markets (and try to keep warm)

Yummy warm Woody's hoodie

Yummy warm Woody’s hoodie

Hopefully my hoodie will arrive soon and maybe, in the future, I will sell them to help with the running of the farm, I think its pretty cool.

 

Week 27: the markets, an interview, Fred and Landy

Its been another long break in between blogs and the only excuse I have is that by the time I get into the house, fed and watered and ready to relax I find myself too tired to turn on the computer and start to recount all the things that I have or, worse still, have not done.

So, in an effort to keep this up to date I thought I would change the format from category based to a weekly diary of events, thoughts and bruises (I seem to hurt myself in some form or another every week.) The problem with making this a weekly diary is that, invariably, I will never do it weekly and when I do it is likely to be either really short or full of stuff that is not worth reading.

With that in mind the last week was a bit of a ‘scorcher’ with lots happening on and around the farm. I would like to start with a little bit of personal news off the farm which simply cannot be left out of this blog. On the 18th June (at 3 in the morning) my wonderful wife Claire gave birth to our first son, Frederick (Fred). Fred joined the farm a few days later, after being released from the hospital, and ever since has ensured that every morning I am more and more tired. What Fred doesn’t realise at this stage is that Daddy has a very long memory and the more he keeps me awake the more he will have to get up at 6am and feed the pigs when he grows up, true child labour. So with the arrival of Fred and with Claire being in hospital for a few days I also became a house husband, desperately trying to keep the house looking smart whilst feeding, watering and fencing the pigs.

An angel in sheeps blankets

An angel in sheeps blankets

In order for me to tell you about this week I have to start the week before! With Claire still in the hospital I was desperate to stay with her but pigs wait for no man and even more so neither does meat. I had delivered two pigs to the abattoir on Sunday the 15th and with Fred arriving early Wednesday morning I was in a rush to collect the cuts from the butcher on Thursday in order to get it labeled and ready for Feilding Farmers Market on the Friday. Now, I know what you are thinking, surely I should have been with my wife (by now recuperating at home) but meat doesn’t know that and if I didn’t make it too the market I would have to freeze it all before anyone got the chance to buy it fresh. With labels stuck to every part of me and meat neatly stacked I got ready for the market and at 5:30 Friday morning I fed the pigs and set off to Feilding.

Feilding

A beautiful day at the market

It was a good day at the market, a little breezy but all the regulars turned up along with some new customers. I like talking to my customers and I like the feel of the farmers market, the friendship and camaraderie so it was a pleasant change from the sterile environment of the hospital. As the market finally came to a close I received a call from Claire saying that the midwife wanted her to go back to hospital for a few more days. With a chiller trailer of meat (some frozen) I had no option but to drive straight past Claire, in Palmerston North hospital, and head back to the farm and the fridges and freezers.

After a few trips to and from Palmy hospital Claire and Fred came out again on Monday and so the week began on a high. Amidst the sleepless nights the farm still needed looking after, it is amazing what stops working or becomes an issue if you are off site for just one day, especially when you have 39 piglets intent on piling mud onto the bottom wire of an electric fence. I called up Reuben, who had just got back from collecting a large bin of brewers grain from the Garage Project in Wellington for the pigs, and we set to work on the fencing for the next grower paddock, in order to start weaning the piglets, and another breeding/boar paddock for the return of Jimmy (currently on holiday with a bunch of lady friends). Fencing is physically tough but rewarding and after a day of ramming waratahs by hand we were starting to see the paddocks taking shape.

The big breeding paddock, separated into smaller paddocks with electric fence lines.

The big breeding paddock, separated into smaller paddocks with electric fence lines.

 

The next day it was time to collect a new lot of meat from the butcher and for the first time we had Berkshire meat on the menu. I have always wanted to be able to give customers the choice of breed for their meat and this was my first chance, the problem was it also meant I had to program the labeller with a whole set of new labels (stating the Berkshire heritage breed on the label). Now, I wont be mentioning names but the labeller I have is the same brand as they have in most supermarkets, the only difference is that they have millions of dollars and teams of people to program the machines, I only have me and a frustrated old PC (the software is not available on MAC). Two long hours later I had 8 new labels programmed and started sticking them on the meat.

All our meat states the breed of pig the meat came from. A consumer choice not offered elsewhere.

All our meat states the breed of pig the meat came from. A consumer choice not offered elsewhere.

It was now Thursday again and the labelling was done as the sun started to fall. It was time to complete my inventory of all the meat, bacon, sausages and ham in the fridges and freezers. This has to be done at least once a week and is listed by type, location and date. It is a laborious job but one I quite enjoy as I have always been a bit of a fan of an excel spreadsheet. After this comes the preparation for the next farmers market, the following day, coount the float, prepare the stock, wash the table cloth and pack the car.

Claire and I agreed that the best course of action was for me to sleep in the spare room (actually Fred’s room but he seems to have taken my spot in the bedroom) so that I could get a good nights sleep before the 5:30 start the next day. I was a great idea, in theory. At midnight the door opened, the light streamed in, and a war weary Claire asked me to help stop Fred from crying. Cradling Fred in my arms we went for a walk, around the coffee table, and then again and again and again…he fell asleep and I went back to bed, the silence was golden. At 2:30 another noise woke me, this time it was Woody reminding me that I had forgotten to let him out and if I didn’t open the door right now he would be leaving presents for me on the lounge rug. So much for a quiet night. At 5:30 the feeding, loading, driving and selling cycle started again.

The following day (Saturday 5th) started with my first taste of fame.  A few days before I had received an email from Helen Jackson at Radio Live asking if I would like to do an interview on the radio to discuss our pig farm, especially in light of the horrible scenes on the TVNZ Sunday show of intensive pig farms in New Zealand. I welcomed the chance to talk about the merits of free range farming and at 6:20am I was sitting in my office/shop surrounded by the buzzing of fridges and freezers waiting for the call. The interview was enjoyable and as Helen and I talked about the benefits of free range farming practices I watched as 7am got closer and my deadline for leaving to get to Hill Street Market seemed dangerously at risk. The interview finished and at 7:05 I hit the road.

So I has been quite a busy week but as I sit here at the dining table at 11pm on Sunday night I feel a rewarding one. Fred and Claire finally came home, the markets were enjoyable, some fencing was completed and people started to talk about free range pig farming, you can’t really ask for more in a week. Oh, and by the way the Landrover got fixed in the week and will at last be carting me around the farm, just too late for winter…

 

PHEW!!!