TFWF#43: The great sales conundrum.

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.

Farmers Markets.

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.

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Online Sales.

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.

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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.

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Speciality retailers.

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.

Supermarkets.

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.

TFWF#40: What do you call a Farmer’s Market without Farmers?

As many of you will know I have always tried, and enjoyed, being very transparent about the farm and the business. The whole reason for writing the blog was to let my readers follow me on my journey and experience the highs and lows of a start-up business, choosing a niche market and using social media to help modernise the ageing New Zealand Farming community.

We have always had a singular mission to produce high quality pork and to raise happy pigs in an ethical way. Our pigs require more time and care to raise than those in intensive farming practices, such as free farming and those with sow stalls. We raise fewer pigs at a slower rate than intensive farms and this means our pork costs more, but tastes much better. We rely on the discernment, interest in provenance and knowledge of our consumers to create demand for ethically-raised, better tasting pork.

To achieve our goal we had to build our stocks by searching the country for suitable pigs and starting a breeding program. It is not possible to buy an existing herd of pigs from an intensive farm and free range them because they have been ‘genetically modified’ to suit their environment, instead we chose heritage breed black pigs more suited to outdoors. What this means is that we have less meat product and we therefore have to pick where we sell our meat very carefully to ensure our customers understand and appreciate our story. As of today we have 97 pigs on the farm, some are on the breeding herd, some are piglets and some are coming up to slaughter weight. I cannot simply buy in pigs or meat products when I have a shortage of stock and therefore sometimes I simply do not have anything to sell and reluctantly have to let down customers.

These are the challenges of my business and I very much rely on my carefully chosen sales locations to ensure the business can continue. In Wellington I have chosen to sell at and work with, the Hill St Farmers Market (soon to be called the Thorndon Farmers Market), because they are a small community based market with lots of regulars and very focused stall holders.

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

Hill St Farmers Market (Wellington)

The atmosphere is great on a Saturday morning and regardless of the weather I can always rely on my excellent customers to pop along and say hello. I have been so taken by the Thorndon market that when they asked for stall holders to become trustee’s and help with the running of the market I was keen to join in. One major challenge for The Thorndon Farmers Market is that the location does not easily allow for the market to meet the terms of an Authentic Farmers Market, as governed by the Farmers Market NZ organisation. In respect for this authentication and the organisation the Thorndon market has opted not to become a member, yet.

In contrast my other market of choice, Feilding Farmers Market, is a proud member of the Farmers Market NZ organisation and has, for the last three years, been voted best authentic farmers market, last winning the award in 2014. At Feilding I am surrounded by people who bake, cook, create, squeeze, grow or produce their own food. Its definitely an eclectic bunch of people but full of like minded business owners who strive to produce a better product and impart their knowledge to their customers. In an environment like this both the sellers and the customers know that the stall holders are authentic and the competition is on a level playing field. Or so I thought.

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On the 13th February I, like most regular stall holders, arrived early at the market. The normal hours are 9am till 2:30pm but I like to arrive at 8am as often my customers want to get their shopping done before the working day starts. At 9am a large mobile butchery van arrived from Waikanae Butchery, a retailer based on the Kapiti Coast. Given that a butcher is by no means a farmer and that they are able to sell wholesale meat products everyday of the week in their retail store I was sure that this was a mistake and approached the market manager. I was initially told that they had not seen the paperwork and therefore had not been approved but, as they had arrived, they would be allowed to trade for the day.

To make my point very clear, I am not opposed to competition. I have spent most of my life working in Consumer Electronics which is one of the most competitive industries in the world. Competition is healthy, creates a better products and is good for the producer and the consumer. However, unfair competition is not healthy, it does not care about the customer or the product and often destroys the person or producer who was striving to improve the product in the first place.

