A Pork Shortage?!?!?!?!?

The problem we’re going to face now that we sell at a market is we may run out of pigs.  Scratch that.  We will definitely run out of pigs.  While having that kind of demand is a nice problem to have, it’s still a very real issue for a fledgling business trying to establish a customer-base.  At the same time, we have a gap in our production as the last couple of sows we wanted to get pregnant ended up not taking.  We’re also looking at transitioning to an all heritage-breed breeding program, which is just one other complexity to throw into that already complex mix. 

What we’ve done to help remedy all of those things is buy in some pigs.  We have bought in 9 Large Blacks from a registered herd near us that is being disbanded.  With one exception, these are all small pigs that we’ll raise.  Three of those are gilts and will become part of our breeding program, and five are barrows that will become bacon.  The 9th, which is the exception I mentioned, is an older sow that we’ll breed from in the short-term.  She probably would’ve been chopped had we not taken her, and she still has a number of litters in her.  I’m keen to see how she goes. 

The other thing we’ve done is buy an entire litter of Berkshires.  A registered breeder not that far from us advertised them the day after they were born, with a pick-up date of 5 weeks later at weaning.  I rang and bought the lot.  He’ll castrate the boys, and we’ll use at least 3 of the girls in our breeding program. 

All of these purchases will help bridge our gap in production, while still being ethically raised and free-ranged pork, and at the same time will transition us to an entirely heritage-breed farm.  We still have to find a suitable boar, and we’re not exactly sure what breed to use.  What we’ll probably do is have the vet show us how to AI, buy in some semen to try the various combinations, and use that to help us decide.  In the meantime, poor old Boris’ days may be a little numbered. 

The related problem is sourcing beef and lambs that have been raised the way we’d raise them.  We don’t currently have the space to do them ourselves, though we can keep a handful of lambs in our front yard to help keep the grass and weeds down.  The beef is actually relatively easy, as we have two trusted sources for that – one is a mate who runs a herd of 650 black angus in the south-east of the state, and one is our neighbour who feeds on 10 to 15 at a time on his scrub lot right near home.  Both raise proper free-ranged, grass-fed beef, and the product from both is amazing.  

Lambs are the more pressing problem.  We were lucky to find a guy who breeds and raises them organically, and we got a handful from him.  We’ll have to stay on the lookout for more, and like I said, we actually have scope to keep them at home for a while, with the added benefit that they’re eating down weeds and grass I don’t have time to deal with.  Also gum leaves.  The silly animals love to munch on gum leaves. 

Our best-case end-state will be to have enough land to do it all ourselves.  We could expand the pig production and have a small breeding flock of sheep.  I’d like enough land to feed-on our own cattle, but the two sources we have are the real-deal so that’s the lowest on my priority list.  Even with that, I don’t think we’ll ever breed cattle.  Breeding pigs is challenging, but we have the infrastructure and know-how, and it’s kind of fun.  Breeding sheep is pretty easy, and sheep are simple to handle and manage.  Cattle, and more specifically bulls, are a whole other kettle of very large fish.  I think we’ll stick to buying them from people we know and trust, and if we have room we’ll just buy them as weaners and feed them on ourselves.  Trying to manage a bull is probably more than we want to take on.

The true start of our all heritage-breed breeding program!

The true start of our all heritage-breed breeding program!

It’s Market Time Baby!!!!!

July saw us change our business model a bit and include a local market!  Up to then we’d been selling exclusively in bulk – whole/half pigs, and quarter/half/whole cows.  The constraint we face is that we legally can’t add value to the meat, not to even repackage it, as we don’t have an accredited facility.  We came up with the idea of using the butcher/abattoir facility, which is accredited, and pre-packing meat there.  We also checked out their ham and bacon to see if it’s good (it really is!), so we could have them make those products.

That all means that we can’t go to a market and sell stuff on demand.  For example, I can’t sell somebody x number of chops or y kilograms of mince.  We can pre-pack the meat though and sell those packages.  The trick is packing them in weights or lots that people will want.  That’s less of a problem with bacon, as people want that no matter how much there is.  🙂

Our butcher was super, super supportive, and had no problem with us taking up a corner of one of their rooms for a couple of hours a week.  It’s probably worth noting here that building that kind of relationship with the butcher/abattoir has been key to what we do, be it bulk-sales or market-sales.  Those guys are an absolute font of knowledge on all things meat, and just their input to our packaging and the kinds of cuts we can offer has been invaluable.  They’ve also proven to be an amazing Quality Control for us, as they’ve processed every sheep, goat, cow, and pig we’ve ever eaten or sold, and so give us great feedback on things like carcass quality and fat content.  Hell, they’ve even helped me refine my brawn recipe! 🙂

While the facility and subsequent ability to pre-package meat was our biggest hurdle, it was by no means our last.  We had to work out how we package things – Styrofoam vs. PET (for the record, we can’t get PET just yet), do we or don’t we vac-seal meat (it apparently causes an odour in raw pork), how do we organise stickers (the professionally printed stickers we wanted were $1 each and we’d want two per pack!!!!)?  We also had to work out price lists, signage, portable display fridge, tables, flyers – even the ability to laminate our weekly price list had to be taken into account.  Seriously, this market stuff is a full-time job!

