Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What got us here, won't get us there......

Almost 20 years ago, Kim and I started a journey – a regenerative farming journey. It has been a journey that has seen us change our farming systems, our life style and most importantly gave us the tools to find a way to support ourselves with our farm. One of us always had to work off farm but when we made the move to begin a freerange pig farm, it was with the sole purpose of making the farm support us. We work incredibly hard and by hard I really mean that we just don’t have down time. It’s constant. We love the work but there’s just a little too much at times. 

Recently Chloe and Edmund – our two adult children that love the land as much as we do, have started going through the same process we did back then. It started with a Grazing for Profit School run by Resource Consulting Services. It is a week of light bulb moments! RCS supports you through a change in thinking processes, but more importantly they teach the financial skills necessary to assist in management change. Kim and I have been pretty switched on with the farming changes that we’ve made over the last 20 years but have probably been a little remiss in some of the financial management needed. Along come the young brains and with them wanting to be involved so that they can build a farming life of their own, we’ve had to look very closely at what we are doing.

The four of us have spent most of the last 3 days going over our business and analysing the cost of production, cost of selling and the return on assets managed. We are putting in place steps to monitor this better and to hopefully make improvements in the overall management of the business.

Like most of the east coast of Australia, we are suffering from the current drought. Due to our regenerative farming practices, we have been able to limit the on-farm impacts, however grain for our pig feed is all sourced locally and grain farmers have been greatly affected and not able to plant. Grain prices are at an all-time high due to lack of supply and strong demand. This is having a huge impact on our costs of production.

For us to remain in this business, we have to increase our bottom line. Unfortunately, to gain all the appropriate approvals from Council and Safefood Qld, a certain level of packaging is required which is costly. As I have mentioned previously, we are changing butchers who process our meat. This alone will result in quite a substantial increase in packaging costs, which we will need to pass on. It’s either that or stop going to the markets. Recently I’ve been going to markets three weeks of every month and a fourth delivery every second month. This is costly – both in travel and time. Time is one of life’s most valuable commodities. I lose 3 days every weekend we go to a market. I love the markets, I love meeting with our community, I love being able to provide a high quality, ethically farmed and tasty meat product. We want to keep doing this for a long time, however we may need to keep evolving our business in order to stay in business.

We have reviewed all our pricing and changes are able to be viewed on the web, at this link.  

We really value the support of all our customers and the community that we’ve built throughout our journey. We are going to continue to work out a way to provide you with quality meat produced with minimal impact on the environment.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that supports.  You are why we are still here and we are grateful for that.

Thank you
Lucy

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sprout Fed Meat and Markets coming up

Markets are coming up this weekend in Yeppoon and Rockhampton - 30th June and 1st July respectively. 

Next weekend, instead of going to the Shalom Markets and delivering to Gladstone, I will be heading to Brisbane to do a course in salami and small goods with Tammi Jones. I'll post more on that after I attend it. My main purpose for this Blog today is because I'm concerned about the possible confusion regarding barley grass fed cattle. Barley grass is sprouted barley, but other grains can also be used and sprouted for feeding to cattle.

There appears to be a new “thing” around lately. Sprout-fed beef. I’ve been watching it with interest, mainly because I thought it might be something we could use to feed our pigs, especially if/when we go organic with the pigs. It’s actually not that new either, the idea has been around a long time, but never really took off. I think now that there is starting to be a reluctance to eat grain fed meat, then sprouts are moving into the grass fed arena. Basically sprouted grain is no longer a grain and is a “grass”. 

I think that in principle, sprouts (usually barley) sprouts are probably a good thing when compared to feeding cattle grain. We know from our own experience that sprouting grains for human consumption makes the grain far easier to digest and makes the nutrients more available. This is a good thing.

So how is grain sprouted? The grain is soaked for a period of time, drained and then put into trays. These trays are placed inside a container (modified shipping container) and with artificial light, are grown over about 5 days into a matted grass.

Insert picture of sprouts

Basically it’s a hydroponic system - no soil and no natural light. I am under the understanding that no chemicals are used to fertilise the grain, just water. The nutrition for the grass comes from the grain kernel.

I’m personally uncomfortable about the idea of no sunlight. The sun provides energy for the plant to grow - what is missing by using artificial light instead of sunlight?

Hydroponics are not a healthy way to grow food, but that’s mostly because of the chemicals that are used to artificially feed the plant. Plants grown in soil are a different product. The roots, bacteria, fungi and minerals all work together to feed the plant the nutrition that is needed for the seed to grow into a healthy plant. An interesting side note, is that hydroponically grown vegetables can not be certified organic, as the soil is an important part in the healthy growth of a plant.