Let me explain, my daily routine is to feed the pigs, I ensure they are healthy, have water, wallows and plenty of space. On a thursday I personally load the pigs and drive to Wanganui to the abattoir. Because of the rules dictated by the Ministry of Primary Industries I have to employ a butcher to cut the meat and produce the sausages, we work together and I manage him to ensure my product is treated well and no fillers are used. I pick up the finished product, label it and take it to the market. I am involved in every aspect of the production of my products, including the finance, marketing, social media and legislation. A retailer like Waikanae Butchery does not have to worry about the animals, their welfare or any part of the farming. Instead they are able to focus on on-selling meat products each and every day. When they run out of meat they buy more, they are not constrained by breeding cycles because they rely on wholesalers. They are not involved in the upbringing of the animals and therefore are not able to vouch for their quality of life, even if they can tell you the farm it came from. (In the case of pork, they buy from Murrellen Pork in Canterbury and the farm is actually Free Farmed, not Free Range (click here to read about the difference) and there are no rules to govern the number of grower pigs kept indoors.)

Feilding Farmers Market is run by a management company. To ensure our thoughts were clear another stallholder called Venison Bouche and Woody’s decided to make formal complaints about the arrival of Waikanae Butchery based on the 3 Golden Rules for Farmers’ Markets and their stallholders:

(1)    A Farmers’ Market is a food market (e.g. no arts, craft, bric-a-brac) with some exceptions for plants and flowers.
(2)    This food is produced within a defined local area (each market can define their local region)
(3)    The vendor must be directly involved in the growing or production process of the food (e.g. no middle men, on-sellers, wholesalers, retailers, etc… )

However it quickly became apparent that I had not initially been told the truth and actually “(FFM) have received and pre-approved the application from Waikanae ButcheryI” There explanation on how they met the criteria and had been approved was that “stallholders must produce or add value to locally grown primary produce. ‘Adding value’ could be as simple as roasting, preparing, cutting and packing produce. Local is a grey area and we have discretion by a case by case basis to go outside the set geographical boundary.” In simple terms the product can be deemed local even if it is from Canterbury and the stall holder would be deemed to be adding value if they simply pack the product. Under these terms any supermarket in the area would be able to sell most products if they can list on the packaging where the produce came from and prove that they have packed the product.

Wishing to take the matter to the committee for the Farmers Market, who had a meeting on Friday 20th, I asked the manager to provide the details of the stall holders on the committee but was told that this information was confidential and that my concerns would be passed to the Chair. The following Venison Bouche and I were sent an email to say that Waikanae Butchery presented to the committee and that their promises to work with the management team were accepted and they had been approved. Unfortunately I was not invited to present my opinion and with a one sided argument is was clear that they would be allowed to attend the market. As part of their application Waikanae Butchery offered to not sell Venison and ‘work with’ Woody’s Farm on the pork products that they sell, however as I said at the start of this blog my issue was not about competition but about the morals of a farmers market. As a result of the decision Venison Bouche have already pulled out of the market (you can buy online from them by clicking here) and I am hoping they will join us at Thorndon Market one day.

So what will Woody’s Farm do? Personally I enjoying attending the farmers market and Feilding market is about 40% of our income. As we build the business we need this income to keep paying for the pig feed, which currently costs about $2000 per month. It is indeed sad that Feilding is no longer an authentic farmers market and given that I was threatened “that the Market rules [state] Stallholders must channel all concerns thru the Market Management Team…”. perhaps the decision will be out of my hands. However I will be talking to my customers to see their point of view and I hope that you will help to support me. We have also started to sell through The Daly Larder on Fergusson Street so consumers will be able to get Woody’s Farm product almost any day of the week.

It is a very difficult path I have taken in setting up a free range pig farm and somedays it can seem fruitless, with unexpected challenges, but we are nere to stay and I look forward to working with all my customers in the future, where ever you are.

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.

 

 

 

TFWF#34: where we taste fame and suffer famine

Its been a very exciting and full month and we just have to start this post with proof that we are, at last, famous. Following on the heels of my successful little chat on the Radio Live Home and Garden show (at 6:20am) we were on a PR high and the requests for interviews literally came flooding in… from at least one newspaper, the Otaki Mail. I talked about the interview in the last post and one morning, at the beginning of the month, my mate Doug (the Landrover genius) emailed me with a photo:

Otaki

My fifteen minutes of local Otaki fame

It you fancy a ‘right good read’ then check out the whole article by clicking on THIS. And I promise you there is more to come as we spread the word of ethical eating.