What we’ve ended up doing is only vac-sealing the bacon and ham, as it really does add to the longevity of it outside the freezer.  We use Styrofoam trays and cling wrap for the fresh cuts, but are sourcing PET (recyclable) options.  Right now it doesn’t look like we can get them anywhere, but have found two places that have them coming soon.  We use brown paper bags as carry bags.  I found a way to buy blank stickers and print our own – one with our logo on it, and one with the weight/cut/price/date of the meat.  We give everybody a flyer that explains why we do what we do, and with the details of our large social-media presence.  We bought a market-style gazebo and portable fridge, and though expensive, they’re really our only big capital outlays for this.  Dad made a blackboard for signage.  Oh, and we bought a laminator. 🙂

After this was all sorted, and we could get the pigs booked in so we had meat to sell, our first market was on August 1st.  It’s part of the Farm Direct markets, and the one we attend is at The Old Spot Hotel in Salisbury, starting at 8 and finishing at 1, though those times do seem a bit fluid. 🙂

Who is that good looking couple?!

Who is that good looking couple?!


The weather for that first market was awful, with almost constant rain.  The ladies next to us, who normally sell out of their delicious bread by 11am every Saturday, finally threw in the towel at midday with half of their wares unsold.  However, we sold an entire pig, sold out of bacon, and probably sold a third of our ham.  It was a huge success, and better than we’d ever dreamed of!

The lessons we’ve learned are:

  • People like bacon.  Who knew?
  • Don’t bother with much ham – concentrate on bacon.
  • We need better signage, and have a sign that attaches to our gazebo on back-order.
  • Get more bacon.
  • Not everybody likes/wants pork, but those same people will still stop for a chat and tell us the meat they do like.  Often, that includes bacon.
  • Lastly, bring more bacon.

As a result, the week following the first market saw us taking a pig to the abattoir to be entirely baconed (yes, bacon can be used as a verb).  We’re actually having one loin done as kassler chops and the belly as speck, but the rest will be bacon and they’re all really just variations on a theme.

We’re also going to start rotating lamb and beef into our offerings.  The market has pretty much everything that people need for their weekly shopping, minus cleaning goods, and if we’re able to offer a rotating pork/lamb/beef option, along with lots of bacon of course, then they can see us as their source of weekly meat.  The problem there will be selling fresh vs. frozen.  Up to now, we sell almost an entire pig as fresh pork on the Saturday, and we may be able to do the same with a couple of lambs; however, I doubt we’ll do it with an entire cow.  Our only option will be to bring it back as a frozen offering, which is clearly less appealing, and not something we can really display to good effect.  That’s something we’re thinking through right now, and might be a great opportunity to combine the bulk and market sides of the business (e.g. sell half as bulk beef and half at the market).  Either way, I suspect we’ll be selling frozen beef at some time, and sometime soon too as we have a cow booked at the abattoir for next week. 🙂

Another thing we’ve learned is that we need our own accredited facility.  While the butcher has been amazing to us, we have no commercial arrangement with him, and so no absolute guarantee that we can keep doing what we’re doing.  With that in mind, the best way to mitigate that risk is to build and accredit our own boning room (I can’t even write “boning room” without sniggering to myself).  We have scoped that out, and actually have a great area in the middle of our big shed that is fully lined with insulated panelling, and has the required drain etc.  We’re going to start looking at converting that as soon as we can.  Once we have that set up, it should be a relatively short step to being able to make our own bacon and sausages.  Fingers crossed…

The final result of this is that the market is going to become a basic part of our business model.  It wasn’t ever anything we thought about initially, but neither was selling to restaurants and we have two of them regularly buying from us now!  We’ll continue to sell in bulk, and the market actually gives us a good pick-up point for that.  The split between bulk and market sales really spreads our risk, and helps ensure the longevity of the business.  The only change we might make is to branch out to a second market, again to spread the risk, and see if we can’t hit two a week.  Our problem now will be growing enough pigs.  I mean that quite literally too – the biggest risk we’re facing is running out of pigs.