TFWF#42: The night the arks floated

As many of you will know the night of the 19th June was a very wet one for much of New Zealand. Here in the Manawatu we were hit very hard by the run off from the Tararua Ranges. Our farm is split in two by the Waikawa stream, a normally calm babbling brook that you can wade through in gumboots. On the night of the 19th the water level rose to almost 2.5m, breaking the councils measuring system in the process, and the flow peaked at over 200,000 litres per second (on average it is normally around 500l/s). The noise all over the farm was deafening and, it was scary.

The day started early at 5:30am with preparations for Feilding Farmers Market at 8am. At 6:45 I left for the market and whilst the weather was far from enjoyable I had a great day with lots of new and old customers dropping by. We had been warned about the rainfall but standing in the town square it looked like the forecasters had been a little overly cautious, the showers were interspersed with sun and did not feel like flood levels of water.

IMG_3915

The weather forecast for 19th June, watch for flooding they said…

It wasn’t until I left the markets at about 2pm that I started to see the volume of water that was starting to build up in the paddocks and roadways on the journey home from Feilding through Sanson and into Levin. As I drove through the puddles the tension regarding what I would find back on the farm had started to build. Turning into the driveway I could already see the Waikawa stream was high and loud as the water crashed into the banks.

After any market I am tired and frankly want to sit down and have a beer but as always I have a number of food and farm related jobs that have to be carried out. I counted the remaining meat, loaded the fridges, filled in my paperwork and got changed into my farm gear in order to head out to feed the pigs. I filled up the feed buckets and headed out to check on the grower pigs who live in the paddock closest to the Waikawa stream. By now it was about 3:30pm, the rain was still falling hard and the paddocks were very wet, but the stream was no higher than I had seen it before and the water seemed to be draining freely via the drainage ditches that the previous owners of our farm had, poorly, installed. Feeling a little calmer about the situation I went back home to check the forecast, the councils data for the stream and eat some lunch.

The rain continued, hard. My stress levels continued to build. Every couple of hours I headed out into the farm to look at the stream and check on the paddock with the grower pigs. 5pm, 7pm, 8:30pm, the water was rising but seemed manageable. The drainage ditch was now flowing over the track into paddock and would make moving the pigs to higher ground difficult but not impossible. Night had fallen and it was getting hard to see the real situation, at 9:30 I headed out again to look at the paddock and found that the water had risen further, the pigs were not in danger but if this carried on I was in real trouble of endangering life unless i did something.

At times like this the first thing you need is moral support, with my mind racing at a thousand thoughts per second I was running the risk of becoming too overwhelmed to actually do anything. At 10pm Claire asked me to take her down to the paddock so she could see the situation herself. It wasn’t until the next day that I realised that the river had actually peaked at 10:20 and broken the banks at the end of the paddock, as Claire and I arrived we were faced with total carnage as the river made a horseshoe type flow across the paddock cutting it off from the farm. The paddock track was impassable, the drainage ditch had overflowed and the water running over the track was almost waist deep. We could see the pigs in the first section of the paddock, all huddling in their ark shaped house completely surrounded by water, they had no higher ground to get too. It was a terrible sight and both Claire and I had to take a moment to calm ourselves. We decided to go back up to the house and try and call Russell who used to farm all the land around this neighbourhood, we thought he would surely be able to make some suggestions (we later found out he was in Fiji on holiday). Meanwhile I set out in the dark to the DOC campground which backs onto our paddock to see if I could get to the pigs from the other direction.

It was dark so the image is not very clear but at 11pm this 'river' was actually the farm track into the paddock.

It was dark so the image is not very clear but at 11pm this ‘river’ was actually the farm track into the paddock (thats my car parked on higher ground). And those rope like things are the high tensile fences being swept away, the pigs are in the paddock on the right.

Pulling into the campground the sitting water was everywhere. I got out the car and made my way to the fence line, it looked like I could get through and get to the pigs, my plan was to cut some fences and let the pigs get to slightly higher ground in other sections of the paddock. As I walked towards the paddock a quad bike pulled into the campground, thinking it was Russell and at the same time finding the whole darkness, headlamp and roaring river thing a little creepy I headed back to my car. The quad was being driver by Brad, another neighbour, he offered to take me over to the fence line on the quad, I jumped on. We both climbed over the fence and went to look at the pigs. Water was everywhere, at least 12″ deep, but much of the paddock was above the waterline and most of the pigs were at no risk, we kept walking over to the first section that Claire and I had seen underwater about half an hour ago. It looked like the water had receded a little but you couldn’t tell what was likely to happen. Having spent weeks putting electric fences all over the paddock splitting the land into smaller sections for rotation of the pigs I now knew that the only thing I could do was cut the fences and hope the pigs worked out the best places to be. Soaking wet Brad and I jumped back onto the quad and headed for my car.