The winter has really taken its toll over the last month and the pigs are doing what anyone would do, using all their energy to keep warm. The upshot of this is that the growers (the pigs we turn into tasty product) are not getting big enough to take to the market. We try to take pigs to the abattoir at about 60kg, at this size the fat is just about right and the economies work well, the last three were just 50kg each and at the following farmers market we sold out of everything except two lots of sausages and bacon (which I had purposely stocked up on). All of this meant that I had to take the difficult decision to skip a market weekend and give the pigs time to grow bigger. Whilst I hate to let customers down I really had no option and on the flip side it did mean that I got to spend a bit longer with little Fred (who is now ticking on 9 weeks old) and I have been able to do a great deal of planning and farming.

Its been busy on the farm with another pig arc being built, two new paddocks being fenced and a new style of trough being created. You may remember when I first started farming I was keen on trying to build everything out of pallets, the chicken houses, the breeder huts and the feeding platforms. Some worked better than others and whilst the breeder huts have been and all out success, with Reuben and I now able to knock one up in 53 mins, the feeding platforms have not managed well in the mud and constant rain/damp of winter. I realised that in the excitement of being fed the pigs were actually losing quite a lot of food into the mud, it was time for feeding plan B and I already had the perfect solution on the farm, plastic barrels.

As you can see another very simple solution made easy with the help of an old farming book that Reuben lent to me. The open top drums are cut in half with a jigsaw, then bolted together and screwed onto some chunky wooden off cuts (to stop them from rolling around). The key quality is that they waste less food on the ground and can retain the moisture of wet feed, like brewers grain. They are not perfect yet as some of the bigger pigs have already managed to break the wooden feet off but they are far better and more efficient that the wooden version.

This month we also had our first visit from the vet (other than our annual check). Arriving onto the breeding paddock one day it was soon clear something was amiss. The sound of the car signifies food and normally all the pigs come running, this time was different. Lying on the ground in the paddock was Paula, as I drove towards her there was no movement and my heart dropped. The health of my animals is paramount to my whole reason for the farm and it is always a horrible feeling to think that one of my animals might have died on my watch. As I got closer there was no movement until almost upon her she looked up with sad eyes and stared at me from under her long, floppy ears…whew. Paula stood and was able to move but she was hobbling terribly and something was dreadfully wrong, I called the vet. The vet was great, she got to the farm within a few hours and after a good examination she noticed a big scratch across her back which was supported by a large bruise (barely visible on a black pig). She administered a pain-killer and we slowly walked Paula back into her hut.

Paula shortly after farrowing in May

Paula shortly after farrowing in May, looking a lot fatter than she does now.

Paula came good after a few days and in the meantime she got breakfast and dinner brought to her in bed. It’s a mystery what happened to her as there is nothing in the paddock to fall off or bang into. My only thought is that now her and Marigold have been weaned they are starting to go on ‘heat’ and Marigold was having her first heat after weaning. I think that she may have mounted Paula (yes it does happen) and hurt her in the process. As Paula is the dominant female I am sure she will get her own back.

I will leave you this time with a final tale about weaning the Large Black piglets. Reuben and I made our little capture hut out of pallets and plywood and fed them in the hut for a few days. By the time we were ready to transfer them they were happy to walk in the hut but as it was only big enough to get 5 or 6 at a time we had to keep opening and closing it with the piglets slowly becoming reluctant as they realised that their mates were going in but not coming out. After a good amount of squealing, panting and sweating (mostly from me) we managed to pick up the 17 piglets and transfer them from the breeding paddock down to the grower paddock. With the job done I took the following photo, they seemed happy with their new digs, I however ached all over and needed my bed.

The Large Black piglets, now 10 weeks old, are moved into the grower paddock with their fancy new Pig Ark.

The Large Black piglets, now 10 weeks old, are moved into the grower paddock with their fancy new Pig Ark.

 

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

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

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

pig, hut

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

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

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

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

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Ark3 – the latest addition to pig town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 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