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Posts Tagged ‘free range pork’

You are all probably fed up of hearing about the ups and downs that have been part of life here at Oldfarm.  And sorry for that.

Life keeps throwing stuff at us, and we have to re-assess and re-imagine.  Does this happen to you?

In my previous life I was a secretary, PA, self-employed (so wore many hats), sold houses, ran a shop, Business Advisor, mentor, trainer, and now I don’t know what I’d call myself!

As you know we changed the ‘business model’ last year, and just grew pigs to order.  That worked reasonably well in that we had 10 happy customers at the end of the year, who were enjoying delicious free-range pork and ham.  Unfortunately, when we sat down and did the sums, it really was not a good financial outcome.

Piglets/Bonhams

A very very small return for a lot of work.

We decided to give it another year.  We thought if we upped the number of pigs/customers we might have a better result.

Sows were pregnant.

Customers were lined up – double the number from 2017.

All was looking good.

Then, disaster struck.  One sow ‘self-aborted’…. yes, pigs can do this.  It can be caused by stress, or they just don’t like being pregnant… anything at all can bring it on.  We suspect that she just didn’t like that we had gone away overnight and a neighbour had fed her!

Second older sow continued with her pregnancy, and gave birth to 4 piglets.  We needed over 20, and had been hoping each sow would at least have 8 each.

Back to doing the sums, and facing the reality that buying in that many bonhams was just not viable.

Another decision had to be made, and we have made it.  After over 12 years of being in the free-range pork business, we are cutting back.

We will continue to keep pigs.  There is no way we could go back to eating ‘shop’ pork and bacon.  Just no way.

We will run our pig-rearing courses where we will continue to share the knowledge we have gained – sometimes the hard way – over the years.  However, now we will just be growing pigs for ourselves and family.

Thank you to all who have supported us.  Thank you to all our loyal customers over the years.

It has not been an easy decision to reach, but we are comfortable with it.

 

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Some of you will know that the past 6 months have been to say the least traumatic here.  Alfie had a major heart attack back at the beginning of October.  The recovery process has not been totally smooth, with many set backs along the way.  He had his most recent heart surgery just 2 weeks ago, and so far this seems to have worked, but we won’t know for certain until mid-May.

As you can imagine all of this has played havoc with pig farming and pork sales.

We ran out of pork supplies around Christmas.

Thankfully we had been in the process of re-stocking and introducing new stock when the first heart attack struck, so had reduced stock to just 2 sows.

All of this has led us to re-evaluate our lives and examine how we can best continue doing something we enjoy, but with a lower stress level!

We are sharing our thoughts here, and hoping you will give us your input, please!

Our plan is to restructure how we sell the pork, rather than selling pork boxes in 4 kg. boxes.

Our questions to you…

Would you pre-order a full or half of a pig?  A full pig would be approx. 60 kgs.

Would you commit to doing so in advance?  You would be given a date – in October/November – when your meat would be ready.

We would grow the pig ethically, organically and free-range for you.  You would receive your meat butchered and freezer ready.

We would love to hear your opinion and thoughts as to whether this is something you would consider.

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Oh I was so very organised yesterday.  I was really.

We had an AirBnB guest arriving, but I started the day way ahead on the preparations.  I even had time to stop and have coffee and a chat with a neighbour. Things were still okay….. I usually aim to have the house ready by 2 pm… giving us time to have a shower, and deal with anything else that might happen before a 4 pm arrival.

By 3 pm…  a bit behind schedule, but hey, I’m organised and everything is okay, I finally get to the shower.  Clean clothes on… time for some quick checking of emails, etc.

Our guest had messaged that he would be with us before dark.

Alfie gets into shower about 4.30 pm.

By 5 pm…. all hell had broken out!  Why do these things happen when you have clean clothes on???

The dogs started barking furiously.  I thought it was our guest arriving.

No. No. No.  Silly me.

I looked out the window to see our pigs in our neighbours field.  Aaargh!  This is taking ‘free range pork‘ to a whole new level.

Quick donning of wellies, grab a feed bucket and try to tempt them back to our side of the fence.  Of course they were having none of it…. they’d just broken out via the orchard so had bellies full of apples.

An hour and a half later – mist falling, darkness falling and by the way, there is no time for a toilet break…. and yes, I really needed to go – we had to abandoned all attempts to get them back.  We’d managed to tempt Ginger back.  She ate some grain while we continued to tried to convince Perky to return to the fold.  Then Ginger decided it was much more fun to join Perky running about with cattle.

Seriously pigs are the worst!

Scheming pigs

Scheming pigs

By 6.30…. shopping still had to be done, dinner still had to be cooked, and guest had not arrived yet (strange).

