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Posts Tagged ‘Oldfarm Pork’

Growing pigs outdoors in Ireland, ain’t easy.  However, having said that we have been growing pigs outdoors for almost 15 years, so I guess we know a thing or two about it.

Our land is not ideally suited to it – heavy, clay soil – but you do the best you can.

In reality nowhere in Ireland is perfect for growing pigs outdoors.  There are areas of southern England where they have chalk soil that is good.

We have managed to keep our pigs outdoors all year round ever since we started to keep them.  You’ve heard it before – pigs are smart.  If it is too wet, too cold, snowing – they will stay indoors in a bed of straw.

Outdoor raised pigs produce a completely different meat to that of those raised in ‘factory’, or indoors.  Outdoor raised pigs obviously will have greater muscle tone.  While outdoors they are rooting about picking up various trace elements that occur naturally in the ground.

 

We’ve heard many say that there is no ‘standard’ for free-range pork.  Well there is.  Alfie is on the Bord Bia Technical Committee for Pig Meat, and it was Alfie that devised the standard.

Freerange Farmed:  a type of animal husbandry where pigs have free access to fields/woodland with defined boundaries for all or most of their natural life.  They receive their nutritional needs from prepared natural feed or from pasture or forage depending on the season.

We were the first pork producers to achieve ‘free-range status’.  However, and here is the rub…..it means nothing!  Yes, that is true.

The reason it means nothing is that most small producers use small abattoirs and small butchers, and none of these are registered with Bord Bia.  Only the big abattoirs and butchers are registered.  It is not cost effective for the small guys to pay the annual fees to be on the list of registered slaughter houses with Bord Bia.  Similarly, it is not feasible for small producers to take a couple of animals to one of the large processors.

As a consumer you have to ask yourself “what is important to you”?

Do you want to eat meat that has led a natural and healthy life outdoors, being fed organic feed?

Do you want to eat meat that has lead a natural and healthy life outdoors, being fed commercial pig meal which contains GMO soy and maize?

Do you want to eat meat that has been confined to a concrete building all its life, being fed commercial pig meal with  again GMO soy and maize, and I won’t mention antibiotic use?

The decision is yours.

You have the power to change how meat is reared in this country.

Will you vote with your fork?

 

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That folks was the name (hashtag) that took over our lives when we had the bloggers here on a recent weekend trip.  I’d had a little bit of a rant about the organising of the trip, but ultimately I believe it went well.

This blog post is really going to be about ‘thank you’.  Thank you to all who were involved in one way or another.  It could not have happened without your support.

Thank you to Alfie who thought the idea of a bloggers’ tour was a good one, and who persisted with me in convincing Mid Ireland Tourism to go for it.  We love the area we live in, and want to help in any way we can to promote it and generate a better income for all others who live here.

Bridge

Bloggers:

Thank you to the bloggers who agreed to travel (at their own expense) and give of their time and expertise to promote the area.

Accommodation Providers:

I struggled a bit organising the accommodation but in the end “it all worked out on the night”.  Thank you to

Venues:

Perhaps I should have tried to visit less places – there were times when we were a bit rushed – but I was so enthusiastic to show off as much as possible!  I just wanted to give everyone a taste of what is on offer – and, secretly, hoped it would tempt everyone to come back and visit again!

Goody Bags and Tastings:

I really did ‘step outside the box’ for this, and major thanks must go to all the local producers who I asked and who without fail came up trumps.

A special ‘thank you’ to Ron Wise who came to my rescue and made a delicious birthday cake for Regula who was celebrating her birthday that weekend.

And lastly, but definitely not least, mega thanks to Siobhan and David at Le Bouchon Restaurant in Portumna who stepped into the breech and produced the most delicious picnic lunch for us to take on the mini-cruise on Sunday.