Back at home Claire had been unable to get hold of Russell and I simply didn’t know if the water was rising or falling, it was now about midnight and we had no option than to call around and get help. Our friends in Otaki couldn’t get through, the highway was cut off just outside Otaki by a stream crossing the road and the Waikawa had actually washed away the highway just north of Manakau meaning that we were also cut off from Levin, isolated in both directions. Our only option was the neighbours and what followed was nothing short of a miracle of logistics by Claire. Whilst the names will mean nothing to you just marvel at the organisation as we rallied the neighbours at midnight

  • Doug was home alone as Julie was stuck in Levin, he couldn’t leave his children who were asleep
  • Claire offered to babysit Doug’s kids but then we needed someone to babysit Fred, also asleep.
  • Denise came around to babysit Fred
  • Brad came back to help, sporting what I think was a wetsuit
  • Chris got our of bed to come and give a hand
  • Doug arrived in his Land Rover

We had a team and we set to work trying to grab as many pigs as possible and get them to higher ground or, thanks to Doug and his amazing trailer towing skills, into the stock trailer. What followed was a torchlit version of a black and white slapstick movie as one by one we dived at black pigs, missed, landed face down in the mud and tried again. We soon got a rhythm and by the time my grip gave out, from the power of grabbing the pigs by their fast kicking legs, we had caught and re-homed about 30 pigs of all shapes and sizes. It was about 2:30am.

As we returned to our respective homes everyone looked drained and ready to sleep, except Brad who I think could have carried on all night wrestling pigs. After a well needed warm shower I sat down at the computer and informed all our Facebook followers that it was looking very unlikely we would be at the Thorndon Farmers Market that day, despite having a trailer full of fresh meat. It was now 3am and I had been awake for 22 hours, tomorrow the clean up had to start and the pigs needed somewhere to live other than the back of a trailer.

From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank all those people that came out to help that night, some of you might be reading this. Apart from simply being a really nice thing to do I suspect that you probably saved a life and definitely saved my business. Thank you so much.

TFWF#41: Part 3 – Money

I started Woody’s Free Range Farm with animal husbandry and welfare as my number one concern but after 18 months the reality of farming, just like any industry, is that money comes a very close second. Just like any startup business, we are very reliant on much bigger businesses who will only give us a fair go if we have a good cashflow position and pay our bills regularly, companies like abattoirs, butchers, feed mills and courrier companies.

For every person that dreams of giving up the corporate world and starting a small farm (or even worse a pig farm) there will be many more who tried it and failed when they realised it was eating away at savings and, rather than providing an outdoor lifestyle, it actually tied them to the farm every single day of the year.

Choosing farming as a new career is not an easy path to take and I believe that the key to making it work for me has been a mixture of stubbornness, competitiveness and being a control freak. However all of those ‘admirable’ qualities aside the main reason the farm is still going and the business improving is because of the savings that I had before we started the farm.

Farming is expensive. Aside from the cash flow issues of feeding animals for eight months before being able to take any produce to market there are also the capital costs of simply running a farm. We are lucky enough to have eighty acres of land but with it comes an obligation to look after the land, and with that comes costs. We have to pay the mortgage, rates, earthworks, farm structures, vehicles and water reticulation. All these expenses need to be paid and with only, at this stage, six pigs to sell a month we simply can’t rely on just that income alone.

Our largest ongoing cost is animal feed. In order to ensure the consistent quality of our meat we buy in a special feed formula for our grower pigs and another specific feed for the breeding herd. We do supplement this with used brewers grain which we collect for free from The Garage Project in Wellington but this is just a ‘filler feed’ and does not replace the professionally designed feed formula that the pigs get fed. Each and every day our pigs get fed at least 1kg of feed per animal per meal, and have two meals a day. On average a kilo of feed costs $0.83 per kg, this soon adds up depending on the number of pigs on the farm. At the moment we have 57 growers, 20 sows and 3 boars all eating 2kg of feed per day – thats a total of 160kg of feed or $132.80 per day.