The other BIG question is how the animals are managed while they are fed this sprouted grain? Are they in paddocks and under a rotation to ensure that the soil and pasture are maintained to provide protection from sediment run off and thus preventing soil erosion. Are the animals even kept in paddocks or are they in a feed lot situation? I know some sprouted grainfed cattle businesses that do feed grain at certain stages of development as well as having the cattle in feedlots, just feeding them sprouts rather than grain. 

This topic is a case of Buyer Beware. If you are buying meat that is advertised as being fed a sprouted grain. Then it’s probably a good idea to do some research - either google the business or ask the proprietor if it’s a market stall - how do they manage their cattle and their land. So please ask the question or do the research, do not assume that sprout fed meat is the same as grass fed/grass finished and not lot fed (Confined animal feeding). Then you can make an informed decision. 

I personally, and I think most of our customers, are looking for a grass fed, grass finished beef product. Our cattle are raised on grass until the calves are weaned. Then we move them into our leauceana paddocks where they remain until they are processed. Leauceana is a fodder tree and is planted in rows, with grass growing in between the leaceana rows. At no time are our cattle fed a grain ration.

We move our cattle around the paddocks in a manner that maintains ground cover to prevent soil run off and erosion. It also means that we move the cattle before they take the grass plant down too short. When grass is managed correctly the root mass remains large and this ensures that carbon is being sucked from the atmosphere into the soil through the photosynthesis of the plant.  To do this the plant needs sunlight, rain and soil. This keeps the plant in a healthy nutritious state. The animal then eats the grass and ingests that nutrition. This sort of farming is called regenerative farming/grazing and is one way to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere and keep it in a safe place in the ground.

You can read more about sprouted grain here, but please google the brand of meat that may want to purchase to see what their farming ethics are.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Winter is nearly here......

As I write this we are in the last days of Autumn for 2018 and soon it will be winter. We did have a few wintery days a couple of weeks ago, but the weather lately has been simply BEAUTIFUL! Cool at nights and mornings but with sunny and mildly warm days. I love winter in CQ! Going on past years, our winter could well be over, but I have a funny feeling that we may get a cold winter this year - I hope so, it'd make a pleasant change. The only problem with it being cold her is that our house is not designed for winter so is very cold. It's usually warmer outside than in!

We've had a fairly dry spell lately so the grass is beginning to dry off, but there is still some value in it, and when you look into it, there's still patches of green showing through. Not sure really if rain now would just ruin it so I'm not sure what to wish for! It will be what will be and if it rains it rains.
Our pigs are happy and inquisitive.

I've been enjoying a month of meditation (Mindful in May). It's been really interesting to see the effects on my mood both when I'm working in the paddock or in the house....ha ha, for a minute there I was nearly going to write when I'm working and not, and then I realised that I very rarely NOT work!!!

This is me "mindfully milking"

We have goats kidding again at the moment - they are just so adorable!

This nanny is called Collette an she's had twins again this year.

Finally, I've been doing some gardening over the last few weeks and have finally got a winter garden planted. Lots of greens like Kale, cabbages and silverbeet. Plus some eggplant, capsicum, celery, beans, snow peas and some more herbs. Lets hope they all grow well as I really love to be able to pick from the garden for our meals. Meals made up of our own vegetables and meat! All grown organically (well except for the pigs, who are free range only).


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Free Range Pastured Pork Vs Conventional Pork

I recently had someone ask the question “why is your meat more expensive, what’s special about Free Range, because aren’t all pigs out on farms in paddocks?”

Unfortunately not all pig farms are open range style farming likes ours. Usually it’s the older generation that are unaware of how pigs are raised today. Their memories of pigs are when most farms had a few pigs and they were in paddocks or pens and often very bare of grass. These were called pigstys. We had pigs like this when we were kids. A lot of small holdings still raise pigs like this.

We are certified true free range with PROOF and the core values are:

  • All animals* are able to range freely in open fields or paddocks
  • All animals are kept at stocking densities that will ensure access to forage and grazing and; in the case of layer hens, shall not exceed 1,500 per hectare
  • Animals will not be kept in cages, stalls or crates
  • Densely confined production systems and feed lotting is not practiced
  • All animals are able to interact with their herd or flock and to carry out natural behaviours
  • All animals will be protected from predators
  • Animals will be fed to meet their nutritional needs
  • There will be no use of growth promoters
*Exception: very young poultry that are not yet sufficiently feathered
.
We were originally certified with Humane Choice Society and they have similar values. Australian Pork has a certification for free range also, but  I don't believe that they adhere to the rule about forage as well as these two organisations. Our pigs don't get to roam freely around the farm, we have done extensive fencing to ensure that we can keep different mobs of pigs separate. Pigs are very social creatures, but they really only like the mob that they are in. If the mob is too big, this can cause all sorts of issues with bullying! We usually wean piglets into mobs of between 30 and 50. Any more than this amount causes problems. Our grower pigs are on feed bins so they self feed. However they need to be checked everyday - both food and water. Water is critical especially in hot weather.

