I thought it might be nice to have a little look at the year so far. So I have created an infographic that outlines how many pigs we have grown on the farm this year and how much pork (and porky products) we have sold. Have a look:
I thought it might be nice to have a little look at the year so far. So I have created an infographic that outlines how many pigs we have grown on the farm this year and how much pork (and porky products) we have sold. Have a look:
It has been over a year since we were flooded by a very rapid two meter swell of the Waikawa stream which flows through the farm. That night the stream broke its banks and caused a flood throughout the lower paddocks. Myself and a number of very helpful neighbours spent the night catching black pigs in the darkness and bundling them into trailers and higher ground.
The very next day we fenced the only suitable piece of high ground that would hold the pigs, an old horse arena. Since that day the grower pigs have lived in and around the horse arena.
Keen not to be caught out again over the winter I decided to not let them back into the lower paddock until the threat of flood was over. The problem with the lower paddock is that the only road in and out of the paddock passes through a ditch that overflows during flood. What I needed was an emergency exit for the pigs and so the ‘Bridge of Swines’ was born.
Its taken me a few months to put the bridge together, mainly because of so many other things to take care of and the terribly wet winter that we have had. I wasn’t sure that the pigs would even use the bridge once built, they are not used to walking on solid ground. But I knew that if I needed too I would be able to herd them over a bridge with some encouragement. As the winter went by the horse arena (made of sand and designed to drain quickly) became too small and muddy for the pigs so we started to allow them access to the paddocks around the arena. This gave me an idea.
Behind the arena there is another gate into the lower paddock, but to access the paddock you have to cross through another section of the large drainage ditch, this would be perfect for a small bridge. This bridge would allow the pigs permanent access to the lower paddock and they would still be able to come back to the arena for feeding and sleeping. This meant that feeding would be quicker and easier as they are all in one area and I would also not have to worry about the pigs in the lower paddock at night.
Building a bridge.
It’s amazing what you can find online, in fact it’s daunting. The amount of images and videos and ideas about building farm bridges was simply too much to decipher so I reverted to an old farming book from the 1930’s. This book had simple line drawings of simple bridges that could be made simply by a simple person, me.
When we moved onto the farm most of the flotsam and jetsam that you normally find on a farm had been removed except for a few aluminium beams that used to be part of a lean too. Without the plans and the rest of the structure they have sat around unused for three years. At just over seven meters they were perfect for the structural beams of the bridge.
Having decided that the bridge would be 1.2m wide I calculated how many planks I would need for the span, how many cuts from 4.8m lenths and the total amount of wood required. After all that complicated maths I quickly learnt that pre cut 1.2m palings were actually cheaper that cutting my own (I can never understand the mind of the retailers), so I bought a whole bunch of them and got to work.
After bolting over 40 planks onto the metal frame we had a perfectly good bridge with no sides and a very serious bounce. Given that I already knew the pigs would be wary of crossing the bridge it was very clear that if the bridge was too bouncy a 60kg pig would never use it.
So after a bit of research I realised that I need to strengthen the bridge with either suspension or a simple handrail. Given that wood is so much easier to work with, the handrail structure was the answer.
So the final bridge looks like this, it is a bit rudimentary and still has a good bounce but the electric wires help to strengthen it and of course ensure the pigs don’t fall of the sides.
Yesterday was the opening ceremony and whilst a lot of pigs turned up for the show they were not too keen to cross the bridge. As always with pigs you always have one brave soul and getting that one over the bridge with a little bit of pig feed temptation would mean the rest would follow.
They have had access to the bridge for over 24 hours now and I am please to say that most of them are actually happy to cross the bridge (in both directions) giving them access to new pasture and their safe home. Its been a long time in the making but the pigs are back home in the paddocks and its good to see.
I will be moving this blog over to our website http://www.woodysfarm.co.nz soon, so please make sure that you are registered for our newsletter so that you get updates on new blogs.
Its been busy on the farm since the flood. Not only has there been lots on fencing to be done we have also changed our structure for feeding, sorting and weaning the grower pigs, in addition to this we have also had eight litters in two months and increased the breeding herd to 22 sows.
