TFWF#37: keeping the Wolf at the door

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.

THE FARM

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.

Isn't that door supposed to be the other way up?

Isn’t that door supposed to be the other way up?

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.

THE PRODUCTS

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):

Pork, pork scratchings, woody's free range farm, bacon, crackling

‘Woody’s by the Wolf, paleo pork scratchings’

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.

THE SUPPORTERS

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.

THE PRESS

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).

Do you like my cover page pose?

Do you like my cover page pose?

TFWF#35: the farm expands thanks to Chevon and Ruth

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

3amigoats

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
Calories 109 267 219 248 198
Fat 2.3g 22g 13g 18g 13g
Saturated fat 0.7g 9g 3.5g 7g 4.4g
Cholesterol 57mg 72mg 78mg 85mg 63mg
Iron 15% 8% 6% 7% 4%

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.

Ruth's nine little piglets, just hours after being born.

Ruth’s nine little piglets, just hours after being born.

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.

 

 

 

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!!!

 

From famine to feast and back again

One of the most difficult things to manage on the farm is the inventory of the stock and the produce. Our small free range farm is very new and we haven’t yet been able to stagger the growth of our pigs to match the sales of our products. What this means is that we may have a long period of feeding pigs and not having any product to take to market, a potential cash flow nightmare.

When we started the farm in November 2013 we had just nine pigs, after 7 months we now have 59. Each pig will eat from 0.5 to 1kg of feed per feed and will get fed twice a day. For those of you interested in the maths, each day we currently feed the pigs about 80kg of commercial grain based pig feed and each kilo costs about $0.91, that’s $72.80 per day or $509 per week. All of that would be fine if they didn’t take 6 or 7 months to get to a weight suitable for the table. And the bigger problem is that they will all reach that weight at a similar time. So, for six months we had no produce, now we have produce and a massive feed bill. In another month we will have run out of produce and still have a massive feed bill. But all is not lost.

Over the past few months I have met some  like minded companies that are more than happy to help, one such company is The Garage Project, a small brewery in Te Aro, Wellington. The amazing thing about beer is that its by-products are just as valuable to me as the beer itself. Both brewers grain and brewers yeast are high protein feeds suitable for pigs, especially piglets and weaners, and when mixed with traditional grain based pig pellets and the freedom to graze on grass the pigs are thriving with their new diet.

It is perhaps a shame that a true free range farm has to rely on free supplemental food in order to produce a product that consumers are able/willing to pay for. With grain prices rising and food prices driven down by cheap supermarket imports it has become increasingly difficult for farmers of non-ruminant animals to produce a great quality product at an acceptable price, and because of this consumers have been pushed to eat substandard products with little to no flavour.

I am really proud of what we are achieving here on Woody’s Farm. We feed our pigs good quality grains full of nutrients and protein and allow them large grassy paddocks to graze on, we then supplement their feed with high quality barley from The Garage Project. I am even more pleased to see our efforts have been rewarded by the feedback from our customers. Its really nice to hear that our pork tastes really different to the bland, watery pork they have been buying from supermarkets (many of whom had gone off pork because of this lack of flavour) and that our bacon is “like bacon used to be.”

We are producing the best quality product we can and we are maintaining the bloodlines of two rare breeds at the same time, what more can you ask for?

Pork and beer as perfect together as a brewery and a pig farm

Pork and beer as perfect together as a brewery and a pig farm

 

All pigs are equal…but they are NOT like cattle or sheep!

At the advice of Jeremy from Longbush Pork I attended my very first NZ A&P show. I was quite pleased because my first A&P show was the ROYAL show in Fielding, surely if it had been given the grand name of ROYAL SHOW it was going to be good. I had recollections of the grand East Of England Show that I used to attend with my parents in Peterborough (UK) many years ago, with its massive tractors, trucks, shows, candyfloss and many other events slightly related to agriculture.

I arrived on the first day of the show and it was most definitely not in full swing. Amongst the crowds of stewards were a few visitors hiding away in the tents where an Italian gentleman was showing his new range of cookware and New Zealand’s most famous Port was attracting, literally, crowds of absolutely no one. I circled the show looking for two things, the pigs that I had come for and some food that I had come to need. Food came in the guise of a packet of chips and a bottle of pepsi, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat another of those hot dogs on a stick. The pigs were elusive, studying a map I could see where they were supposed to be but all I could find were horses and cattle and a few storage buildings. I circled three times before choosing to wander into one of the storage buildings and sure enough, looking very sad, was the greatest and largest of New Zealands pigs just waiting for….anything to happen.

Dont get me wrong its not just a New Zealand thing that pigs are treated like, well, pigs but its always a real disappointment to me that an animal we know has the same intelligence of a three year old child doesn’t get the same treatment, recognition or even humanity that we give to cows and horses. While the horses pranced around inside the dry main arena and the cows enjoyed their own marquee tents the pigs laid on concrete, with no water or feed, in an outbuilding being looked after by a teenager barely capable of lifting a bucket to put water into the empty pigs water troughs (after being ordered to by a passing stranger). Are we ashamed of pigs?

So after driving for a hour to Fielding the Royal show was not the pig buying ground that I had expected, in fact it was not even a place that pigs should be if they are going to be treated like that. No wonder that pig farmers are looked upon with derision and kids don’t know that bacon comes from a pig, pigs are like the child of the 19th century – neither seen nor heard.  In fairness I should say that it was only the first day and if I give them the benefit of the doubt probably the worst day for me to visit (lets hope they had water every other day). The few pigs that were in situ were a good selection of breeds so I took some photos:

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It appears that many do not share my view but I think pigs are beautiful, all of the above breeds are special and should be treated as such. I would like to think that perhaps in some small way I can get New Zealands to start to respect the pig and enjoy them more in both life and death. Perhaps even bring the sexy back to pigs that the horses and cattle still enjoy at the A&P shows around the country. Pigs are not dirty, they are not to be ashamed off, they are to be treated with respect and eaten with relish…

Take a pre farm tour

A few people have asked to see more photos of the farm and I also thought it would be a good idea to show some images of what it looks like now before I get my hands on it. They are not great photos as I only took them as an aide memoir but i think it gives a feel of the place.

Of course it looks idilic at the moment but I am afraid it will have to get worse before its gets better. Apart form the 1 acre around the house the rest of the land has to pay its way. Once the livestock and planing begins I suspect the farm will start to look less appealing but at the same time more like a working farm and, if we want to be in this for the longterm, then it needs to bring us a return on the investment.

Those fields are my offices and the livestock my staff. The stream my water cooler and the forest my filing cabinet. The planning has started and my next post will outline my mad musings on what I need to do to turn this land into the farm ‘Woody’s @ North Manakau.’