3 Comments

Feed: Weaning ourselves off industrial grain

I’ve spent the better part of what will soon be (gasp!) three decades worrying about the ills of industrial animal agriculture, and most of today gathering some of the relevant stats around the amount of feed grown globally to feed livestock in preparation for writing about what we’re trying to achieve in our feeding system at Jonai Farms. Bear with me…

The inconsistencies in data depending on the source have been doing my head in – does the livestock industry contribute 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) or 3%? Which life cycle analysis is accounting properly for all parts of the food chain, and which acknowledges the differences between Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and small-scale pastured animal farming? Is 60% of American corn fed to animals or is it 80%? If 47% of soy produced is fed to animals in the US, how can it be 85% globally?

And then it occurred to me that the numbers don’t matter that much. We simply must stop growing monocultures of grain crops only to process and feed them to animals. Whether it contributes 3% or 18% to greenhouse gases, it’s just bloody unnecessary and entirely a result of industrialised agriculture, which segregates each aspect of production in the most unnatural ways instead of growing food in diverse, integrated, and holistic systems.

Here are some more numbers (sorry not sorry but I spent so much time gathering them): according to the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) 26% of the earth is used to graze animals, and 33% of the earth’s arable land is dedicated to feed crop cultivation. The FAO also reckons that 50% of all grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, mostly in the wealthy countries of the Global North.

There’s a complicated discussion to be had around the differences between feeding grains to ruminants (such as cattle, sheep, and goats) and non-ruminants (aka monogastrics like pigs, poultry, and people), but that’s for another post. (Fun fact for those who don’t already know this – horses are not ruminants, they’re monogastric herbivores.) In that discussion we could talk about the suitability of a part or whole grain diet for ruminants, and differences in greenhouse gas emissions from different species, but I’ll simply offer this short quote about some of those complexities before moving on:

‘…pork and poultry production currently consume over 75% of cereal and oil-seed based on concentrate that is grown for livestock (Galloway et al., 2007). Therefore, while ruminants consume 69% of animal feed overall, nonruminates consume 72% of all animal feed that is grown on arable land (Galloway et al., 2007). Consequently, while enteric fermentation from nonruminants is not a significant source of GHG, indirect emissions associated with cropland dedicated to nonruminant livestock might be significant.’ Ref.

Like I said, it’s complicated. So this is a slightly long-winded introduction to telling you the story of what we feed our animals at Jonai Farms and why we’ve made the choices we have.

***

From the outset with our pigs and cattle, we wanted to farm agroecologically – ‘working with biodiversity to provide the farming system with ecological resilience and reduce dependence on costly, often harmful, conventional inputs’. One thing that means is that since obtaining our first pigs, we had intentions to salvage or produce enough feed for a complete diet for them without purchasing grain purpose-grown for livestock.

It’s been five years but last week we achieved that goal!

From very early on, our pigs have been fed primarily a diet of spent brewers’ grain (some of which Stuart ensiles with molasses to stabilize it for storage and increase the energy extracted by the brewing process). We drive twice a week to collect a total of around three tonnes of this grain. The cattle are fed any excess, particularly during the height of summer and depths of winter when nutrient value of the feed on the paddocks is lower.

 

In addition to the spent brewers’ grain, Stuart has managed to salvage so-called waste stream (or in some cases ‘surplus yield’) feed from the dairy, fruit, and vegetable industries, including post-harvest ‘seconds’ of everything from potatoes to strawberries, colostrum-rich cow’s milk during calving season, and supply-chain damaged or unwanted dairy products such as milk and cheese.

Two summers ago a dairy processor delivered an entire container load of milk – in thousands of plastic bottles – when they had an oversupply due to some kind of logistics failure. We contacted every pig farmer we knew and got them to collect as much as they could haul away but were left with enough milk to feed out for many months. In consultation with our vet, we were confident that spoilt milk is not dangerous nor non-nutritive for the pigs – they continued to enjoy it well past the point where we enjoyed feeding it out.

We’ve only made minor inroads into fodder cropping, with some success at growing turnips and brassicas in the mostly rye paddocks we inherited in our attempts to wean ourselves off purpose-grown commercial grain.

