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.

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.

Hugh’s your daddy! – a new arrival.

Last Thursday we had a new arrival on the farm. Having been very disappointed and saddened by my trip to the Hawkes Bay the previous week I managed to source a registered Berkshire Boar just down the road in Levin. This boar is registered in the New Zealand Pig Breeders Association herd book and his official name is Ohau Count the 2nd (Ohau is the stud he came from and Count is the bloodline). Born on the 13th March 2013 he is not yet one year old but easily takes the crown of the oldest pig on the farm and given that he is part of my breeding herd he will be staying for a long time, probably up to 9 years. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Hugh…

Ohau Count 2nd, 'Hugh' the Berkshire Boar

Ohau Count 2nd, ‘Hugh’ the Berkshire Boar

I am sure your first question is where did the name come from and the answer is the kitchen, Claire and I have decided to call all our breeding stock after famous chefs and of course the first one had to be Hugh, just you wait till Nigella arrives. With the arrival of Hugh came the first of my second breed of choice, the Berkshire (pronounced bark-cher). The Berkshire pig is smaller than the Large Black but still has a friendly personality and is known, especially in Japan, for its excellent meat quality which is likened to Beef Wagyu where the fat marbles through the meat.

Hugh has been on the farm just a few days and is already showing a great personality. From the day he arrived and wouldn’t get off the back of the ute to the complete mess he has made of his new 1 acre paddock. Hugh likes a good scratch behind the ears and a mud bath with me directing the water onto his belly.

Unfortunately for Hugh he won’t have any female company for a while as his mate to be, who arrives on Tuesday, is only 3 months old and it will be a good few months before she is ready for breeding, in the meantime he will just have to make do with a cold mud bath. Hopefully, if all goes well with the arranged marriage, we will have our first homegrown  litter of Berkshire piglets in six months time.

The inmates of Gul’egg’ A

Whilst the search for more breeding sows and boars continues I got to work on the chicken housing. Following my chosen path of recycle and reuse I found a design for a chicken house in the ‘Build it with pallets’ book and got to work. Unusually for me I have decided not to bore you with the details and images of the chicken house build but just skip straight to the good bits – the pictures.

A chicken home fit for a king.

A chicken home fit for a king.

Here are some more images for you to marvel at the new chicken house.

As you can see the chicken house is marked with a big A on the roof, this allows me to keep track of the number of chickens in each house (this is just the first of many) and how many eggs we get each day. In true soviet fashion I have named this house Gul’egg’ A and plan to have a whole camp of Gul’egg’s in the paddock just in time to sell eggs, along with bacon, at the farmer market in March. I estimate that each house could handle between 8 and 10 chickens but in the spirit of the farm philosophy I have decided to only house 6 chickens per Gul’egg’.

Having completed the house I manhandled it onto the back of the Landy and moved it into River Paddock 1 (which is about 1.5acres) , added some straw, a perch and set up the nesting boxes with some cosy sawdust. The next day Claire and I headed out on the search for chickens and having received a tip off we headed for the Big Egg Company on Roslyn Road in Levin, armed with Woody’s travelling crate that I doubt he will ever use again. At $15 each we very quickly became the proud owners of 6 ex “free farmed” chickens and set off back home to get them laying.

Arriving at their new home Claire and I lifted the chickens out of the crate and into the house, added their sparkling new water container and feeder and closed the lid for the night. I am told that you should lock the chickens in on their first night so they get used to what is now home, we did this and went to bed. The next morning Claire was up early and excited to get to the chickens and see if they had laid. We headed down to Gul’egg’ alley and slowly raised the lid…no eggs. Not an issue we were just as excited to open the door and let the hens have their first taste of REAL FREE RANGE.

Opening the door to the chicken house provided the chickens with their first opportunity to run free, escape their shackles and make a break for it. However the chicken were institutionalised and simply stared at the open door with a great deal of suspicion. Claire and I retreated a safe distance and watched….a minute later the first plucky sole decided to take a look outside, closely followed by another, they were happy at last.

A few hours went past and the chickens came and went at their leisure, I decided to have another look in the hen house and look what I found:

They are not golden, but they might as well be.

They are not golden, but they might as well be.

So Woody’s Farm has its first produce for sale, true free range eggs soon to be for sale. Or, why not just come and meet the chickens.

Come and meet the chickens.

Come and meet the chickens.

Pig Rules OK!

When you think of pigs you often think of cute little piglets, jumping around and playfully squealing as they snuffle at your feet but the thing about pigs is that they grow, and grow and simply keep growing. The pork and bacon that we eat come from pigs that are only 6-8 months old and weigh just 90kg, but, the pigs that we will have on the farm will be the mummies and the daddies of these little babies. Mummy and Daddy Pigs are BIG animals and can weigh more than 300kg, imagine that stepping on your foot (I can tell you that it hurts) and so its important to be careful around the pigs and to treat them with respect. With this in mind I have just found an excellent blog from an American hog farm (that’s what they call pigs stateside) with a short list of rules for safe handling of pigs and I thought it would be useful for anyone who comes to visit us on the farm. Read and be prepared, you have been warned……

Pig, Farm

This is our neighbours pig, probably about 150kg, just a little-un.

1. Don’t get between a big animal and a hard place.
2. Watch your feet, beware of hooves, tusks and tails.
3. Don’t try to break up a boar fight.
4. Be wary around the boars when they’re after a lady in heat. It’s not polite, and rather dangerous, to interrupt sparking folk.
5. Be very careful of a sow and her piglets. If piglets start screaming the sow, and other pigs, may rush to their defense. Even a sow that is normally very docile may get aggressive in this situation.
6. Greet a pig fist out fingers curled down and in. This is like touching noses which is a proper, polite piggy hello.
7. Most importantly, don’t mess around with pigs you don’t know. They can get aggressive, like any animal, if they feel threatened, especially by someone they don’t know.

These rules of conduct can be applied to many species.

As an interesting aside, the pigs perceive us as being far bigger than we actually are. They see us as a 2 dimensional silhouette and assume we have a proportional mass. To them height in particular, but also width, implies a corresponding length and thus total size. If you want to appear small to a pig, and many other animals, crouch down and you’re less threatening. Similarly, if you want to be very big and intimidating, stand up tall and spread your arms up and outward – this is called looming. It is very handy for moving animals around and backing them off if need be. If you are only 5’8″ a pig will think you are about 4,000 lbs because he never realizes there’s not more of you behind the silhouette. He has a pig-centric mentality that says everybody is proportionally long as they are tall at the shoulder.

Thanks to http://sugarmtnfarm.com/ for the blog.

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….