Whilst we have been busy many of you might have also noticed that we have been absent from the markets, the cafes and the restaurants. Our disappearance from the outside world is due to, what I shall now call, the great sales conundrum (or GSC), brought about by a lack of good free range pork producers and a plethora of supportive customers.
The GSC is basically an over demand of product and whilst I know I am lucky to be in that situation I really don’t like letting people down, turning down opportunities or being sporadic in supply. In order to explain my conundrum in more detail I thought I might outline all the potential sales channels that we have, each with their own pros and cons and then I thought it might be nice for you all to give me some advice and feedback, via a comment on here or on Facebook.
When we started the business we always planned to attend farmers markets, we chose Fielding and Thorndon because they appeared to be authentic grower markets. Unfortunately as time went on we found ourselves competing with a butcher from Wellington in Fielding and a general retailer selling meat from the store in Hawkes Bay at the Thorndon market. Despite this I really enjoy the markets, I get to meet a great deal of lovely customers and characters, I get direct feedback and its a great opportunity to grow business opportunities. I have also been able to try lots of different cuts of meat to see what sells best and showcase the quality of the meat. On the downside the markets take three days of valuable time on the farm, a day to prepare and two days at the markets, and the success of the day is very dependant on the weather. Financially the markets work for us because we sell direct to our customers and the only extra costs are the market fees and the fuel.
We had always planned to sell product via the website but we never had enough stock to attend the markets and sell online. The flood changed all that when we were unable to get to the markets and had a trailer full of meat to sell. We thought it best to trial online sales and managed to sell out in 49 mins. After that first trial we continued attending the markets and also selling small quantities of meat packs online. In August we took a break from sales to focus on the farm and came back in September with a greater focus on the online side of the business. The packs have been selling very well, I have enjoyed the customer feedback from all over the country and without any middle men we make a full margin (less the costs of sales). Obviously it takes a day to prepare and pack and we worry about the delivery arriving fresh but so far all has gone well and we have successfully delivered over 800 packets of bacon and sausages. I do miss getting to meet my customers face to face but the gain in time on the farm is, at this point, much needed.
Restaurants and Cafes.
I love working with the owners and chefs of restaurant and cafes. These are the people that challenge the preparation of food and have the experience to truly grade the quality of our meat against others, it is their feedback that helps me to provide better quality product to everyone. I have been lucky to work with some excellent restaurants who have respected the way we grow our meat and promoted Woody’s to their customers. But, with only limited stocks at the moment, we have to manage our profitability and therefore we focus on our direct sales via the markets or online. This means that we are not able to supply the chefs on a regular enough basis, or large enough quality, and will often loose out on opportunities. My goal is to be able to work regularly with a small number of restaurants around the country as soon as our stock levels rise.
Without a doubt the best way to promote your product and your brand is to have product in front of customers all the time. Unfortunately markets are only once a week and selling online relies on customers to find you, not the other way around. Putting product on the shelves in speciality stores who promote quality, niche products associates our brand with theirs and encourages sales on a daily basis. The downside is again that retailers also need to make money, to pay their associated costs, and with limited stock we simply cannot afford to be on too many of those shelves. Additionally, whilst speciality retailers are very good at explaining to their customers about the provenance of the food they sell we, as the grower, do not get to talk direct to our customers, something that I think is very important.
In my previous life as a consumer electronics executive I spent a lot of time selling to supermarkets. Unfortunately supermarkets have all of the bad elements of speciality retailers with none of the good elements. They are not willing to take the time to talk about provenance, they do not fairly share profitability and over time they gradually reduce the value of your product in the consumers eyes, normally by heavy and unwarranted discounting. Any farmer who works with the supermarkets knows that the vanity of a high turnover of stock is not a replacement for the low profitability. Of course nationwide exposure and a single point of delivery is attractive to some, but not us.
Having broken down the pros and cons of all our potential retail outlets I am keen to hear what you think we should do, and who we should focus on. At the moment our limited stocks means that we can only afford to concentrate on the markets and online store but we hope to be able to continue supporting the restaurants, cafes and small speciality stores that we currently sell too. Moreover the chiller trailer is currently out of action so we have to concentrate on online sales until some work has been carried out on the trailer, when that is fixed we intend to attend one market a months and sell online twice a month. Maybe one day we will have greater exposure across the country.