We have, however, planted at least one hundred oak trees and a couple dozen other nut and fruit trees to provide fodder in what we hope will eventually be a full-blown agro-sylvo-pastoral system. Trees take a really long time to grow and they’re hard to keep alive through our hot summers, but Stuart does his best to nurse them through the heat.

While the brewers’ grain is a steady supply upon which we can rely and the paddocks provide a proportion of the happy piggehs regular diet (up to 20% depending on the season), the other salvaged feed has been sporadic – not enough to rely on without ensuring we had a nutritious regular feed on hand to supplement the brewers’ grain.

This other ration has always been a pelletised grain we’ve bought from a Victorian feed supplier. The standard ration we were originally offered was a mix of barley, wheat, peas, lupins, bread mix, mill run, soy, post-industrial food waste (such as bread meal and Smarties off the factory floor to increase the energy), essential amino acids (such as methionine, tryptophan and lysine), and vitamins and minerals. We said ‘no, thanks’ and asked for a custom ration that was just barley, wheat, and lupins and paid an extra $50/tonne for the privilege of keeping all the nutrititive and non-nutritive additives and soy out of it.

The pellets formed anywhere from 15-30% of the pigs’ diet for the past five years (depending on their age and stage, e.g. wet sows get more pellets to ensure they’re getting sufficient proteins to support reproduction). It was convenient, very little wastage, and simple to monitor nutrition as the feed company’s nutritionists did all the knowledge work for us. But it never sat well with our principles – we’ve been relying on the very industrialised food system we rail against!

Last week everything changed when we got a call to collect 23 tonnes of water-damaged rice (only about 2 tonnes of which was actually damaged). It wasn’t lost on us that this rice was sent from a country with much higher levels of food insecurity than Australia only to be condemned on food safety standards when the vast majority of the shipment was perfectly palatable, but much better to at least divert it to feed and keep it out of the landfill. We shared the bounty with some other farming mates, and ultimately collected 14 tonnes ourselves, which we unloaded manually one five-kilo bag at a time into our shed.

On the second day of collecting the rice, we were also offered some 14 pallets of milk from the landlord of a distributor who’d gone into (heh) liquidation. Again we shared the love and collected five pallets for ourselves, all of us grateful to the landlord who wanted to see the milk used and not wasted.

The rice stores well, and if we feed it out at 10-15% of the pigs’ normal ration (as advised in the plethora of research articles I’ve read on the topic) we have enough for nearly two years. The milk will last a couple of months if fed out at up to 20% of their ration. We actually live next to a dairy and have been discussing buying milk directly from him as we would pay the same as we were paying for pellets (50 cents per litre, and we pay 50 cents per kilo of pellets) for a higher quality feed, while supporting one of the many struggling dairy farmers in Australia (he’s been paid as low as 25 cents per litre this year). So if more waste-stream milk doesn’t come our way we have another source of milk, a near-perfect feed for pigs as it contains the essential amino acids needed for optimal health, fertility, and growth.

Inspired by all this salvage feed, I contacted a local free-range egg farmer we know and have planted the seed with him to get their egg seconds as well, which he said he’s happy to barter for pork (when the other pig farmers who take some don’t get in first!).

This windfall of salvaged feed sent me back into a whirl of planning for 2017 – I do love a good spreadsheet – and we’ll be adjusting a few priorities now that we’re entirely reliant on salvaged feed.

For a starter, building a shed near the pig paddocks with a 20-foot container to store dry feed in a rodent-proof box has jumped up the list. While we wait for our oaks to produce for the pigs, we’re also keen to collect acorns and chestnuts in autumn and dry store them in the container to feed out, in this case not so much diverting waste as using a wasted resource that is abundant in our region.

The tractor we’ve wanted to buy for a few years but just couldn’t fully justify in a system we are physically capable of running manually (for now – ask again in a decade!) has also climbed the priority ladder. Offloading many tonnes of feed by hand is neither desirable nor sustainable when it’s our regular feed source. One mad week of offloading nearly 20 tonnes made us feel proud and strong, doing it regularly would quite likely make us feel dumb and tired!

A critical point about the shed and the tractor is that we can afford them because we just erased a significant feed bill from our budget – as with all things, taking on more labour ourselves rather than outsourcing it to others frees up more cash to invest in infrastructure and equipment.

