If you are new to Tales From Woodys Farm then you should know that this was a blog that I started back in October 2013. Back then I dreamed of this sustainable free range pig farm that was a collaborative effort between like minded businesses and myself. We moved onto the farm on the 1st November 2013, me, a pregnant wife Claire and a neurotic dog called Woody. If you read the back catalogue of blogs you will see that we made a bold and crazy step to buy the farm with little idea of what we needed to do to actually farm livestock. The one thing that we knew (and we still know now) is that pigs do not deserve to be breed in concrete bunkers and we wanted to promote Free Range.
Its now almost 6 years later and two years since my last Tales From Woodys Farm entry. If you have been following us on facebook, instagram, pinterest, twitter or via our newsletters you will know that at the end of 2017 we made a massive change to our business. After fours years of personally funding the growth of the farm, making an annual loss and living on savings the time had come to either close the farm or invest. We couldn't grow enough pigs to make money, we had an inflexible third party butcher who was incapable (or unwilling) to look at new ideas but on the upside we were growing and we could sell everything we could make. Never wanting to take the easy route, and probably very scared about getting a proper job again, we decided to invest in the production and sales side of the business (I say we but I suspect it was mainly me and Claire just sat there thinking OMG).
As we were making this decision some friends of ours from Longbush in the Wairarapa (who feature in some of the old blog posts) had secured funding to grow their Free range Pig farm and needed an outlet for the meat. In August 2017 we signed an agreement with Longbush and bought a building in Levin, just ten minutes up the road to be turned into a bespoke butchery. Knowing nothing about butchery I employed a Master Butcher, Joseph, and together we set about selling more pigs than I had ever dreamed possible.
Its now April 2019 and we have just completed our first full year in the butchery, we have three full time members of staff (I am still not taking a wage), two of which are trained butchers and we are processing 20 pigs per week (on the farm I used to process just 12 per month). Each week we take in over a ton of carcass meat and produce more than 50 different products, including sausages, charcuterie, bacons, hams and many other products. We don't hold stock and we are constantly having to slow sales down so as not to let our existing customers down.
But this is where I need to stop you from looking at us with rose tinted glasses. We have alway had people contact us to say what an amazing job we are doing, how they wish they could do it and we are so lucky. So firstly lets do some maths. In 2015 our turnover was $35,000, by 2016 it grew to $70,000 and further grew to $99,000 in 2017. After that we opened the butcher and the turnover grew to $280,000 for the year ending March 31 2018. This financial year (ending just last month) was our first full year at the butchery and we managed a massive $691,000. I know what you are thinking (I do too), you are thinking WOW what great business growth this is a real success story. HOWEVER we have consistently made a loss since 2014, in total the losses come to about $220,000 dollars and to make matters worse I have not had an income since 2013. You see ethics and business are not great bedfellows, we grow and buy in true Free Range pigs, we only buy whole pigs and we only buy from people we trust. I have always promised them a fair price and I stick by that promise but it means that our costs are way too high (on average twice the price of a factory farmed pig).
So then, what is next for us. Well despite all that I am feeling positive that the sales growth of last year shows that you, the customer, wants to support us and wants to know where your meat is coming from, so we have some plans:
- We need more customers especially online where we make full margin, we need your support here to make sure all your friend know of us.
- We will introduce regular Highland beef from our neighbours farm.
- We plan to lobby the commerce commision to stop non free range pork brands (like Kiwi Bacon and Freedom Farms) from using misleading marketing jargon and images that confuse the consumer and make us look expensive in comparison.
- We have just invested almost $40,000 dollars in specialist machinery and facilities to increase our Salami production. We now have a range of dry cured charcuterie and Salami and much more to come.
Now, the sad news. Our mission was always to grow and promote the sales of ethical Free Range pigs in New Zealand and it seems that we can't do both so this year we will be scaling down the farm, getting rid of most of our stock (including the 100 odd goats we now have) and selling part of the farm for some much needed cash. We have already moved most of our stock to Longbush and the few remaining will be the last to be born at Woodys Farm. At the moment the farm is costing us close to $40,000 per year and the return is probably about $10,000 so its a difficult decision but necessary. I for one will miss it but at the end of the day we will still be fulfilling our mission to promote true Free Range ethical farm in NZ (we just won't be one of them).
It's been an incredible journey but now it's time to, as tech companies like to call it, PIVOT. We hope that you understand our decision and we promise to continue to be open and transparent about our business and our partners.