We dont always have the time to look back at our lives, and even if we do have the time we often don’t have the inclination. However as its the end of our first year farming I thought I should look back and see what, if anything, I have achieved.
Of course its easy to say that in a year when achievements have been coming from every direction, a new country, a career change, a marriage, a baby and so on (not all of that happened in 2014 but most of it did). The problem is that it has been a frantic whirlwind of events and activity and I am running the risk of not appreciating the memories and learnings.
Its been just over a year since we moved to the farm and after a short time as bare land owners we received our first livestock on the 11th December 2014. The nine piglets from Wanganui did us well and got us through the first few farmers markets and indeed one lucky Sow (now named Ruth, after Ruth Pretty the chef) became the first pig to be mated and have a litter on the farm.
When I look back at the pictures of me surrounded by those motley coloured pigs, pink buckets in hand and a small pile of feed bags I am amazed by the growth that has happened. If we just look at the numbers on the 11th December 2013 we had a total of nine piglets on the farm, as of today, 11th January 2015, we now have a herd consisting of:
The infrastructure in December 2014 was basically two large fields with perimeter fencing only and one small transit paddock. A year on and we have 18 four line electric fenced paddocks with detailed maps of the farm in order to ensure the pigs are tracked and accounted for, the water pipes are easy to find and the electric fence on/off switches are everywhere. Not only has it been a great deal of hard work and time it has also cost a great deal of money, the steel fence posts are $7 each and I would estimate we have used at least 200 posts alone, not to mention the gates, the gate posts, the wire (thousands of meters), the insulators and the tools required to do all this work.
After a few months of breeding herd preparations and feeding the ‘bought in’ growers we were greeted by a barrage of piglets in May, starting with Paula on the 1st May, then Marigold, then Jennifer and finally Clarissa squeezing into the month on the 31st May. The following month the month important of our litters was born, our first son, Fred. The numbers on the farm were building quickly.
That same month was our first time at the Farmers Markets. My fear of meeting customers and selling on the street was eclipsed by my fear of driving, parking and reversing with a chiller trailer attached. I had never towed a trailer before and had never been to either of the markets to scope out the trailer driving skills needed. It seems like such a funny thing to have been worried so about now that I look back, but at the time it kept me awake at night.
The markets went well. I enjoyed them on that first day and I still enjoy them just as much after neary a year. I like meeting the people that eat and enjoy our meat and I also like to be able to talk about our farm and why we do what we do. The markets were also our greatest marketing venues, we met restaurant owners, chefs, foodies, blog writers and eventually in the middle of the year a producer from the iconic TVNZ Country Calendar.
As the year went on I scoured the country looking for breeding stock. We had pigs arrive on the farm from Gore, Masterton, Featherston, Feilding, Levin and the Hawkes Bay. By the time the Country Calendar cameras arrived we had become a fully fledged (but still small scale) pig farm. The show explored our reasons for the farm, our plans for the future and ourselves. It was a most enjoyable experience.
As the year came to a close the focus switched entirely to the production and supply of the Christmas hams. With such a large amount of produce being sold in one month it very quickly became apparent that the Christmas hams are actually the make or break of a pig farmer and no mistakes could be made. Not wanting to let anyone down we launched the sale of hams on our website, pay a deposit and secure your ham. Within just two days 80% of our hams were sold. What followed was a frantic plethora of spreadsheets with names and collection points, final prices and preferences for sizes. It was our first year and we had a lot to organise and learn. We bought boxes, labels, sticker and bags and I spent a great deal of time trying to get it 100%. Of course I didn’t manage to achieve 100% satisfaction but we were pretty close and we learnt from our mistakes, bring on next year.
Twenty Fourteen was a year of arrivals, markets, deaths, piglets, births, trips to the abattoir, fencing, water reticulation, weddings, family, Woody catching his first rat, Fred eating his first meal, damaging cars, fixing cars, floods, cameras, building houses, meeting customers and much, much more.
I wonder what Twenty Fifteen will bring?