At 7 pm…. I get a message while in supermarket…. I am at Lissatunny and cannot find you.  Well, that’s not surprising as it is 45 minutes south of us!!!!

Many phone calls later, and a meet up in the village and our guest finally got here at about 8 pm.

Oh, and the nice clean clothes I’d put on a few hours earlier were filthy!!!!

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When I initially thought about sharing details of some of the wonderful producers we have right on our doorstep here…. I think I counted 15 within a few minutes. That list has got longer and longer. I’ve neglected sharing details of any of them with you for too long.

And, of course, in that list I never thought about telling you about our own product. Doh!

So, today, as I kick-start this part of the blog, I am letting Alfie tell you about how we came to be pig farmers and pork producers.

Clarenceresize

Can you tell me about the background to Oldfarm Pork?  How did it all start?

Oldfarm Pork started by accident and necessity. Due to redundancies and lack of employment in our locality another source of income had to be found. As we were already rearing pigs for our own and family members table, it seemed like a logical thing to try to find markets for the type of pork that we were raising.

It was a rapid learning curve, when I mixed some young boars with young gilts [informed that pregnancy was not possible at their age.. WRONG] 52 piglets born in less than a week certainly focuses one’s mind on “what do I do now’. So we started a web site to promote the meat and I suppose the type of lifestyle we lead.

People seemed to be impressed with our ethos and care regarding clean food and its provenance.

What are you main business areas?

Raising and selling our pork and bacon products, and as a side to this running training courses on raising your own pigs. There are more and more people considering the option of raising their own food. Isn’t it wonderful to see this?

Who do you supply to? How can customers get your products?

Our customers are mainly private households who buy direct from us online, then we organize delivery via a courier service. A small number of restaurants order from us as well.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Mud, lack of cash flow, not enough land.

Over the years there have been many different hurdles thrown our way.

While we grow our pigs in a totally organic way, using locally sourced, ethically grown feed… the cost of registering as ‘organic’ would add tremendously to our costs, which would then add to the cost of the meat. We have opted to stay with ‘free-range’. We were delighted to be the first (and I believe still the only) pork producers to attain ‘free-range’ approval from Bord Bia – The Irish Food Board for our pork.

We also used to do all the deliveries ourselves which was a great way to meet our customers, but with the constant increases in fuel costs this had to be reviewed. So for the past 18 months we have been using a courier service which has it’s ups and downs but overall works quite well.

Alfie & Pigs
What is the next challenge? New range, location change etc…

Increase our customer base, obtain more land, more added value products.

I am sure there is some other challenge just around the corner that we will have to overcome. It is the nature of business.

How important is social media to your organisation?

Vital.. as its direct access to customers, at a personnel level. We use our website, this blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. Some platforms we use more than others, but they all help to raise our profile and increase awareness of what we do.

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Our participants on Saturday’s pig-rearing course were another great bunch….. and among them was a fellow-blogger.  I hadn’t come across Matt’s blog – Deefer Dawg – before, but I have to admit I spent quite a bit of time yesterday morning, reading back through some of his stories.   So, of course, I had to ask Matt if I could share his post about his experience on our course…..  so over to Matt

Course Participants - April 2014

Course Participants – April 2014

Yesterday, saw me up early again (OK, not quite so early) for my own education, my Pig Rearing (one day) Course all the way down in Tipperary, almost a 2 hour drive. This proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant day in which we all learned a huge amount and, in my case, finally got to get hands-on with live pigs; we’d been feeling a bit like ‘book experts’ with both pigs and the bees – a wealth of ‘book-learning’ but zero practical experience!

The course happened at Old Farm, near Portumna in North County Tipperary which is a lovely small holding centred around a beautiful old house and with a goodly rambling collection of outbuildings and ‘Pop Larkin’ style piles of “stuff” which are all works in progress and projects which will get completed “when there is time”. The people were a superb couple, Alfie and Margaret, friendly and welcoming but obviously capable, practical and very knowledgeable, him a stockily built former off-shore commercial diver (North Sea Oil Platforms etc) and later diving instructor all around the world, a natural speaker and presenter with a fascinating style of training which had us all gripped, engaged and amused throughout. Margaret took more of a support role, on this course anyway, and looked after the admin and catering side of things but she is an award winning Blog Writer with a very enjoyable ‘voice’ (by her own admission sometimes given to rants against officialdom in the food industry). Her ‘A Year in Redwood’ blog (https://ayearinredwood.com/) has won “Best Blog of an Artisan Producer (Ireland and UK) 2014” and Best Lifestyle Blog 2012. She served up scones and coffee as we arrived and a superb lunch which gave us a choice of pork meatballs in tomato-y sauce or casserole of sausages and chick peas, all their own pork, naturally.

