Firstly I want to apologise for being so late with this (last) weeks blog. I want to try and post every Friday but last week we had a family occasion in New Plymouth and I didn't get time. Not too worry, here we go....
When Claire and I moved to Manakau we already knew some pig farmers nearby. Leanne and Darren run Kapiti Free Range with their son Reuben, their farm is in Te Horo just 10 mins south of us. After the six month long search for the farm was over I decided to give Leanne a call to tell her that we had found a farm and even better we were going to be neighbours. Leanne had told me months ago that she simply couldn't meet the demand for free range pork so I decided to ask if we would be able to work together, however life has a habit of throwing a curve ball and personal matters had become a priority for Leanne and they had made the very hard decision to sell their herd and stop farming altogether. This was initially a real disappointment and shock for me but Leanne and Darren were keen to help me set up and start the business and along with Reuben they have become excellent mentors.
On Saturday 23rd November Leanne invited us to meet her at Hill Street Farmers market in Wellington. This was a great opportunity to see how the farmers market works, to meet the customers and to experience my future.
[caption id="attachment_187" align="aligncenter" width="890"] Leanne and the Kapiti Free Range refrigerated stall at Hill Street Market.[/caption]
I spent a good few hours watching the market stalls and seeing how Leanne worked the customers. She has an excellent rapport with her regulars and it was great to get to meet a few. People at the farmers market are there because they care about what they eat, they want to talk about it and a good few were excited to here that I was setting up a pig farm near Leanne.
The sales part of my new life really excites me and I simply cant wait to get the pigs up and running so that I can start to market the pork, bacon, sausages and everything else. Marketing and sales is what I do and at least this part of being a farmer is not completely new to me so I already have a few innovative ideas about our Woody's Farm brand, the logo and how to market the different breeds that I will be raising. Part of this will be the 'Pig Day Out' experience where customers will be able to come and see the farm and really understand what goes into breeding pigs. Its really important to me that everyone becomes an integral part of the food chain and I am hoping to help that by showing people where their food is really coming from.
So for now keep an eye out for Kapiti Free Range and I look forward to seeing you at a Farmers Market in March 2014.
Just two weeks away from the arrival of the pigs and the fencing has begun. Now, to most people, fencing is neither glamorous nor exciting so I thought I would give you something to listen too while I tell you about the trials and tribulations of waratahs, electric insulators and high tensile wire, click on the video below and carry on reading:
Now that you are suitably amused by the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby it's time for a little lesson in pig enclosures. The first thing to know about pigs is that they make Harry Houdini look like a man with three thumbs, pigs are the real escape artists and unless you make your fields pig proof you are likely to lose a few, or worse, all of them. A couple up the road who make apple cider vinegar (more later about them) lost a pet Kune Kune to an incident with a neighbours market garden and a shotgun, another reason to ensure they don't get out.
Last monday myself and my trusty advisor Reuben (more about him later too) started work on the fencing. Initially I was hoping to get away with using electric fencing tape to mark out the individual paddocks in the field but apparently that would just end up as a ball of fencing tape tied to a pig as he happily trotted across the to the neighbours. The fear I had was having to dig tens of deep post holes into some of the rockiest ground in NZ , an ancient river bed covers the whole farm, but the answer was the simple metal waratah.
[caption id="attachment_171" align="aligncenter" width="224"] A line of steel waratahs.[/caption]
Metal waratahs are Y shaped fence posts that you hammer into the ground about every 6 meters. Sounds easy but trying to get these things straight and facing the right direction whilst aiming to miss the football sized rocks proved a complete challenge. Add to this the unbelievable noise of metal on metal as you hammer down the post and you are in for a night of aches and pains and ringing ears. Twenty waratahs later and we had the outline of paddock number one and time for the wire.