The last few weeks have been a blur to me. It is only when I look back at the photos on my phone, or the notes I have made, that I remember what I have been up too. Like most people I sometimes get home at night and wonder what I did that day and was it useful and did I enjoy it? Luckily even though I don’t get chance to write that often I do make little notes about what is going on and that helps me when I come to properly write it down.
Spring has brought with it two things, grass and wind. The grass is great and when we come to bail it and graze it I am sure it will bring in some welcome capital. The wind is not so welcome. In the last month we have had (in the same day) severe gales from the SW and the NE. On one occasion, as I was feeding the pigs in the breeding paddock, a plume of smoke appeared from nowhere. Thinking that somehow a farrowing hut had caught fire I rushed to the paddock only to find that the source of the smoke was not fire but dust and the dust had come from the hut as it was picked up by the wind and flung upside down. With the rain and the wind so unrelenting the prospect of leaving the pigs (in this case Delia and Hugh) without a hut was impossible so I opened the gate backed up the Land Rover and started the long process of turning the hut over the right way.
In the extreme weather the task of tying a strap to the skids and using the car to put the 500kg hut up the right way is frustrating to say the least, but as I started to right the hut another plume of smoke arose from the dusty ground in the distance. That morning I watched three half tonne houses being flipped by the unusual SW wind and as the rains poured down I battled the inquisitive 200kg sows as I righted them. Farming is a complicated career, a career that really needs you to be prepared for anything, a jack of all trades. You may think that today you will just feed the pigs and undertake some general tasks but the weather, the electrics, the water or maybe the animals will have different ideas.
With the weather battering the farm I took the opportunity to investigate some new products. Ever since I started my journey to farming I wanted to produce specialist meats like long cured hams, prosciutto and pancetta but with the MPI rules I am not able to do this myself so I had been looking for a like minded producer who could do it for me. After just a few conversations with Gabriel at Big Bad Wolf I knew I had found the right partner. Big Bad Wolf is a gourmet charcuterie based in Wellington and they were excited to work on some projects with Woody’s meat. Our first project was the ultimate in paleo, tasty and efficient snacks – the pork scratchings (or crackling to those who don’t know). Pork crackling is simple to make, just take pork skin (with a little bit of fat) and slow cook it under the expert supervision of Big Bad Wolf, the results are these bags of salty goodness (nicely displayed in a case created from the off-cuts of a pig ark):
Our second ‘Woody’s by the Wolf’ project will be dry cured pancetta. This slow dried cut of Berkshire belly has been marinating for over a month in a mixture of fresh herbs including juniper and bay and is sliced extra thin. It can be eaten raw but we recommend you either gently fry (without extra oil) and simply serve as a crunchy snack or use as an ingredient in any meal from a pasta dish to an wrapped chicken breast. More on this delicacy in a few weeks when we have sliced and packaged it.
Collaborations with other like minded companies are not only enjoyable they also help to make the most of our limited stock by producing extra special artisan products and also help with cash flow as our meat stocks fluctuate month by month. In addition to working with Big Bad Wolf we have also started working with a local boutique company to produce a range of Woody’s marinades made from organically grown NZ fresh fruit specifically to enhance the flavour of our meats and create instant meals. Pork is a diverse meat and it works well with fruit, we have all experienced pork chops with apple sauce but what about belly slices in plum marinade or adding a citrus glaze to a scotch pork roast. If you have any fruity ideas why not drop me a line and in the meantime I hope to be able to share with you our product range in a month.
I realise that I spend most of my time apologising for not having enough stock and I am also aware that unless we grow the farm quickly we will not be able to run a sustainable business. Its one thing to sell out but another to let good customers down. However I have been very pleased by the support and interest that we have received from our customers at the markets and various restaurants/cafes and butchers. One such restaurant that has chosen to help support us is La Boca Loca. Lucas is ‘el jefe’ at La Boca Loca and has a stall next to me at Hill St Farmers Market every other Saturday and was on the hunt for some pigs heads for cooking up some genuine pozole. Its great to be able to sell parts of the pig that people don’t normally eat so we were able to supply him with two heads and a whole bunch of trotters for the feast. I never got to try the pozole but I’m told it was excellent
Another restaurant that we welcomed to take advantage of our open door policy was The Whitehouse who are opening up a new restaurant soon and wanted true free range on the menu. We had a great tour of the farm and I showed them the whole process so they could get a feel for the lives of the pigs. It was really good to have them here and hopefully one day you will be able to taste some of Woody’s meat in one of their restaurants.