They are both driven advocates of all things organic, welfare, free range, low food-miles, Transition-Town and non GMO and were a big part in establishing a Free Range outdoor pig Quality standard mark (Q-Mark) within the Irish ‘Bord Bia’ food production quality standards people. Prior to that Bord Bia officials were almost entirely interested in meat for export and pigs by the tens of thousands from “nice clean, healthy” factories, all pink and free from mud, but who never see the daylight or (gasp!) dirt from which they might catch disease. Old Farm had quite a task on their hands trying to get Bord Bia to even come and have a look at their small production set-up, which was interested more in local markets and where pigs went (another gasp!) OUTSIDE and got muddy! Alfie raves against their rules which do not allow him to use brewers grains from the local organic micro-brewery or whey from the local organic cheese maker in his feeds. He despairs that he can sell pork mince but not as meat balls or burgers – for us the lunch had meat balls with (fresh) chopped onion and herbs in and their own eggs to bind them, where commercially he’d have to use sterile, dried onion and herb and some kind of chemical gloop to bind.

The pigs were an obviously happy, healthy collection which he keeps as full families. One enormous Saddleback sow was showing off 4 remaining youngsters in one pen, and we rousted another whole gang out of their siesta during our walk-about – a massive cross-bred boar, 2 huge sows, one pregnant and the other with 8 4-month old piglets ‘at foot’. Further round still were a group of market-ready boys and girls who we could scratch, tickle and get to know a bit better; the piglets with sow and the big old boar we had to just admire over the fence. I was amused to find that the 8 piglets were not some kind of blurry mix of all the breeds of pig in their make up, but were all different and all close to one or another of them, so you had recognise-able black and white “nearly Saddlebacks”, Gloucester Old Spots, Duroc and so on.

I could see immediately what is meant by pigs being like rotovators, rooting up the ground and clearing any brambles and weeds. The pig pens were finally reasonably dry after a very wet winter and were now a grass-less, dark brown/black crumbly tilth which you could have raked smooth and planted veg straight into. There was not a weed or leaf anywhere. Old Farm keep quite a few pigs and have them all year round, so they rest fields regularly and even have doors both ends of their pig arks so that they can split fields with electric fencing and the pigs get access to the ark from either half.

All in all an excellent, enjoyable day and a superb course. Thank you Alfie and Margaret and the menagerie at Old Farm, and also to my co-students who were all a great bunch, all beginners like us. Good luck with your own pigs; I think we were all going to go ahead with pigs; even those who were a bit undecided to start with and were on the course to see if they still thought it was a good plan. My only ‘negative outcome’ (as they say) was that Old Farm are firm advocates of electric fencing throughout, and Alfie was a bit doubtful (though politely and nicely so) whether my style of fencing would do the job, but we’ll see. If Mapp and Lucia manage a breakout and we find them picking up their own windfall apples, we can always add electric fence strands at a later date.

 

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Elaine over at The New Farmerette wrote an excellent post during the week about her experience of registering their sheep/lambs for the Bord Bia Quality Mark.

It was such a timely post, as we have been having a bad time with crazy bureaucracy this past week.

So I thought I’d share our experience thus far.  It truly is a comedy of sorts!  I hope you have the patience to read all the way through…

Back in early 2010 Alfie started questioning why was there no ‘mark’ for free-range pork?  There is for chicken, but not for pork.  There are ‘marks’ for organic pork, but nothing for free-range.  We thought it would be a good accolade for Oldfarm Pork.

So the quest began.  He approached Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board).  They refused to talk to him as an individual farmer.  There had to be an ‘association’.    Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps we should have seen the flashing lights at this point!

Anyway, Alfie continued on.  He spoke to other free-range pig breeders and the Irish Free Range Association was formed – with about 20 people.  Alfie was nominated as the Chairperson.  And thus the long journey began, as Bord Bia would now talk to a free-range producer.

For 2 years every other month, Alfie travelled to Dublin to sit on the pig meat board. I might point out that the board is mainly made up of industry representatives who were not too keen on having the small producer represented.

Alfie’s hope had been that if they approved a ‘free-range’ label it would include ‘non gmo’ but there was absolutely NO WAY this was going to be allowed.  (Says a lot about our food??? board)

At the end of the 2 years, a framework was agreed as to what the definition of ‘free-range’ was.

Hallelujah I hear you cry!

BUT WAIT!!

As Alfie had worked so hard on this, we thought we ought to be among the first to go through the whole process.  And then the fun began!!!

