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.

 

 

 

The Three Amigoats!

3amigoats

Today the farm gained another goat, partially to replace the goat we tragically lost a few weeks ago but also to help out some friends who, like us, had recently lost a goat leaving their remaining goat all alone and lonely.

Emily, a Boer Goat, came from down the road in Peka Peka so her journey was short and sweet. Upon arrival she was keen to get out the pig crate that had been the source of her confinement for 30 mins and meet the others. I had earlier rebuilt their pallet house and the two boys were hanging out at their new pad. The sound of Emily bleating happily after getting out the car had the boys running and within seconds a happy, goat like, nuzzle and head butting session had begun.

The boys first meeting with Emily.

The boys first meeting with Emily.

For the initial meeting I kept Emily on a lead just in case the boys were not yet ready to share their home with a girl and a fight broke out. All went well and it wasn’t long before Emily was carefully placing pink cushions on the floor of the pallet house and complaining about the toilet seat.

The boys watch as Emily rearranges the furniture and lights a scented candle.

The boys watch as Emily rearranges the furniture and lights a scented candle.

Its now been a few days since Emily moved in and the three are getting on like a house on fire. The boys have shown Emily around the 10+ acres that they have access to and every morning we see them wandering up the farm track from the river, meanwhile Emily has been a calming influence on the boys and they now seem more eager for scratches and petting.

I am sure I know what you are thinking whilst reading this and the reality is that we are not sure of the ages of any of our goats so the possibility of baby goats in the not to0 distant future is a complete unknown. I for one have always wanted to farm goats so maybe, one day, the offspring of Emily and Charlie (or Michael) will be gracing the pages of this blog.

Death on the farm (warning graphic images)

At the end of last week we had some horrendous weather and the rain coming off the hills behind the house flooded the river so that the level rose by over a meter and this in turn stopped me from driving across the river ford. Being new to this piece of land I was watching with interest to see if the water was going to reach the paddocks where the pigs live. Luckily the river stayed a good 50cm below the river bank and disaster was averted. I do have an emergency flood plan in mind and would be able to get the pigs to higher ground but just the thought of moving the pigs back and forward are enough to make me sweat.

On Monday morning after the river had subsided I decided to cross over the river and build a waterproof house for the three goats that we inherited. They live wild in the 12 acre paddock at the top of the hill and, apart from a bit of foot rot, they seem very healthy and happy. I have been planning to move them over to the house side of the river so they can help me get rid of some of the weeds in the river flat but, without a trailer, it was looking like an impossible job. I digress. I built a house out of seven pallets and some old carpet type material just in time for the rain to come back again on Monday night. The rain subsided again and on Wednesday morning I headed over the river in Landy, I drove up the hill to the paddock and was pleased to see the goats around the new goat house. As I got closer it was apparent that one of the goats, generally the most skittish one, was not running away or moving at all. I pulled aside the carpet door and sadly found him motionless and recently dead. With no signs of illness or injury I am not sure of what killed him but the simple fact of the matter was that one of our animals had passed away.

Not something I wanted to deal with on the farm at such an early stage.

Not something I wanted to deal with on the farm at such an early stage.

Not knowing if the death was suspicious or not I called the Vet for advice, the receptionist told me that I should cover him up and the vet will call me back. Given that he was on the other side of the river and at some stage had to be moved anyway Claire and I decided to get him onto the Landy and cover him there till the vet gave us advice. Firstly, this is not a small goat, probably around 70kg, and the back of the Landy is a good meter off the floor so it took the two of us (Claire seemingly trying to imaging the goat was just a sack of harmless potatoes) to get him into the back of the truck. Having accomplished the deed with as much dignity as possible we headed back to wait for the call from the vet. When the call came it was just to tell us that it didn’t look concerning and the only thing left to do was to bury him. Damn, I knew I should have bought a tractor.

Two hours later I was standing by the Landy at the very back of the property having just dug a big hole out of clay soil and singlehandedly moved the goat from the truck into the grave. His last resting place.

It might seem odd to write a blog, one so graphic, about the loss of an animal but this was another seminal moment for me as I become a farmer. I have never had to deal with death like this before and needed to know I could, I also needed to know that I could do it with dignity and afford ANY animal the life and death that they deserved.

Rest in Peace white goat, your friends will miss you.

Rest in Peace white goat, your friends will miss you.

Our white goat is now at rest and for company he will have the sound of the stream and the beautiful Kiwi bush for his view:

IMG_1333

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.’

Be a part of it…

As I mentioned in my last post I have been humbled by the responses and comments to my posts and blogs about the move. But I have also been impressed with the amount of ideas that have been suggested for the farm. From vineyard to nut orchard and even a very innovative water powered pig on a spit, they are all great ideas.

Now this is an idea under serious consideration.

Now this is an idea under serious consideration.

I love the idea that Woody’s @ North Manakau is a collaborative journey between us and our friends, family and basically anyone (hopefully one day our customers are also included). So I thought I would make the request for ideas official. If you have an idea or have always wanted to try something but don’t have enough land at home then why not make a suggestion.

We want a farm that is diverse, informative, enjoyable and local. Apart from the free range pigs I am planning to smoke and cure meat, breed goats and chickens and sell eggs, have tours and educational visits, arrange cookery lessons (don’t worry I will not be the cook) and have farm lunches by the stream. Hopefully one day we might also have a ‘glamping’ site in the woods at the end of the block for you all to come and stay. But I am sure these are just some of the things we will end up doing.

So what are you waiting for, whatever you are thinking right now, however wacky and zany, just drop me a line and lets see if the idea sticks to the ideas board in my head. As I said before; from little things, big things grow.

Now I have to go and start packing, its only two weeks to the big move….