That’s it folks…. I will, of course, be sharing blog posts as others write them…. for more detail on what we did and how the weekend went check out

Of course, if you are in the midlands, and on social media…. we’d love to see you using the #MagicalMidlands hashtag…. let’s keep the momentum going 🙂

 

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Any of you who have received a delivery of Oldfarm Pork will be familiar with our insulated delivery boxes.  While the boxes work extremely well for delivery, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve deliberated over the fact that they aren’t very ‘environmentally’ friendly.

delivery boxes ready to go

delivery boxes ready to go

 

We’ve tried to work out a system where they could be returned…. but have always drawn a blank on that.

We’ve done research into biodegradable boxes, and, yes, they are available, but folks the cost!!!  Not just the cost of each individual box but the cost to us as you have to buy hundreds of boxes at a time and where would we store them???

It was fun then last week to get the following email from a customer:

 I’ve always wanted to try ‘sous-vide’ cooking, but not enough to pay five hundred euros to buy a proper sous-vide cooker. So I experimented. 

Using the insulated box you sent me my pork in, and a meat thermometer with a sharp probe, and a fillet steak already vacuum packed from Lidl. I heated water in a pan to 60 degrees C, poured it into your insulated box, popped in the steak still sealed in the pack from the shop, and poked the thermometer in through the  side of the box so that it reached into the water. Temperature was fifty seven or so and stayed at that temperature for an hour or so, long enough to cook my steak. Then I seasoned it and flash fried it to get a nice brown outside. Perfect, perhaps the best steak I ever ate.

Mike, I love your ingenuity.

Then I remembered another customer telling me they had used one of their boxes as a flower pot.  Look at this photo Maja sent me – she has a cape goose berry and flowers growing in hers.

Cape Gooseberry flourishing in an insulated box

Cape Gooseberry flourishing in an insulated box

So have any of our other customers found interesting ways of recycling/upcycling our delivery boxes?

We’d love to hear …. and it would certainly to partially salve our conscious about the environmental impact.

Thank you!

 

 

 

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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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Well heatwave is the buzz word here in Ireland at the moment.   It is hard to believe but we’ve had two weeks of ‘no rain’ AND temperatures reaching mid to late 80 degrees F or 30 degrees C.

And as we Irish say when weather like that hits us ‘we’re melting’ 🙂

So it has been perfect barbecue weather!  Regular readers will know that we never, ever need an excuse to barbecue here.  The weather does not dictate whether we barbecue or not….. well wrong!

Those of you who’ve been here to visit have been introduced to Alfie’s Big Green Egg…. his bbq baby!  Sometimes in the depths of winter it can be difficult for us to get charcoal…. but our local shops now know us well and usually have a stash hidden somewhere in the back of the shop for us.

Oldfarm Pork and BBQ Sauce

Oldfarm Pork and BBQ Sauce

The past weeks however – everyone is barbecuing and we’ve had difficulty sourcing charcoal!  A girl could almost wish for a gas barbecue where you’d just go out and turn it on…. I even had a sneak look at these barbecues on Littlewoods* site.  You should take a look too, amazing deals with 50% off some of them…check this one out for only €154!  Someday maybe 🙂

If you’re lucky enough to have a gas barbecue or a good supply of charcoal…. you’ll love this sauce.  It goes with everything – chicken wings, chicken legs, pork ribs, burgers, sausages – absolutely everything.

This recipe I have in my old old recipe book…. it came from the mother of an ex-boyfriend!!!!  Let’s not go there!!!!!

Delicious Oldfarm BBQ Sauce

Delicious Oldfarm BBQ Sauce

The sauce will keep for about a week in an airtight container in the fridge or it can be frozen.  This makes enough for about 6 people (depending on how much they ladle it on!)

Recipe:

  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 glove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Wine Vinegar
  • 1/4 pt water
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Demerara Sugar
  • Thick slice lemon
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 6 tablespoons Tomato Ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Tomato Puree
  • Salt & Black Pepper

Method:

Melt butter and sauté onion and garlic for 3 minutes

Add wine vinegar, water, mustard, sugar, lemon and cayenne pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and cook for a further 5 minutes.

How simple is that!

Enjoy!

* This is post was in collaboration with Littlewoods.

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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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