On the other side of the coin our income has, up till now, almost exclusively come from the sale of meat at farmers markets and through restaurants and cafe’s. We are small and can’t meet demand but since the beginning of this year we have taken 32 pigs to the abattoir and sold 2403 packets of meat, this equates to 1239kg of pork including 5425 sausages and 233kg of bacon and ham. We have been lucky in that we have had no problems selling our products but our sales methods are also very time consuming and mean that I get to spend less time on the farm when I need to be at the markets or collecting the meat from the butchers.

Our prices are closely matched to retail prices. We are obviously more expensive that intensively reared meat but I have always tried to keep the prices at a level that most people can afford, if only for a special event. Our bacon is often cheaper that the Free Farmed versions for sale in the supermarket and always cheaper than the products available in high end stores such as Moore Wilson and Commonsence Organics, this is because we are the producer and there are no middle men or retail margins to be paid. Our goal is to be able to supply you with excellent meat products are reasonable prices, and by making a purchase you are 100% supporting us the growers.

Despite all this the reality is that we are currently not growing enough pigs to make enough money to run the business in the black. We simply need to breed more pigs and with this will bring the economies of scale that will make the farm a viable business. I write this blog not to complain or to plead poverty but rather to ensure that anyone with an interest in a similar lifestyle understands that it will take time and during that time you will need savings, a great deal of will power and probably most important…a very supportive partner.

TFWF#41: Part 2 – Sex

In the second part of this farm update I focus on sex. Not the type of sex that gets the heart beating and the mind racing but the type of sex that makes the running of a farm completely dependant upon spreadsheets and calendars.

I have mentioned the maths before but to reiterate a pig comes into heat every 21 days. Once pregnant the gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. After the farrowing occurs the piglets spend 8 weeks with their mother, suckling from her milk and eventually some creep feeding of the grains that the sows eat. Finally, after the 8 weeks, they are collected up and transferred to the grower paddocks where they will live for another five to six months.

Well thats the theory, what about the practice, and more specifically how do we get them pregnant and how do we know they are pregnant. Here on the farm we use natural methods for getting the sows pregnant, better known as Hugh and Gordon. On larger farms they prefer to use artificial insemination as this ensure the sows don’t get hurt by the boar and they can be more certain of the date of impregnation, however we have the space and the time to focus on natural breeding. The sows are put to the boar for a period of 25 days, this ensures the sows will be on heat at least once and normally twice. After this we cycle the sows and move them out to be replaced by the next lot. Sometimes we don’t have another sow to put in with the boars so to ensure the boars don’t get lonely the sows are left in the paddocks for a longer time.

Gordon and his girls

Gordon (at the back getting a scratch) with his girls.

Despite giving the sows at least 25 days with the boars it is still important to be able to tell when the pig comes on heat. There are normally physical signs to help to identify this and most pig farmers will also tell you that if you push the sow from behind and she refuses to move then she is very likely to be on heat. The problem with both of these methods is that they are open to interpretation and can sometimes be unreliable. Unfortunately the cost of an ultrasound machine is simply too much for us to buy so we have to use the old methods of checking for signs of heat and being patient. In most cases I have been lucky and the pigs have all been pregnant first time but as we get busier its more difficult to leave the sows with the boars for longer and not all sows come on heat in the same way, making it difficult to know if they are pregnant or not.

Recently we have had a few failed attempts and this can have a real effect on business plans because we are suddenly ten pigs down on expectations. The first sow to let us down was Martha. Martha is a very Large Black who came as a package deal with two registered rare breed Berkshires, unfortunately, after living with a boar for months, she simply did not come on heat and could not get pregnant. I had two options but given the complications of slaughtering a 250kg sow, the abattoir will not take pigs over 80kg and I cannot sell the meat if we home kill her, she has escaped culling and has become our companion sow who will keep any lonely boar company whilst they are not in service.

Martha, the Large Black  companion pig.

Martha, the Large Black companion pig.

The second sow to fail to get pregnant was more of a surprise to me, she is a registered Berkshire and had originally arrived on the farm already in litter, she was a good mum with 11 piglets but second time around she failed to come on heat and I suspect it was because of a hip/leg injury making her unsuitable for mating. Jennifer is a typical example of an untypical pig. she is difficult to tell when on heat, there are very little outward signs and she is so stubborn she will refuse, when pushed, to move if on heat or not. I waited with in trepidation and baited breath as the 15th May approached and passed, it was obvious that she was not pregnant but being a big pig I still had some hope that she was simply not showing. However its now 20 days after her litter was due and whilst she has proven to be a great companion to Ruth, who had a litter at the beginning of May, she will soon be put back to the boar and I will be watching very closely this time. Its a sad fact of life on the farm that all the animals on the farm need to provide a return, we simply cannot afford to become a rescue home to old animals which continue to cost us $2 per day in feed. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that Jennifer delivers us a litter soon.