After much careful placement and confused looks the poles were in and it was time to learn the skillful art of bending, twisting, threading and cutting high tensile fence wire. I have seen many farmers and workers on TV tieing fences and they make it seem like the wire is as flexible as string, the reality is that unless you are Uri Gellar metal actually doesn't want to bend and especially doesn't want to be tied to a post.
Just as we were finding pliers to tie the difficult bits and pulling bits of wire out of our exposed skin a friendly local farmer popped around to say hello. Andrew Martin lives up the road and his family were one of the founding families of the area, festooned in his farming overals and 'cowboy' style hat he drove one of the largest tractors I have ever seen all the way through the farm to the back paddock where the pigs will be kept. Stopping for a chat he saw the mess of the wire we were making and offered to show us a tip or two. Without further ado he grabbed a piece of wire, fashioned it into a handle, twisted a perfect knot and snapped (yes, snapped) the end off the wire, it was a piece of farming art.
[caption id="attachment_177" align="aligncenter" width="224"] The high tensile wire is connected to the waratah via an insulator, this stops the electric fence from being earthed.[/caption]
I am pleased to say that I can now tell you that the fencing for paddock number 1 (River Field #3) has been completed and the place is really taking shape in time for the arrival of the nine large black pigs due to be delivered in two weeks time. It never ceases to amaze me all the things I am learning and the amount of improvisation that farming is. In addition to the fences this week I have built a gate from scratch, plumbed in 200m of plastic piping and a push button drinking fountain, run out of petrol, hit my foot with a pick axe and driven over my UHF radio.
Which neatly brings me to this weeks Farm School Detention. This week is all about remembering where you put things. Having spent 30 mins searching for some tools in the paddock grass, which is up to my hip, I proceeded to reverse the Land Rover over my two week old UHF radio, which I had taken out my pocket and placed (carefully) on the bonnet of the car. When you live in an appartment its not a major issue that you lost the remote down the back of the sofa or placed the keys in the fridge, when you are working in a 5 acre field its easy to lose almost anything in the grass, even the Land Rover.
Finally for those who follow the trials and tribulations of the Land Rover, this week she was taken to the 'doctors.' After I ran out of petrol on the farm (the gauge is not working) she started to paint the floor black with the exhaust fumes so I bit the bullet and drove ten minutes up the road (at no more than 70kph) to the mechanics, it was one of the scariest things I have ever done and Claire, who was following in the Holden, tells me the fumes were reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. Turns out one of the rear brake cylinders was seized and the two front calipers were worn out. She is due back mid next week and then I am going to work on the door latches so I don't have to wind the window down every time I want to get out the car....don't ask.
The three basics of life for any animal are water, food and shelter. I decided to start with the shelter and build two traditional pig arks. Not only are they ideal for the job, providing plenty of space, easy to clean and an area for the piglets to get out the way of their huge mamma but they are also pleasing to look at and easy to build.
I found a 'recipe' in the Haynes pig manual and got to work. Rather than endlessly talk you through the process here is a pictorial timeline of the build, I hope you find it interesting and for those that know me, yes I did actually build this:
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The article that I took this from was called Ark in a Day, so did it take me a day, the short answer is no. Whilst the wood and the structure were very easy to connect and build the corrugated steel that I bought was too short. I followed what was written but by the time the wood had flexed and bent in its usual way the structure was just a little too big for the steel. The wooden structure was done in two days and fitting the steel took ten mins, for my first ever DIY project I think it came together pretty well.
The Beginning Farmer in Iowa has a regular podcast feature called 'hard lessons learned', it wasn't till this week that I realised how everyday is a lesson and some of them are hard, so I am shamelessly stealing that idea and will be recounting my failures for you all to laugh at.
Todays 'Farm School Detention' is to never trust what you read. When building anything don't just assume that the measurements on the diagram are correct, they need to be checked, theorised and checked again. Whilst building Ark #1 I went out and bought 10 sheets of corrugated steel at 1.8m long, unfortunately by the time it was built the ark was 1.85m long and the steel didn't fit so I had to buy another 10 sheets at 1.9m. Its not the end of the world because I am sure the spare steel will come in useful but at $350 it was an expensive mistake. By the way, anyone need 10 x 1.8m sheets of corrugated steel?