But on that labour point – dealing with salvage feed is significantly more labour-intensive, and it also usually comes with a level of packaging waste that ultimately costs us as well. In the case of the rice bags, we have to pay if we need to deliver rubbish to the tip more than once per month. And there’s the extra time and labour to unpackage the rice and the milk, as well as milling and soaking the rice to make it fully digestible by the pigs. Some of this is a nuisance and is a hidden cost if you’re not paying attention. I’ve adjusted our business planning spreadsheet to fully account for the change in motor vehicle use and increase in waste disposal to ensure we know how much this ‘free’ feed actually costs us (financially – we also weigh all financial choices up against the environmental and social benefits of each decision, and salvage feed wins on every count).

The necessity of learning more about pig nutrition and carefully adjusting their rations to ensure they’re getting the best possible diet is some of the real work of farming, something that’s been lost in large-scale industrialised agriculture where the knowledge and competence to source, process, mix and distribute feed has been outsourced to another segment of the ‘industry’.

Stuart and I are both feeling excited and invigorated by our newest milestone and its requisite stepping up our skills and knowledge. It’s got us back on the case of working out an effective and productive mixed perennial and annual fodder cropping system in the paddocks as well.

There are more improvements happening with the cattle I’ll write about soon enough, where I’ll include details on the introduction of the chickens and their eggmobile out on the paddocks providing an incredible ecological service to our soils while nutrient cycling what would otherwise be ‘waste’ from our own boning room. This year we not only quit commercial grain and made it fully onto salvaged feed, we also went from being ‘paddock-to-plate’ to being ‘paddock-to-paddock’!

Bring on 2017!

Postscript: A quick note on waste-stream feed, animal health, and food safety.

Swill feeding (feeding waste feed that includes any meat product or product that has been in contact with meat) is banned in Australia and much of the industrialised world. There are some good reasons for this, as some downgraded food can become contaminated with pathogens that make animals and/or the people who eat them ill. For example, foot and mouth disease, which can be derived from contaminated meat products fed to pigs, has wrought havoc with pig production overseas. A blanket ban on swill feeding is typical of most regulation – incapable of dealing with complexity – and clear guidance and monitoring of use of swill would obviously be preferable for a small-scale farm. Meat meal is actually quite common in most pig feed (they are omnivores after all) – it is heat treated to kill potential pathogens. We have concerns about the origins of said meat (and fish) meal, so always opted out of that option in the pellets.

What I will say about the moral panic around feeding pigs swill, a practice claimed to be thousands of years old, is that it serves to protect the interests of Big Ag (whether intentionally or not) to the detriment of small-scale farmers. Intentionality is to an extent immaterial – the consequences are that a) food is wasted that could have gone to producing more food, b) small-scale farmers are forced to pay higher feed costs rather than use their labour to re-purpose waste, and c) most farms are forced to rely on monocultural grain production.

While we obviously don’t feed any swill to our pigs, we would love to see a day when sensible, safe regulations were put in place to allow swill feeding to reduce waste, increase smallholder profitability, and end reliance on unsustainable grain production for livestock feed.

 

3 Comments

Fertility and focus: lessons from 2016

4 Comments

Fertility and focus: lessons from 2016

So there we were, sailing along smoothly, with a bounty of piglets in a perfect little symmetrical cycle – two sows in with the boar, job done, a month later the sows come out, and then an average of eight little piglets per litter three months later, left to suckle for their first six to eight weeks before the whole thing would start again. Weren’t we clever? With 12 sows that meant we could produce over 180 pigs for meat per year. And that can mean nearly $200,000 revenue from just the pigs in our direct sales model with full control of the butchering and value adding.

And then one month there were no piglets. The next month (March) the two Marys only gave us 10. And the next month there were none. The ensuing months the decline continued, with some sows simply not getting in pig and others looming large only to deliver further small litters of just four and five piglets.

Stuart noted the decline and decided to start leaving sows in longer with the boar to give them a chance to cycle more times in hopes of getting in pig. To do this, he would leave the first pair in and then add another pair, and another until Borg would have up to six ladies in his paddock. This went on for some months and the situation actually worsened, with just three litters providing 15 piglets over three months. A litter of 11 was lost entirely to foxes when Pink farrowed unexpectedly in the middle of the paddock.

