This particular blog is specifically to thank my loyal customers and to share some of the many excellent responses that we received from our recent customer survey, and if you have not yet taken the survey you can do so HERE.
Last week we sent out a survey mainly for two reasons. I have come to the conclusion that simply growing pigs and selling the meat is not a sustainable business, after fixed cost are deducted (almost 70% of which is pig feed) the rest of the money we receive from sales goes on farm and vehicle upkeep. To make it even worse I cannot run the farm, sales, website, marketing and meat production alone but finances mean that I can't afford to hire anyone either, I believe this is called catch 22.
The answers are, of course, to reduce costs and/or increase sales revenue. Our main costs have reduced slightly as we have found a new feed supplier who has managed to get us down from 70c to 65c per kg, however to counter this the pigs have increased and we are now getting through 230kg per day, or nearly 7 tonnes per month. Butchery and processing costs vary but are mainly stable.
This leaves increasing our sales. To do this we either put the prices up (we are cheaper than most Freedom Farmed products), we start producing more artisan products like charcuterie or we find products that we can sell to complement our own products and meet our ethical standards. And it was with these questions in mind that I produced the survey.
We sent our survey out to our newsletter list, our Facebook friends and twitter followers and were very pleased that so many people took the time to answer the questions. I was even more please to see a lot of really excellent and useful comments (and some not so useful - luckily the survey is completely anonymous)
Having received these great responses I thought I would take some of the more regular questions and give you some answers. Once again thanks for the questions, ideas and comments. Here we go:
We want more frequent shipping days and not sold out so often?
Absolutely, so do I. The problem is that we don't have enough pigs for that. Our pigs take eight months to grow to the right size (slower in winter) as opposed to intensive pigs that get to weight in just 5-6 months. We are now supplying over 600kg a month but we know we need more. Because of this I am soon starting an approval and audit scheme for other free range farmers to grow and fatten pigs for Woody's Farm to sell. Don't worry the pigs will have the same care and freedoms that ours have and will be processed by our butchers to ensure continuity.
We want to see your products at more famers markets or in retail?
I love going to the farmers markets and meeting customers but it takes a whole day and the farm suffers as a result of this, the reality is that when I am off the farm the pigs are not getting fed and the work not getting done. Because of this I have had to scale back the amount of markets to one per month however I have been considering employing someone to attend the markets fro me and this might be the answer for 2017. As for retail markets we have been talking to some big retailers, like Moore Wilson, but we will have to consider their margins and the quantities they need on a regular basis. At the moment I am considering a product range specifically just for them (and potentially others in the future).
Can we come and visit the farm?
When I started the farm I wanted everyone to be able to visit the farm, I wanted to show people how we farm and educate children on where bacon and sausages come from. The reality however has been that a lack of manpower and facilities (in case of rain) has made this very difficult to arrange. That said we are planning to have an open day later in the year when the weather is a bit dryer. This open day will be limited to a small number of visitors (as a trial) and we will be charging a small fee for the staffing and facilities I will need to hire for the day.
Additionally I will be holding a more detailed course for people who are interested in small scale pig farming. At this stage I hope to hold this late 2016 or early 2017 depending on when I can get the information together for the course.
Why can't I buy individual items, not packs?
I do understand that this is frustrating but it is based on three major factors, the first is that my IT skills have not yet risen to the challenge, secondly the boxes that we use to despatch the goods need to be over 50% full and so we have calculated that their must be a minimum of 6 items in the box. Finally the reality is that all the meat we currently sell comes from a pig that we have slaughtered, unlike a butcher we can't just buy a loin or a leg, we have to use the whole pig so by mixing the packs I can be sure that every bit of the pig gets sold. Supermarkets have made us think that we only have to eat what we want but we hate waste and so we have to sell the whole pig, its called sustainable eating.
All of that said, as we get bigger we will find that we can be more flexible and rest assured our website will become more flexible in the future, I'm working on it now.
Do you have a farm shop we can visit?
We do have a shop on site but we don't have opening hours because I can't guarantee when I will be available to take customers. At our shop all the stock is frozen and normally held for farmers markets. However if you do what to come to the shop email me on email@example.com with your preferred day and if I can find enough customers for that day I will open the shop. If you have already ordered from the website and collected meat you will know that we are very flexible.
Can you give us advise on having our own pigs?
As per my blog I have enjoyed being very open about what I do and how. However as time has gone on the number of emails we get asking for help has increased and I am now unable to reply to them without incurring costs (lost time etc). In addition to this some of the help that we offered to others in the early days has been used to set up competing business which have copied us (even the format of their website). Therefore I have just started up a side business for consulting on matters related to pig farming, business start-up and even website management. If this is of interest to you then please email me for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally we asked you what would you think about us supplying other products online and the answers were very interesting. During the last three years I have met and talked to lots of like minded farmers and producers and I think it would be great for me to share these suppliers products with my customers. I wanted to know wether you would be happy to buy other products that were not made/grown on Woody's Farm, here was the response
I was really pleased that 65% of people would like us to produce Charcuterie and 28% wanted other pork based products, this is something that we can make out of our own meat and I have recently started to look into this side of the business. More to follow. What was even more interesting is that 37% of respondents would be happy buying other meat products from us, once again this is something I have been wanting to introduce and have started talking to specialist farmers about building this into our business.
Bye for now!