I can’t finish this blog without mentioning our latest bit of fame in the Manawatu Farming Lifestyle paper. It came out last month so you have probably missed out on a hard copy but the web version is still available here: http://issuu.com/nsmm/docs/mfl_sep_2014. Not only did we get a double page spread but also the front page, exciting times and much more to come from our marketing department (me).
The goal of Woody’s Free Range farm is to be transparent. I am not a believer of false promises nor do I trust a business that does not use its own products. Because of this I have always been integral in preparing and tasting every product you eat with the Woody’s brand on it.
However I have never specifically tested our products again the others in the market, until now. Obviously I have been eating bacon from different suppliers and brands all my life (except for the short, obligatory, vegetarian stint when I was a student). I have eaten bacon all around the world (tip: don’t eat bacon in China) and as such I would not say I am an expert but I do think I know a little about the meat.
Over the last few months, since we started to sell our product, I have had a number of comments from customers about our meat. Overwhelmingly the comments about our bacon have been excellent, most say its like bacon used to be (more meaty), but some have said it was a little salty or a little fatty and so I decided to find out how we stack up against the competition.
A week ago we bought two lots of bacon from Countdown to compare to our own, one is a top of the range Free Farmed bacon and the other a top of the range Supermarket, intensively farmed, own brand bacon:
|Brand||Product||Price ($)||Pack size (g)||Price per kg||Notes|
|Freedom Farms||Eye Bacon, Smoked Rindless||$9.50||250||$38.00||Free Farmed|
|Countdown||Signature Middle Bacon||$5.99||400||$14.98||Intensive Farmed|
|Woody’s Free Range Farm||Middle Bacon (Berkshire)||$9.66||284||$34.01||100% Free Range|
Note: The Freedom Farms bacon was on special at $9.50 with normal price $11.29 ($45.16per kg)
The plan of the test was not to grade the bacon from best to worst (afterall you could hardly expect me to be unbiased could you) but it is rather to simply show you our findings in photos and a few descriptive words.
The first thing we did was take a slice of each bacon and lay it on a grill pan;
We immediately noticed a few things that are apparent in the photo. Firstly our slice (left) had more fat, this is for a number of reasons, firstly free range pigs will have more fat and this was a winter pig that puts on fat and grows slowly but was also dryer and much more meaty and non see-through. The middle slice (Free Farmed) had the fat trimmed off and was wet and much thinner (you can see through it). Finally the intensive bacon (right) was again very wet (even had some odd jelly on it) and was again very see through.
We cooked all the bacon in two different ways, on the grill and in the pan so that we could cook them all at the same time and also measure the fat that came out.
During pan cooking the Woodys bacon had the most fat but this allowed the bacon to gain crispiness during the cooking. The free farmed and intensively farmed bacon both had a brown liquid seep out during cooking and burn on the pan, this hindered the bacon from crisping up and started to burn instead. They both also had white foam appear on top of the meat, this solidified after cooking had finished and is due to the high water content of the meat. Next we grilled the bacon, which helps to separate the fat from the meat and I took close up pictures:
I am hoping that the above pictures allow you to see the clear differences between the different type of meats before and after cooking, look at the colour, the crispiness and even the size difference after cooking. The thickness of the bacon was a major contributor to the texture after cooking. The thinner meats were chewy and like cardboard whereas the Woody’s bacon was meaty and softer to chew.
Once again I realise that this is not a scientific experiment nor is it objective but I do hope that the photos let you get a bit of a feeling for the differences between the meats. I have deliberately not spoken about the taste because this would be too subjective.
The experiment also helped me to understand more about the fat in our meat, and whilst it helps with the cooking and tastes great I will be focused on trying to reduce the fat in our pigs as the farm continues to grow. The bacon we used was from a smaller breed, the Berkshire, and would therefore have more fat than our other breed, the Large Black. It was also a winter growing pig which is a slower grower and puts on more fat. Of course we could trim the fat off our bacon but it affects the flavour so I have decided to poll our customers to see if they want trimmed bacon or full fat?