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.
[caption id="attachment_121" align="aligncenter" width="890"] Woody pretends to drive the Land Rover, he hasn't worked out the steering wheel is on the other side.[/caption]
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.
[caption id="attachment_123" align="alignleft" width="300"] Pigs in the saleyards at Rongatoa, check out the sunburn on those ears.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_124" align="alignright" width="300"] True free range Large Black (Devon) pigs on a small farm just outside Wanganui[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_140" align="aligncenter" width="224"] The livestock auction at Rongotea.[/caption]
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.
[caption id="attachment_135" align="aligncenter" width="890"] This is Jack the Large Black (Devon) Boar, the big Daddy at over 300kg.[/caption]
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.
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......
[caption id="attachment_116" align="aligncenter" width="890"] This is our neighbours pig, probably about 150kg, just a little-un.[/caption]
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.
The countdown to the farm has started and so have the sleepless nights. With so much to think about I am guessing that my recent sleeplessness will last for a good few weeks to come. Its not so much worry about the crazy journey we are about to undertake but rather the sheer volume of learning that I have ahead of me. I am sure that no one who reads this blog thinks that a farmers life is easy, its full of hard work, long hours and so on. But have you also considered the massive amount of knowledge that goes into farming, a farmer needs to be a chemist, a vet, a soothsayer, a meteorologist, a tradesman, a geologist, a botanist and the list goes on.
So as I try to learn all that I need to know, and stay awake thinking about all the things that I don't yet know, I have been reading books and listening to blogs about farming. What I have learnt is that in america there has been a resurgence of people going back to the land and doing exactly what we are doing, so many in fact that they have been given the title of 'the beginning farmers'. And one beginning farmer has an excellent podcast and blog that has been very useful for my planning.
The first thing I have to do on the farm is prepare it for animals, if we were in an office this would be the equivalent of setting out desks, arranging the water cooler and buying the headed paper. But on a farm its a lot more complicated because mistakes really can cost lives, as well as money, and the equipment I need is extensive (having recently moved to NZ from Australia I don't even have a hammer). So I turned to The Beginning Farmer Show for some advice and this is a summary of his 'four great things' to think about when it comes to purchasing items to help you use your time, energy, and money more wisely:
Buy Nothing and Learn Lots! (buy as little as possible and the slowly figure out what I need).
Buy Equipment That Will Save You Money!
Buy Equipment That Improves the Life of Your Livestock!
Buy Equipment That Saves You Time!
So with these simple rules in mind I am about to embrace the world of the Freegan. Sourcing all kinds of materials, tools and even food for the animals from places that no longer need them. Since leaving work in February I have been trying to live as frugally as possible and it has really struck me how little we actually need, how much waste we produce and how I would buy things I didn't even use. I am not trying to preach to anyone, if anything I am chastising myself for all the money I have wasted in the past and actually I'm looking forward to being more innovative and social in my pursuit of the Freegan lifestyle.
So with that in mind I have made a list of all the things I need and it will be fun seeing just how many I can source for free or make for less than just buying new:
- Pig Ark (Shelter). I am going to need a few of these and I have found some really easy plans for them so job number one is to buy the materials and make 3 or 4 of them. For that I will need wood, electric jigsaw, a hammer and patience.
[caption id="attachment_74" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Each sow needs one of these to give birth in. I plan to have at least 8 Sows[/caption]
- Tractor (with a loader). Oh yes a big red tractor, every boys dream until about the age of ten when they turn to Ferrari instead.
- Live stock Trailer. Actually I firstly need to get a tow bar fitted on my car and then learn how to drive with a trailor on the back (especially when going in reverse).
