TFWF#39: a look back at 2014

We dont always have the time to look back at our lives, and even if we do have the time we often don’t have the inclination. However as its the end of our first year farming I thought I should look back and see what, if anything, I have achieved.

Of course its easy to say that in a year when achievements have been coming from every direction, a new country, a career change, a marriage, a baby and so on (not all of that happened in 2014 but most of it did). The problem is that it has been a frantic whirlwind of events and activity and I am running the risk of not appreciating the memories and learnings.

Its been just over a year since we moved to the farm and after a short time as bare land owners we received our first livestock on the 11th December 2014. The nine piglets from Wanganui did us well and got us through the first few farmers markets and indeed one lucky Sow (now named Ruth, after Ruth Pretty the chef) became the first pig to be mated and have a litter on the farm.

Me inspecting the herd on day one.

Me inspecting the herd on day one.

When I look back at the pictures of me surrounded by those motley coloured pigs, pink buckets in hand and a small pile of feed bags I am amazed by the growth that has happened. If we just look at the numbers on the 11th December 2013 we had a total of nine piglets on the farm, as of today, 11th January 2015, we now have a herd consisting of:

  • 3 Boars
  • 8 Sows
  • 7 Gilts (young sows)
  • 40 Growers
  • 34 Piglets

The infrastructure in December 2014 was basically two large fields with perimeter fencing only and one small transit paddock. A year on and we have 18 four line electric fenced paddocks with detailed maps of the farm in order to ensure the pigs are tracked and accounted for, the water pipes are easy to find and the electric fence on/off switches are everywhere. Not only has it been a great deal of hard work and time it has also cost a great deal of money, the steel fence posts are $7 each and I would estimate we have used at least 200 posts alone, not to mention the gates, the gate posts, the wire (thousands of meters), the insulators and the tools required to do all this work.

The breeding herd paddock after 1 year of farming

A panoramic photo of the breeding herd paddock after 1 year of farming. At roughly 12 acres the herd have about 1 acre per paddock and normally house two Sows per paddock

After a few months of breeding herd preparations and feeding the ‘bought in’ growers we were greeted by a barrage of piglets in May, starting with Paula on the 1st May, then Marigold, then Jennifer and finally Clarissa squeezing into the month on the 31st May. The following month the month important of our litters was born, our first son, Fred. The numbers on the farm were building quickly.

That same month was our first time at the Farmers Markets. My fear of meeting customers and selling on the street was eclipsed by my fear of driving, parking and reversing with a chiller trailer attached. I had never towed a trailer before and had never been to either of the markets to scope out the trailer driving skills needed. It seems like such a funny thing to have been worried so about now that I look back, but at the time it kept me awake at night.

Our first market day. Both Claire and I manning the stand

Our first market day. Both Claire and I manning the stand

The markets went well. I enjoyed them on that first day and I still enjoy them just as much after neary a year. I like meeting the people that eat and enjoy our meat and I also like to be able to talk about our farm and why we do what we do. The markets were also our greatest marketing venues, we met restaurant owners, chefs, foodies, blog writers and eventually in the middle of the year a producer from the iconic TVNZ Country Calendar.

As the year went on I scoured the country looking for breeding stock. We had pigs arrive on the farm from Gore, Masterton, Featherston, Feilding, Levin and the Hawkes Bay. By the time the Country Calendar cameras arrived we had become a fully fledged (but still small scale) pig farm. The show explored our reasons for the farm, our plans for the future and ourselves. It was a most enjoyable experience.

Feeding pigs brewers grain whilst standing on the back of a ute with a camera crew.

Feeding pigs brewers grain whilst standing on the back of a ute with a camera crew, just another day…

As the year came to a close the focus switched entirely to the production and supply of the Christmas hams. With such a large amount of produce being sold in one month it very quickly became apparent that the Christmas hams are actually the make or break of a pig farmer and no mistakes could be made. Not wanting to let anyone down we launched the sale of hams on our website, pay a deposit and secure your ham. Within just two days 80% of our hams were sold. What followed was a frantic plethora of spreadsheets with names and collection points, final prices and preferences for sizes. It was our first year and we had a lot to organise and learn. We bought boxes, labels, sticker and bags and I spent a great deal of time trying to get it 100%. Of course I didn’t manage to achieve 100% satisfaction but we were pretty close and we learnt from our mistakes, bring on next year.

Twenty Fourteen was a year of arrivals, markets, deaths, piglets, births, trips to the abattoir, fencing, water reticulation, weddings, family, Woody catching his first rat, Fred eating his first meal, damaging cars, fixing cars, floods, cameras, building houses, meeting customers and much, much more.

I wonder what Twenty Fifteen will bring?

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.

