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

 

The stork has arrived!

At long last Claire and I have officially become pig farmers. On Wednesday 11th December Gill and her husband turned up at the farm with nine little weaners loaded into the back of their flatbed ute. Having very carefully structured the entrance to the ‘transit’ paddock so there was no way out we backed up the vehicle and one by one extracted the pigs from their overnight home in the cage on the back ute. Grabbing a rear leg with one hand and scooping them up under the belly with the other hand seemed to be the most efficient method but taught me three lessons,

  1. Even at 3 months old and about 15-20kg they have a really powerful kick
  2. They squeal when being picked up, they squeal a lot and very loud and very high pitched.
  3. They tend to urinate under stress and their urine stinks, so much so that I couldn’t stand the smell of my own clothes afterwards and went straight home to wash (it is possible that this was a boar scent and not urine but I am not sure and either way, it stank).

So after all the waiting and excitement and stress and reading books and watching videos the pigs have arrived, been settled and are happily grazing.

Pigs like grass, they have chewing the grass like crazy since arriving. It also doubles as a play area and bed.

Pigs like grass, they have chewing the grass like crazy since arriving. It also doubles as a play area and bed.

The pigs 'tucker' is a multifeed from Sharpes, basically a nut shaped pellet made of grains, legumes and supplements. I feed them on a home made 'feed station' made from two pallets.

The pigs ‘tucker’ is a multifeed from Sharpes, basically a nut shaped pellet made of grains, legumes and supplements. I feed them on a home made ‘feed station’ made from two pallets.

Me inspecting the herd on day one.

Me inspecting the herd on day one.

Ah, a wallow. I was told that if I made a small hole and filled it with water the pigs would do the rest and create a lovely big wallow.

Ah, a wallow. I was told that if I made a small hole and filled it with water the pigs would do the rest and create a lovely big wallow, seems to be working.

These pigs, like many in New Zealand (and probably elsewhere) have been fed on out of date bread from the local Tip Top bakery, bread is a good bulk food but not good for taste or health so my first goal was to get them eating properly. I was a little worried that a change in diet might be a shock to the digestive system for them but I needn’t worry as the first thing they did was tuck into the grass and the weeds, making a serious difference in just a matter of hours. Grass is an excellent free feed for the pigs but as they are omnivorous it cannot be their only meal so I have been feeding them a pellet looking food supplement designed to get them bulked up. Initially the feed was welcomed with relish but I have noticed that whilst seeming to enjoy the food the feeding has slowed, in true business man style I have started to keep a spreadsheet and maybe one day, if you are lucky, I might share it with you.

So far so good, the pigs are happy and well fed and watered, I will be keeping a close eye on them day and night because the best way to learn is to watch, and I also suspect they are hatching a cunning escape plan through the electric fence and onto freedom. They will stay in the small transit paddock for a week and then I will move them into the larger foraging paddock next door where we will get to see if the famous Pig Ark stands up to the job.

As a final note, I am well aware that most of you reading this are only doing so in the hope that one day I will post a cute picture of little piggies, well here it is, but remember that one day you may well be enjoying these little fellers in a totally different way, yum!

Buster and Little Red. Claire has already given these two names however this is not an issue because we really don't know which of the nine they actually are so all the Blacks are called Buster and the red are Little Red.

Buster and Little Red. Claire has already given these two names however this is not an issue because we really don’t know which of the nine they actually are so all the Blacks are called Buster and the red are Little Red.

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…

Life on the farm!

On Friday the 1st November Claire and I moved onto the farm on North Manakau road. Since then it has been a complete blur of moving in, getting settled, meeting people, buying screws, poles and washing machines and touring the farm in our newly inherited 1987 Land Rover 110.

Land Rover, Farm, Dog

Woody pretends to drive the Land Rover, he hasn’t worked out the steering wheel is on the other side.

Already the house is looking and feeling great and Claire has taken to being a domestic goddess like a duck to water but there is work to be done on the farm, lots of it. I have given myself the goal of making an income from the livestock by February 2014 and this means the grower pigs need to be six months old by then, simple maths will tell you that I need to buy the two month old weaners right now. So the search for the pigs has already began.

Pigs in the saleyards at Rongatoa, check out the sunburn on those ears.

Pigs in the saleyards at Rongatoa, check out the sunburn on those ears.

True free range Large Black (Devon) pigs in Wanganui

True free range Large Black (Devon) pigs on a small farm just outside Wanganui

The livestock auction at Rongotea.

The livestock auction at Rongotea.

Three days ago I went to my first livestock sale yard and auction in a small rural town called Rongatoa, about an hour north of the farm. As with most farming in New Zealand and Australia the focus is mostly on cattle and sheep but they had a few pigs up for sale, set well away from the rest of the stock and looking very forlorn. Now I don’t know much about pigs, yet, but I can tell you that these pigs didn’t look happy, there were 5 white pigs (presumedly from a larger litter) and if you look at their ears in the photo I took (above left) you will see they are quite badly sunburnt and overall looked scrawny and dirty, they sold for $101 a piece. In contrast, today I drove over 200km to visit a true free range farm just north of Wanganui where I met the very gracious Gill and her husband. Whilst scoffing two homemade savoury scones, washed down with a good ole cup of tea we discussed the pitfalls and merits of pig farming. After this we went for the obligatory farm tour to see all the pigs, the boar, the sows and the piglets.

This is Jack the Large Black (Devon) Boar, the big Daddy at over 300kg.

This is Jack the Large Black (Devon) Boar, the big Daddy at over 300kg.

They all looked very happy and enjoyed the freedom of walking around the whole paddock. The 9 piglets they had for sale were all 100% Large Blacks (Devon) piglets and generally seemed in good shape, five sows and four boars. So I bought them all for $75 each and they will arrive in the first week of December, just in time for me to have completed the work on the farm.

So the pigs are coming but I don’t have fencing, water troughs or feed set up. I have chosen the best paddock to start off the pig project but I need to get it prepared and only have three weeks to do it. I will be installing electric fencing (the property is already electrified so I just need to structure the fence lines), dropping a water line from the high paddocks on the other side of the fence and buying an auto feeder. All in a days/weeks work.

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….