In March we had a visit from the Bord Bia representative, a very nice man.  He had never ever seen pigs in the outdoors!  He told us we shouldn’t be allowing the hens to mix with the pigs????? Bird flu I think was the reason!  And the best bit…. we shouldn’t have the wild birds landing in the fields!  Righty oh, how am I to stop that???

He was rather shocked we didn’t have the vet’s number pasted on sheds everywhere… and was incredulous that we hadn’t had the vet in over 3 years!

When he left we were left with a list of procedures to put in place.

  • A pig health plan
  • A farm safety statement
  • Water testing
  • DNA testing
  • Some signs to put up about the place

Nothing too onerous we thought.

We started with the water test.  Alfie called the Environment Section of the County Council to arrange test.  It cannot be done on line, you have to call in!  The cost is €40.  So we drove to Nenagh (a 50 mile round trip).  Thankfully, I stayed in the car!!!!  Alfie went into office….. you cannot pay for the water test with cash!  you cannot pay for water test with card!  you have to use cheque or postal order!!!  See why I was glad I stayed in the car????

So a fuming pig farmer returned to car, we had to drive to post office, queue there and pay €2.90 to get a €40 postal order.  Then drive back to County Council Office.

Test was carried out about 2 weeks later, and there were some minor impurities found in it, so it was suggested we re-test from a different tap.  Another €40.00.  The technician came back, did the second test and graciously accepted €40 CASH!!!

Water passed the test.

The next stage was the DNA test.  The DNA test is arranged via the IFA.  This time it was an expenditure of €80 in order to get the DNA tag and gun.  Alfie risked life and limb sticking this ear tag into Polonius Hogworth on 15th May and sent it away.  Up to this week we had not had a reply, so Alfie called them.

The sample has still not been examined!  Could we have a receipt at least to say we’ve sent you the DNA sample?  You should see what they sent us?  A blank sheet of paper – not headed paper – it could have come from anywhere!  I could have typed it up myself.

Oh, and by the way, they were shocked to hear we wanted a copy of the results of the DNA test!  They don’t usually issue that? WTF did we pay the €80 for?  I could have sent them a photo of Polonius to prove he is a pig… a big one, almost as big as a small horse, but he’s all pig.

Polonius Hogworth I

Polonius Hogworth I

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’re thinking it can’t get any worse???  You’re wrong?

IT CAN.

Last week Alfie rang Bord Bia to get a list of ‘Quality Approved’ butchers and abattoirs.  Well boys and girls….. the only place we can send our pigs to is to one of the major processors!  The giants like Rossderra and Kepak.

There are no small artisan butchers or abattoirs approved.  I would suspect the annual fee of €2,200 would certainly play a part in this.

We are not willing to send our pigs to the big boys…. we may not get our own pig back.

So where do we go from here?

Alfie wants to continue to see a project he began over 2 years ago through to an end.

Personally, I would like to walk away. We have so far wasted so much time, effort and money on this.  Anyone else have any thoughts?

 

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It has been a difficult few weeks here in Redwood.

As you know Alfie was in hospital for a couple of weeks, followed by more weeks on medication.  Then to compound it all I got struck by some bug…. nothing serious just days of discomfort and total exhaustion.

All of this forced us to think about what we are doing here.  Owing to human illness our ‘production’ has dropped dramatically this year which naturally means no sales.  You can’t sell what you don’t have!

Keeping pigs is not difficult, but it is physical.

While Alfie was in hospital he worried about me out feeding the pigs on my own.  I don’t mind feeding them, it is jsut heavy work carrying meal and water to them.  However, there are other aspects that I just can’t manage on my own…. like loading them onto a trailer!  And, in fact, while I can drive forward with a trailer on the car, do NOT ever ask me to reverse the car with a trailer on.  Co-ordination goes out the window!

So this past couple of weeks, we’ve had to seriously consider whether to continue on with what we are doing.  Can we afford to keep going?  No sales, means a serious drop in income and there are still many mouths to feed.

The decision, after much tossing and turning of sleepless nights, and churning out different ideas and plans, is that we will fight back.

It is going to take time.  We have, we hope, come up with a scheme that will kick into place should illness strike again.

So we are back working on getting pork to people.  Four pigs loaded into the trailer this evening for their final journey tomorrow!

Perky has had her new litter.

The Gloucester Old Spots are growing nicely.

And just when we had made the decision to continue, look what arrived in the post!

McKenna's Guides Best in Ireland 2013

Thank you so so much to John and Sally McKenna – you have no idea how timely this was!  For non-locals John and Sally produce the best guides to food and places to eat and stay in Ireland – don’t travel without their guide.  To have our pork included as a ‘Best in Ireland’, well that is such an honour.

So we’re back, and we’d be delighted to take your orders!

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