- Ride On Lawn Mower (and petrol strimmer). This is not really a farm purchase but if I don't get one the 1.5 acres around the house will soon look like a jungle.
- Post Hole Digger. The farm is quite well fenced but I will need to put alot of fence in to make smaller paddocks, I am not looking forward to this as its costly and HARD work.
- Plow, Disk, Harrow, Seeder, Baler. All of these are needed if I am going to start growing crops to feed the animals (and the pigs...)
- Spade, Shovel, Rake, Branch cutters, Axe, Pickaxe, Sledgehammer, Hay Rake and a hundred other hand tools
- Chainsaw. Just so I can scare the neighbours.
Infact the only farm 'tool' I have at the moment is a green Land Rover Defender, which comes with the house, whilst it makes me look the part I am not sure its going to help me make money.
OK, I am off to pretend to sleep and ruminate some more.
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.
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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.'
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.
[caption id="attachment_78" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Now this is an idea under serious consideration.[/caption]
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....
A good friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that my career change was an inspiration, it made me wonder how giving up a well respected job with great pay could be considered as inspirational, and too whom? I have been planning my move to the land for almost three years now and at no point did I ever think that it would be seen as an inspiration or that anyone would even think it was a good idea. If anything I have been embarrassed when I have ventured to tell people that I intended to become a pig farmer, often making a joke of it in meetings. An inspiration was, and is, the last thing I think that I am.
If you have ever dramatically changed your career you will know a little of what a massive shock it is for me to go from managing an office to becoming a free range pig farmer. It is even more of an shock for everyone around me, the term 'pig farmer' alone strikes fear into the hearts of any parent, parent in law or family member and whilst everyone is very polite I cant help but think that they all believe I'm having a mid-life crisis.
Well the good news is that I am not having a mid life crisis and that I am not being irresponsible. I am honoured that I might be an inspiration but in reality I am just following the path less travelled. I now feel embarrassment when I tell trades people and the staff at Farmlands that I used to be a manager of a consumer electronics company, I feel like a 'fraud' farmer. But as much as I worry about wether or not I can truly become a farmer I am also really excited about the challenge, about the food we will create and the life we will have.
[caption id="attachment_71" align="aligncenter" width="890"] This is a much better view than HK harbour.[/caption]
So to all those worriers and supporters alike let me say this. If your life is not exciting you, if you are not getting challenged and don't feel passionate about your work, if money is not the reason why you are happy... try something else. Better still, get the family on a plane and get over to Woody's @ North Manakau and come and help me to build a sustainable farm that we can all enjoy. You might find you like it and you want to buy your own!
My gorgeous partner, Claire, runs an online store and posted this on her blog the other day. I for one cant wait to see the house when its finished, although it looks like I will be outside 'doing the farming' most of the time. You can subscribe to her blog here if you want: http://izzyandjean.co.nz/blogs/weekly-blog
Posted on October 03, 2013 by claire ongley | 0 Comments
It's been an exciting week at our house. After some tense negotiations, we have just bought ourselves a farm. It's located an hour out of Wellington, just near Otaki. We will be farming pigs (free range of course!) and experimenting with a few other farming-related ventures on the side.
Until now, I have been a city dweller - the bigger the better. I've lived in New York, Barcelona and Sydney, and always loved the buzz and excitement of the big city. But now the call of the wild has lured me in. Isn't it funny how your priorities can change....drastically. These days I can think of nothing better than getting out of the hustle, and getting back to the land. Mind you, I won't be getting my fingernails too dirty. My partner Daniel will be doing most of the farming, and I will be running Izzy and Jean Co.
And then of course, there's the house. This will be the first house that I have ever owned, and at 38, I am itching to get in there and start making it my own. The many hours browsing magazines and Pinterest, and the years of collecting bits and pieces, has left me armed with a mountain of stuff and ideas. Here are some of my dreams and inspirations for the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room of our new humble abode.
I long for a timber kitchen table with white painted legs. This one is the ultimate.