Stuart said he figured we might need a new boar. Borg (our original boar) was just over five years old at this stage, and Elvis was nearing three.

I told Stuart to make sure the litter record was up to date and do some analysis before we made a decision about whether we needed a new boar or new sows (our original sows Big Mama, Keen, and Pink were the same age as Borg). Very caught up in the butchery schedule, managing the still-new processes around the curing room, and overcommitted to my advocacy work for food sovereignty, I foolishly didn’t offer to help with the analysis. It turns out that Stuart wasn’t really sure what to do with the data we’d been capturing about the herd for the previous four years, and also that he’d been getting less diligent about recording all the data.

In May we bought a young boar (Prince) in readiness for when Borg was retired, be that sooner or later…

We knew that Big Mama had failed to get in pig over the past year, and at five years old we slaughtered her in May. It was emotional taking our first sow to the abattoir, but as a commercial farm we had decided years earlier that our sentimental selves needed to accept the realities of what we do – we raise pigs for food, and the breeding herd are all part of that system even though we grow quite attached to them. Being such big old animals we knew the muscles would be full of flavour, and chose to turn them into our farmstead cures of coppa, pancetta, and Eganstown air-cured ham. The size of the hams lend themselves well to curing for longer, and so these hams will be cured for a minimum of two years, with the names of the sows carried through to the packaging to honour them and offer what we hope is a respectful recognition of the part they’ve played at Jonai Farms.

At the start of July Stuart came in from the paddocks with a knitted brow and told me we were in serious strife, with not enough pigs on the ground to meet our commitments to our CSA members. He’d done a stocktake of exactly how many growers we had out on the paddocks and worked out we only had half as many as we normally would have. In May we had cut back from slaughtering eight to six pigs per fortnight as we were worried about the shortfall, but the new count showed we had to cut back to a mere three pigs per fortnight to make it to the end of the year. It was a blow.

I finally got my distracted head back in the game and swung into action. Updating the spreadsheet with Stuart’s memory of where he’d left gaps was a frustrating exercise to say the least. I think it’s fair to say the situation tested us as life and business partners, but that while it was difficult and stressful, we both handled things as generously and graciously as possible while feeling alternately angry and guilty for the part we’d both played in not identifying and addressing the decline in fertility earlier. But there’s nothing to be gained by simply pointing fingers and having tantrums – it was time to move forward.

Some pretty simple analysis with the spreadsheet quickly told me that Borg was the problem. He’d only sired two litters in the previous year to Elvis’ successful 12. Like with our first sow, it was sad to make the call to end Borg’s life, but again these are the realities of livestock farming – most of us can’t afford to treat our breeders as pets when they’re no longer productive, neither financially nor in land use.

We separated Borg from the girls to reduce the risk of boar taint when he was slaughtered, and at five and a half years old we turned him into the most delicious Cumberland sausages I have ever made, loaded with garlic-infused red wine, bay leaves, and heaps of fresh herbs from the garden. I used the fat from younger pigs to further reduce the risk of taint, and was surprised and delighted to find they had no trace at all of it.

At the point where we had at last gained clarity after six months of fumbling along we brought our vet in to preg test the rest of the sows to see what the next four months looked like for us. As expected, none of the sows who had been exclusively with Borg were pregnant, but happily most of those Stuart had joined with Elvis were.

We discussed all the variables that might have got us into trouble in the first place with our vet:

  • an older breeding herd;
  • lack of diversity of the genetics in a heritage breed;
  • a very hot, dry autumn, summer, and spring – high temperatures are known to cause seasonal infertility and we’d had three of those seasons consecutively;
  • the addition of cheese to the pigs’ diet – too much sodium could affect fertility;
  • overweight sows due to too much cheese in their diet; and
  • putting too many sows in for long periods with the boar, which could affect his semen count or even his interest in joining.