Wallows become very important in summer too, and because it's hot they dry out quickly. Some summer days we need to check pigs three times a day!



Sows are fed by hand. We can't use feed bins for sows as it creates too much of a bullying issue with the dominant sows getting all the feed and getting very fat and the less dominant losing condition.




We try to keep the sows in mobs of less than 20 to ensure peace in the mob. When they farrow, we move them to a large pen so that they and their piglets can be monitored better. This is to ensure better welfare outcomes for mum and bubs.



We are constantly (well it seems like it!) building more paddocks to enable us to increase the rotation of our paddocks. At the moment, we don't really have our grazing management correct as we have way too much grass in the paddocks! It would be better if we had smaller paddocks and could graze the grass a little heavier, so some paddock sub-division is planned.


There's 40 pigs in this paddock somewhere!

Then of course at the other end of the spectrum are large intensive sheds. The majority of pork in the shops today are from pigs raised like this. Most of the ham, bacon and small goods are from imported pork, which are all raised in inhumane conditions like in the following photos. The advantage of a shed situation is that they are very automated. The feed delivery systems can be quite High Tech and the right amount of feed for each pig will be delivered. Through the use of scanning software, the managers can monitor when individual pigs are eating to much or too little. Because of automation, the cost to produce a pig are a lot less than what it costs us per pig. Our system is very labour intensive and we are limited to how many numbers we can run due to the amount of labour and land needed. In a shed, the profits per pig are small, but so many more pigs can be managed, that the end profit can be large.

There is another cost caused by intensive farming of pigs, and that is the environmental cost. These systems have an enormous amount of effluent that needs to go somewhere.

Below are some pictures that I found on the web. I have been in a few conventional sheds and these are fairly accurate pictures.


This is a Sow Stall - dry sows are put in these and currently the limit is that they are allowed to stay in them for 6 weeks at a time! 1 day is too much.



This is a farrowing crate. I have heard that even with this awful contraption, the death rate of piglets isn't much different to that of free range.

The below picture is also taken off the web and is a free range breeder set up. Notice the lack of pasture? This is what happens when pigs are left in a paddock all the time without any rest. Some of our paddocks do have some bare areas, because pigs are hard on the land, but nothing like this.


So why is our pork more expensive?

Mostly due to the cost of labour and the limits of size and economies of scale, and the cost of infrastructureIt costs a considerable amount more per pig to farm the way we do. Its up to you the consumer. Do you choose a product that supports animal welfare and ethical farming - farming for the health of the animal and the environment, or do you choose one that doesn't.  

Our pork is the only pork in Central Queensland certified with PROOF. We are one of three pig farms that I know of in the CQ that are managed in a True Free Range manner. One of them supplies us with piglets and so doesn't sell direct. The other provides a delivery service. Our pork is available from us at the Yeppoon and Rockhampton markets and Gladstone via delivery.  We are now going to Bundaberg on a monthly basis and are also considering a trip to Emerald by-monthly if we can get enough interest.

Next Markets and Delivery:

Gladstone - TBA - Saturday or Sunday 7/8 April
Bundaberg - Sunday 8th April

Yeppoon - Saturday 14th April
Rockhampton - Sunday 15th April

More dates can be found here.

Emerald - If you are interested in ordering some of our meat, please email dawsonvalleyfr@bigpond.com as soon as possible as I will be taking orders by 7th May for an end of May delivery.



Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lard

I have been using lard as my main cooking fat for quite a few years now. I do use butter and coconut oil as well, and very occasionally I'll use macadamia oil. There are many reasons why I like to use Lard though,  and I thought I'd share some of them with you. I did find a few links online, so if you don't want to take my advice you can check out some other peoples thoughts as well.

1. Lard is a traditional fat. Pigs are small animals (compared to cows) and they don't need as much space or even as much land as a cow. They will eat anything, so in years gone by were fed whatever excess people had. Not much got wasted on slaughter day, and the fat especially was treasured as it would last for a very long time when it was rendered down. Just about every traditional culture uses some form of animal fat.

2. Lard is heat stable. It can be heated to very high heats without damaging the structure of the fat. I'm not into science, but there is a reason for it and you can read more here.

3. It's economical and lasts for ages. I do have the luxury of owning a free range pork business, so I get to have as much as I like. I render a big pot at one time and then store the rendered fat in glass jars in the fridge.  It will keep like this for a very long time. It is important though to use a clean utensil when getting lard out to use so that it doesn't get contaminated. This is different to keeping the fat off cooked meat - eg keeping the fat from roasting a piece of pork, or some bacon. If I keep this fat, I use it a lot quicker. This however is a good way to get lard to cook with. I keep all my excess cooking fats to re-use.