 

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

 

Pork and piglets

The last two weeks have been the most exciting, stressful and rewarding weeks of my short farming career. After almost seven months of happy, healthy living in the paddocks it was time to start taking the ‘Wanganui 9’ pigs to the abattoir.
For the week prior to the trip I had started to coax the pigs from their own paddocks up the race and into the transit paddock. My paddocks are arranged so that by leaving the gates open and carefully placing piles of food they will basically do all the hard work for me. After just two days I woke up to find five pigs in the transit area. One of these was a pig that I had earmarked for breeding so she was to be transported separately to the breeding paddocks leaving four pigs to take to the abattoir.
The trip was planned for early Monday morning and to reduce stress on the pigs before the trip we planned to feed the pigs on the trailer Sunday night and let them spend the night there. Reuben came round on the Sunday night and we laid a trail of irresistible Korker Porker, succulent pig feed, up the ramp and into the trailer. The pigs smelt a rat and had no intention of climbing that ramp. A four hour battle ensued and having now enlisted Darren, Reuben’s father from Kapiti Free Range, we used pig boards, pallets, electric fences and physical strength to slowly direct the pigs up the ramp and into the trailer. After four hours we had managed to get just three pigs onto the trailer one by one. The first was easy, the second took about and hour, the third took the full four hours and the fourth beat us completely. We locked up the trailer, covered it for the night and my first trip to the abattoir was set to be just three pigs.
The next morning I was up at 6am to feed the rest of the herd and hook up the trailer, at 7am Reuben and I left the farm for the hour and a half trip to the Abattoir in Wanganui. Most abattoirs don’t take pigs for slaughter, preferring to focus on the greater numbers of cattle and sheep that most farmers bring. Because of this we are not able to use the abattoir ten minutes up the road in Levin but instead we had to search for a suitable abattoir and for us it is either Wanganui or Masterton, given that Wanganui is the shorter journey that was our destination.
Arriving at the abattoir I surprised myself by backing the trailer up to the arrivals lounge in less than twenty attempts and we opened up the back doors, the pigs looked around, looked at me and casually stepped off the trailer and trotted happily down the ramp into the abattoir. I mumbled a little ‘thank you’ to them as they left on the next part of their journey to help make Woody’s Farm commercially viable. It’s never nice to see your animals for the last time but they had an excellent life on the farm and through their food they will be remembered, a far better eulogy than the majority of intensively bred pigs would get. It was back to the farm for Reuben and I.

Two days later the circle of life was completed when Paula Deen went into labour and produced ten healthy and happy little piglets. This was my first experience of pig farrowing and I really didn’t know what to expect. I watched as she got close to farrowing time, her teats filled up with milk in the space of a day and almost hit the ground, she started to arrange the straw in her hut into a nest and her flat mate, Marigold, was clearly told to move into the other hut from now on. A few hours later I headed back to the hut for a checkup and Paula was already surrounded by nine little piglets, shortly after a tenth appeared and the night set in. Being focused on the health and wellbeing of my pigs I don’t use farrowing crates or sow stalls, the pigs give birth in their own huts and make their own nests, the downside of this is that a mother might, by accident, squash one of her babies in the night.

The next morning I gingerly walked up to the pig hut to see Paula and the piglets, there she was resting with ten little piglets gently and enthusiastically sucking on their mothers milk. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Claire and I barely had time to gaze on the piglets and take photo’s before Marigold herself retired to her own pig hut to nest and prepare for her farrowing. It was late in the evening as I watched her lay in her hut, gently grunting. The piglets began to come. After five piglets it was now dark and the rain was not letting up, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to cross the river to get home I left her for the time being with the intention to come back a few hours later. Unfortunately the rain got heavier and the Waikawa stream rose fast and furious, at 8pm I realised that I was not going to be able to cross the river till the morning. Cursing my iniabilty to buy the $150,000 bridge that bridgeitnz.co.nz had quoted me, I went to bed. The next day at 6am I was up like a shot, it was still dark and the river still high but I crossed in the tractor and walked the rest of the way to check on Marigold.

Waiting for me in the pig pen was eight little healthy piglets and one VERY tired mother. I laid some food in front of her and she slowly chewed it down, the piglets squeaking as she moved. As I looked around the hut I noticed a small black shadow and realised that my fears had been met, one little boy had not made it. I reached across and scooped him up in my hands, cold but still perfectly formed. As I mentioned before this is one of the drawbacks of free range farming, but it is also one of the realities of nature, we had lost one but we had gained eight.

In just two weeks we had taken three pigs to market, watched two mothers make nests, greeted 18 happy and healthy piglets and buried one. And to add to all that I ferried Ruth (the one pig I saved from the Wanganui 9) over the river to her new home with Hugh, a little bit of pig matchmaking.

Tomorrow we go to the Farmers Markets, its been a lot of preparation, getting the pork, the labelling machine, the marketing material, the website, the packaging, the aprons, tables, fridges and even an office. Maybe one day I will tell you all about it, but for now lets just all go gooey for this little piglet…….

piglet, pig, farmer

This is a Large Black (Devon) piglet, one of Paula’s little babies.

Life on the farm!

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

Land Rover, Farm, Dog

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

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

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

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

True free range Large Black (Devon) pigs in Wanganui

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

The livestock auction at Rongotea.

The livestock auction at Rongotea.

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

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

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

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

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