Hopefully this is of interest to some of you and we will be back to normal farming talk in the next Tales from Woody’s Farm. If you do buy some of our bacon and you have some feedback (good or bad) please feel free to review us at Woodysfreerangefarm on facebook, comment on this blog or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The lack of meat this month has brought home to me the importance of diversification. I had always wanted to diversify the farm and had initially planned to sell Free Range eggs, however I found the markets already had a number of egg sellers on board and didn’t want another. Given that we had invested in a Food Safety Plan for meat sales and bought a lot of chiller equipment it was natural to look at other potential animals.
Enter the Three Amigoats
I have introduced you earlier to these three characters and little did they know but they had given me an idea, Goat meat. Goat meat, or Chevon, is very low in fat and cholesterol, its tasty and most importantly for me it is a niche product.
|Nutritional Data (per 100g)||Goat||Lamb||Chicken||Beef||Pork|
Following my principles of supporting rare breeds I decided the best meat breeds for us to raise are the Boer and Kiko goats. Having carried out a fair amount of research on the rare breeds website I contacted a guy I knew had bred and sold goats in the past to see if he had anything for sale. A week later Reuben and I planned a trip to the abattoir in Wanganui to drop off three pigs and on the way back we headed to Tokomaru to collect a motley crew of seven random goats, a mix of Boer and Kiko breeds. They were not in great condition at the time and I insisted that he drench them and treat/trim their feet, we loaded them into the trailer (specially modified to ensure they could not jump out) and headed off back to the farm.
Knowing that goats are even better escape artists than pigs I had chosen the middle paddock of the farm for their current home. Long term I would like to able to let them graze the hilly and rocky land by the river but initially, to ensure they do not run away, I decided to off load them into a paddock in the middle of the farm which is surrounded but my own land and therefore lessen the risk of them getting onto the neighbours land and ending up on a dinner plate as ‘wild’ goat. Leaving them to exit the trailer in their own time I headed home for lunch. It wasn’t long before I noticed from the window that they had already managed to scale a fence and open a gate so as to be heading to the furthest hill on the property and off into the neighbouring forest. I jumped into Landy and headed off to wrangle the goats and bring them back to the paddock, as I sped through the stream and up the hill a cunning plan struck me.
Having shepherded the goats back into the middle paddock I put my plan into action. Using the lure of food I managed to get Emily, Michael and Charlie to follow me into the middle paddock – I intended to introduce them to the new goats and they would act as my disciples, spreading the gospel about the lands of milk and honey on Woody’s farm.
So the goats are on the farm, they are happy and settled. I believe two are pregnant and I have more to buy. Its a small start for our second farming exploit but I hope to be at the markets with Chevon before the end of the year.
In other news Ruth pulled a fast one on me and managed to drop nine little, perfect, piglets. She had been placed with Hugh on the 3rd May and last week she looked like she was getting close but I suspected the end of September, I was one cycle out. On the morning of the 3rd September I went to feed her to find she was looking tired and was sporting very ‘used’ looking special lady bits. Heading over to the farrowing hut there were nine perfect, tiny piglets.
The most surprising thing is that this is Ruth’s first litter, she is only 11 months old (was one of the original Wanganui 9 that I bought onto the farm last December), and she had farrowed by herself with no problems and no deaths. In addition a litter of 9 for a first litter is very good.
A birth on the farm is always a great event and easily makes up for the problems on the farm (Martha being barren and Jennifer struck with a bad hip/leg). Piglets are a great ‘waste of time’ and watching them is a joy. Just three days later Ruth was taking them for a walk around the paddock and showing great motherly form. We now have over 70 pigs on the farm, from just nine last December. We are starting to get serious…
On a final note I realised the other day that I talk a lot about the animals but not so much about the produce. This week we introduced our first Salami to the markets and in just two days I was sold out. Salami Caliente is a hot salami made with 100% free range Woody’s pork I will have more soon and in the meantime here are some photos to make you salivate.