After 18 months on the farm I have learnt a lot about pigs but I still need to become better at recognising the pigs heat cycles, planning the mating and ensuring the pigs are pregnant after being moved out from the boars. Its all part of the learning experience and I have quickly learnt, to my detriment, that planning the breeding is the most important part of the business because when I get it wrong it results in a shortage of stock to sell eight months down the line. This is actually the biggest difference between my old career in Consumer Electronics and my new career as a farmer, whereas I used to be able to quickly increase supply by buying more products I now have to plan eights months in advance to meet my customers demands, and if I get it wrong we have nothing to sell.

TFWF#41: Part 1 – Death

As the farm, and the business, gets busier I have realised that my farm updates are getting further and further apart. This means I have a lot more to say in each update and therefore I have cut out the basic humdrum of everyday life on the farm to focus on the really important matters. This post is in three parts and each details the three most important issues on the farm, the issues of death, sex and money.

As I have mentioned in previous posts death is a big part of farming. A part that I thought I had prepared myself for but it never ceases to amaze me how it still affects me. Luckily our breeding stock and grower pigs have been healthy and we have never lost a single pig after weaning. Its a different story at birth and a pig will almost always have at least one death per litter, the stats are on average 10%. Depending on the pig, some have no deaths and some tend to have more than their fare share, this could be due to still births, too many in a litter or the mother accidentally sitting on the piglets in the farrowing hut.

At times we have periods of frequent farrowing and at the start of this year we had four litters in a row, when this happens you also have the chance of more piglet deaths. Two of the pigs had no deaths, resulting in litters of 13 and 9 respectively. The other two were less lucky and they have a history of losing a few piglets per litter. One pig decided to farrow outside by the fence line rather than in a hut, this resulted in her nest being less suitable for the piglets and she squashed two of them, she actually had less space for the piglets to get away than if she had farrowed in the hut. As soon as I found the piglets at the far end of the field I began the process of moving them (two at a time) into the farrowing hut, the mother followed later and luckily we lost no more from that litter. Collecting the dead piglets it is not a nice job and made worse by the work required to dig holes in which to lay them to rest. I have always insisted on treating them respectfully and when the weather allows I normally dig a hole on a hill overlooking the breeding paddock, from there they are able to look down on the rest of the herd, forever a part of the farm.

Of course the most regular cause of death that I have to deal with is when I take the grower pigs to the abattoir for slaughter. Its a part of the job that I don’t often talk openly about because many people don’t like to think about this part of the lifecycle, or find it too upsetting. However I feel that if you eat meat you should know the process involved and therefore I insist on taking the pigs to the abattoir myself.

Its not a pleasant journey, knowing the final destination, but it is made as stressless as possible for the pigs by starting early in the day and getting them on the trailer straight after a good nights sleep. For a few days before the journey the pigs have been relocated into the transit paddock and are trained to eat on the trailer, come the day of the journey they greet me from the trailer, waiting to get fed, snorting with happiness. Without any hassles or stress I slide the door closed, hitch up the trailer to the car and head out on the road.

IMG_3372

Three Large Black pigs getting ready for their journey to the abattoir. Two of them still unaware they are even on a trailer.

 

They have plenty of straw for the journey and after a few mins they settle down for the journey. We never travel if the weather is too bad and I don’t stop on the way, preferring to get to the abattoir as quick as possible. It takes about one and a half hours to get the the abattoir, its a journey that would not be necessary if we were allowed to kill on the farm but under MPI rules the pigs must be slaughtered at a registered works and in the lower north island our closest is in Wanganui.

On arrival at the abattoir the pigs happily alight the trailer, happy to be back on solid ground. I walk them down into a metal holding pen where they are able to drink and are kept cool by a fine water mist (when its hot). On the days that we drop off there are normally a few pens of intensively grown white pigs close by, these pigs are happy to see the light of day and are making happy snorting noises. Within a few hours they have all been stunned and killed. The death is efficient, quick and as humane as possible.

Despite the fact that I know the process is designed to limit any stress and fear I never forget to spend a few minutes on the drive home to think about the pigs, its my way of saying goodbye and to remind myself that they had a good life.