4. Lard has quite a bland flavour. Chicken or beef fat is much stronger flavoured, which is good in a lot of ways. The beauty of lard's neutral flavour, is that you can use it in pastry - both sweet and savoury. I use it when I make tortillas. In past years it was used as a butter substitute.

5. Lard is healthy! Pigs like ours, that are raised on pasture, have more Vitamin D and Vitamin E than conventional pigs and in a form that we can access.

There is a lot more detail on the following links, if you would like to read more. I've even included a link that a very good customer of mine gave me for Lard Fudge. She made it, but I haven't yet!

https://robbwolf.com/2014/10/12/recipe-primal-freezer-fudge/

If you would like to render your own lard, here's a how to: https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-how-to-render-lard/

https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/lard/

https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/food-features/put-lard-back-in-your-larder/

http://eatdrinkpaleo.com.au/making-sense-of-healthy-cooking-oils-fats/

https://empoweredsustenance.com/lard-is-healthy/

Ask me more about it at the markets........

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Frequent Free Ranger Packs

You've probably heard about the Frequent Free Ranger Packs, and if you are sitting on the fence and wondering how they would fit in with your lifestyle, here's a few ideas.

If you want to know exactly what the packs are, please read more here.

Meal Planning is a really good way to make sure that you eat well during any given week. I don't always do it, but when I do, it makes life much easier. I don't have access to shops and takeaway, but if you find them tempting, meal planning will help to keep you on the straight and narrow. The packs have been designed to assist in meal planning. When I meal plan, I base a weeks meals around the following:

  • something on the grill or BBQ
  • a roast or joint of meat, that will feed us for an evening meal plus lunches
  • a stew that I can put on early in the afternoon or in the morning when I know I'm going to be late home
  • quick and easy meals
I don't usually meal plan breakfast, but evening meals that might give left overs are planned.

So how does the FFR pack fit into this plan:

Bacon - this can be used for breakfast, either as bacon and eggs, but to make it go a bit further, could be used in scrambled eggs, bacon/onion/tomato, bacon/onion/beans, bacon/onion/potato....if you want more detail, let me know - I am a master at including bacon in my breakfasts! Bacon is also good to use for dinner: bacon and vegetable soup, pasta cabanara, potato bake to name a few.

Ham - usually only one pack of ham is included and this is good for lunches or just to add into other meals.

Something to Grill - pork chops, lamb chops, pork or beef steaks. By swapping them around each week, you get to try something different. Change it up with either a salad or veggies done in various ways - stirfry, steamed, baked. Use the BBQ or cook in a pan so that you can make a sauce/gravy.

Roast or Corn Meat - So much variety here, whether it be pickled pork, corn beef, roast beef, roast pork, brisket. Use the slow cooker to make life a little less rushed in the afternoon if you are making it mid week. I like to put it in the slow cooker frozen so that it doesn't over cook - unless of course you are doing brisket and then it doesn't matter if it's pull apart cooked. See my recipe tab for some yummy brisket recipes.

Pulled Brisket

Stews - I love them! They can be cooked in the slow cooker, the oven or on top of the stove. I like to use the oven, as I can pop it all in a baking dish and put it on low and then go and do my afternoon chores. But you might like the ease of a slow cooker and come home to a nice home cooked meal. 

Coconut Pork

Sausages and mince are great standbys. If you forget to take them out of the freezer, they are easy enough to defrost and then cook quickly. I'm loving savoury mince lately. I often cook it on a Wednesday night so that I can take left overs with us in a thermos for lunch when we travel to Biggenden on Thursdays.

If you want to try a free ranger pack, please email me with your details.



Monday, February 19, 2018

February Update

We have had some rain again on the weekend - 14mm in a thunder storm just as we were about to serve food to about 60 people at a family birthday party on the farm. While it may have dampened things, it didn't dampen spirits!

Our next markets will be in Yeppoon and Rockhampton the first weekend in March, which is the 3rd and 4th (not what I said last post!).

Bundaberg - we are coming to you! We will be attending the  Shalom College Markets every 2nd Sunday. Our first market will be the 10th March. We will also deliver to Gladstone on this weekend. We had originally planned on delivering to Gladstone on the first weekend in March, and I will send an email out to our regular customers there to discuss the day and time of collection, so if you aren't currently on the email list, please email me to subscribe to the list. dawsonvalleyfr@bigpond.com
If you have friends or family in Bundaberg, please pass our details on.

Once again, our goat supply is low, as they just don't grow fast enough! For the next few markets, we will only have Lamb, Beef and Pork available. We will also have some really tasty salami! We taste tested it this weekend and it got the thumbs up from everyone who tried it. It will be packaged in approximately 1/2 kg packs and will be $26/kg. This is made from our premium pastured pork.