TFWF#38: shooting on the farm and Christmas (ham) is coming

Another month or so has passed and once again, it’s been a busy one. Ruth’s piglets, the newly titled Berkshire Blacks, have now been weaned and they are in their new home on the other side of the farm in the grower paddock. At just over eight weeks old they are already showing signs of great muscle (meat) structure and are proving to be very fast growing. They are also the first of the growers to be fed from birth on the high protein new grain diet (in addition to their mothers milk).

The weaning was pretty straight forward as I use a crate to feed them in for a few days before weaning and once they are all comfortable in there I close the door and lift them from the crate to my trailer for transportation across the river to the new paddock and home. Ruth seemed initially quite please to see them go and was happy to engorge herself on the piglet food left behind.

Meanwhile in the grower paddock the purebred Berkshires have, at last, reached weight and yesterday I took the last four to the works. These pigs took a month longer than we expected to get to weight, they should take six months but the winter extended this to seven. Apart from the added feed cost that this incurs it also means that the meat can be a little fattier as the animals build fat to stay warm. This is the primary reason why most pig farms are indoors in order to regulate the temperature and climate, of course the problem with this is that the animals do not get to forage (which makes the meat far higher in nutrients), build good muscle structure and most importantly they don’t get to live naturally, as a pig should.

Now that all the Berkshires have been taken to the abattoir our butcher has been busy making our usual bacon, sausages and cuts but he has also begun the process of curing, cooking and smoking the Xmas hams. This year we had a very limited stock of hams so it is most definitely a first come, first served process. To ensure that we didn’t double up and that everyone had a fair chance to place an order we set up our online shop so that customers could place a deposit on a ham and pick a time and place to collect. I sent my first email to those that had asked about the Xmas hams at the markets and followed it up with a more general newsletter. The response has been excellent and as I write this we only have a few left online, click on this LINK if you want to see if we have any available and if we are sold out please sign up to our newsletter in order to get a pre-notice next year, you can do that by clicking HERE

While 8 week olds were being weaned and 7 month olds were taking a trip to the works our cutest Berkshire, Delia, who came from Gore many months ago on the livestock road-train, was nearing her first litter. On the 25th November Delia went into labour and with a short dinner break in between farrowing she managed to give birth to a very healthy litter of six piglets. Whilst we always hope for ten piglets per litter it was her first farrowing and six healthy piglets is a great result. Pigs will often lose a piglet or two during the process (it is estimated to be about 10% of the litter will not make it) and Gilts (first time mothers) are more likely than Sows to have problems so for Delia to have managed so well without any help or intervention is a great sign that she will have a life on the farm as part of the breeding herd for many years to come.

Our big news over the last two months is even more exciting that our growing herd of cute little piglets. A number of months ago I was approached at the Hill St Farmers Market by a tall stranger who was purporting to be a producer from the TVNZ show Country Calendar and that he would like to do a show on our farm. Naturally I was suspicious and being so new to farming I was convinced that we didn’t have enough to talk about or that I would end up looking like the novice that I am.

A few months passed and whilst Claire and I hoped the show might happen we kept a healthy scepticism as to whether or not it would truly eventuate. Suddenly I received an email and before we knew it dates had been planned, forms had been signed and we received an outline of what the show would include.

On the 21st September a film crew of three turned up at the farm and a completely new experience was thrust upon us. What was very interesting to me was the way life on camera is no longer linear, things do not happen in true time order and answers are given before questions are asked. In order to make the most of each location on the farm (or off the farm, more of that to come) we would film sections which would later be placed in chronological order. We also had to film the answers from different points of view and camera angles so I found myself trying to repeat what I had just said having completely forgot what it was in the first place. All the time we continued with our lives as best we could. Claire has a business to run, I have pigs to feed and Fred simply wants to eat, sleep and make loud noises.

The filming was surprisingly tiring but a lot of fun, the crew were very professional, courteous and really helped to put us at ease. The programme is not just about pig farming the free range way, it is also about how we came from the city, started the farm, started a new life and the trials and tribulations along the way. I am hoping that it doesn’t make me look too inexperienced. After a few days on the farm we headed into Wellington to complete the story with some cameo’s from the people we work with and who have helped us along the way.  Our first stop was at The Garage Project, I have mentioned these guys before because they supply us with spent barley from the brewing process to give to the pigs. This was my first experience of being filmed in public and the embarrassment factor was high, we filmed the drive in, the drive out and the bit in between. Following this was a trip to Big Bad Wolf who are making some new products for us including pork scratchings and Pancetta. Gabriel proved to be a natural on the camera and we breezed through the same conversation about the process of making Pancetta from four different angles, Adam the chef also proving to be excellent at walking, four or five times, from the kitchen to the table with a plate of Pancetta.

After the excitement had died down and the crew had left the farm I had just enough time to relax and catch a terrible case of tonsillitis. Its only when you get ill that you realise how hands on my chosen career is. As a farmer I can’t just stay in bed because i’m sick, the animals still need food and water. After a few days of shivering with fever as I wandered around the farm with buckets of feed I sent a desperate message to Reuben…”can you please feed the pigs..,’ as always he was quick to help and I spent the next four days in bed whilst he kept the livestock happy.

The sickness came and went, much like the film crew. On the 13th November at 6:30am they were back and this time we were travelling together up to Wanganui and the abattoir. Taking pigs to the abattoir is never a nice experience, the stress of loading them, the journey and the arrival at the place with all the animal noises. I made it clear to the team that we would not be taking hours of footage of the pigs being loaded and offloaded, the trip was to be as stress free as possible for the pigs. Arriving at the abattoir we had to wait for two big trucks of steroid filled pigs and fear filled sheep to be offloaded and then we backed up the trailer and gently coaxed our five off the trailer and into the abattoir. Its was a simple process and painless to all involved. The crew fully understood the emotion of the moment and we respectfully said goodbye to those five Berkshires.

Having taken the crew to meet Shane our butcher at Otaki Meats and watch him skillfully tie sausages like a long forgotten skill, the only filming left to do was at the markets, and the date and venue were set for 22nd November at Hill Street Market in Wellington. Customers had been warned about the presence of the crew and a fair few turned up late in the day hoping not to be caught on camera. However a fair few also got their fifteen minutes of fame as the camera and sound boom floated above our heads on what was an extremely wet and windy day.

I will end this exciting chapter with a big thankyou to everyone that appeared, willingly or not, in the filming of our episode of Country Calendar. Afterall, it is because of all of you that I can do what I do. Thank you so much and I hope that you enjoy the programme when it airs in March/April next year (2015)

 

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).

IMG_2369

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 28: Piglets, Martha and Marketing

The Large Black piglets are now nine weeks old and making a total mess of their farrowing paddock. Digging and rooting is a normal activity for pigs, they obtain nutrients from the grass, the bugs and even the soil. An adult pig will plough into the soil and leave big ruts whereas the piglets will just turn over the whole paddock, leaving the soil aerated and flattened. Traditionally farmers would use pigs to turn over the soil ready for a new crop and now that I see what the piglets can do to the land I intend to do the same. At nine weeks old the piglets need to be weaned from the mothers and moved to their ‘grower’ paddock, the mothers (Sows) will then be moved into a new farrowing paddock and I will be planting a foraging crop in the old paddock, maybe peas. But first I need to fence out another grower paddock, build a new pig arc and catch the piglets.

piglets

Large black piglets ready for weaning at 8 to 10 weeks old

Staying with the Large Black pigs my latest concern is Martha. Martha is my oldest lady at 3 years and 7 months old, she joined us on the farm at the end of March and was supposedly ‘in pig’ at that time. Pig breeding is very date specific, they come on heat every 21 days, after that the gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. With a little bit of maths and a lot of help from an Excel spreadsheet I can tell that the last date she will farrow is the 27th July and if that doesn’t happen then she most definitely is not pregnant (when she first moved onto the farm she had already been living with Jimmy for two months). So I have to start asking the question of myself, “what do I do with a pig who is not getting pregnant” after all it is a business? Obviously the first step will be to tell if she is still coming into heat and then I will introduce her to another Boar (sorry Jimmy) and take it from there. But if all else fails it will be time to consider what to do with her, but for now lets all just think positive thoughts.

Martha, the old lady of the herd.

Martha, the old lady of the herd.

Due to a lack of stock, a lack of sleep (thanks to Fred) and a need to recharge the batteries I did not attend any of the farmers markets this week (sorry to my regulars). This gave me time to get stuck into the marketing of the business. I have always said that the business can be split into three jobs:

  1. Farming
  2. Produce (inventory and selling)
  3. Marketing

Marketing for me is the easiest part of the job, I have been marketing products, brands and companies for 17 years, so it tends to get relegated to the bottom of the pile of jobs. This week, with time on my hands, I managed to get some artwork done for business cards and even a hoodie to wear at the markets (and try to keep warm)

Yummy warm Woody's hoodie

Yummy warm Woody’s hoodie

Hopefully my hoodie will arrive soon and maybe, in the future, I will sell them to help with the running of the farm, I think its pretty cool.