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to say which of these variables have affected the herd over the past year the most. Clearly Borg was no longer viable, and we’re seeing regular litters again from Elvis and now also Prince, so that’s one problem solved (for now). But we’re still getting smaller litters than we were in the first few years – averaging six when we had reached eight when things were at their best. Overall our average pre-weaning mortality (stillbirths and squashing) for the past five years is 14%, but this year it went up as high as 26%.

We’ve just ordered another young boar to replace Elvis in the next year, and we’ve made the decision to bring in a Duroc terminal sire. Our reasoning is that with the limited lines available in Australia we’re at continued risk if we don’t ensure greater diversity in the herd to get our litter sizes back up. The Duroc genetics should also give us slightly larger piglets at birth so a higher survival rate would be expected. We’ll continue to select gilts from the purebreds to try to do our part to maintain the Large Black genetics in Australia.

We’re also doing more research on the pigs’ feed – we currently feed a mixed ration of a majority spent brewers’ grain from a local brewery, pelletised grain (primarily wheat, barley and lupins), and Stuart is just re-introducing a small amount of the seconds cheese to increase the protein (especially lysine) again without overfeeding and creating a fat or sodium issue. We’re also focusing on learning what fodder crops will work in our climate – hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters – in order to reduce our reliance on commercial grain while maintaining the appropriate nutrition for the pigs’ growth and reproductive health.

During the period of greatest crisis (between June and September), we made the decision to buy a dozen young growers from two other free-range farms we trust and grow them on to supplement the meat in our system. They were Large Blacks like ours, though a few were crossed with Berkshire. As a butcher I find different breeds on different feed can bring astonishing variations in meat quality. In this case, the pig carcasses from one of the farms had very poor structure in the meat and the fat. The flavour, while good enough and certainly not bad, lacked the sweetness of our pork. But it was the texture – the structure – that was strikingly different. It was flaccid, and the fat wasn’t the usual white, firm sponginess we’re used to, it was almost beige or light brown, and had an oiliness to it, as well as lacking structure. In one batch of bacon the fat actually rendered out – when I cut open a block there was just a pool of fat… we pulled that piece from production and ate it at home. Again, there was nothing really wrong with the flavour, but it didn’t sing like our pork and the sloppiness was quite unappealing.

When we asked the farmers about the pigs’ feed before they came to us, we learned that they’re fed primarily on cracked barley, but also get some linseed and hemp seed oil. That coupled with less groundcover on the paddocks in the more marginal country where they farm seems to have resulted in insufficient protein and perhaps trace minerals (?) to grow healthy, strong muscles. It was yet another lesson for us – we saw and tasted firsthand the difference the right feed can make (and yet acknowledge our feed may still be contributing to the reproductive issues…).

Aside from the fact that as a tragic optimist I can tally all of this difficult year up to be a sum total of massive learning and improving as farmers, the serious good news story to come out of this is the success of community-supported agriculture (CSA). Back in July I had the unenviable task of writing to our wonderful community of CSA members to tell them of our plight, and to ask for their support. While CSA is explicitly a risk-sharing model where the members are asked to support farmers through difficult growing periods and the vagaries of nature, we didn’t really think we’d ever have to test the model in this way. It’s fruit and vegetable farmers who are more vulnerable to fickle nature, right? A hard frost or a severe windstorm is the sort of thing that might wipe out a crop, but it doesn’t faze a hardy herd of pigs. Well, turns out fertility can be just as unpredictable as the weather…

I wrote to the members and told them their bags might not be as heavy as what they signed up for, but that I would add some of the high-value cures, bone broths, or extra beef to make up for it if that was okay with them. I pressed ‘send’ and held my breath… and then I wept as the responses flooded in… they were overhwlemingly supportive, kind, and appreciative of our transparency in all parts of the farm. Without our members, we might have simply copped a nearly 50% loss in sales, but instead we only suffered some 15 or 20% loss.

Nobody had to go get another job, we know a lot more about pigs’ reproductive health and nutritional needs than we did a year ago, and production is increasing steadily back towards normal. If our story helps even one other farmer identify fertility issues more quickly and avoid what we’ve been through this year then telling this story will have been worth it. And if the non-farming folk out there read this and have a greater appreciation for the complicated variables farmers deal with every day to get food to your table then it’s definitely worth it.

This was a hard story to write. While we’re committed to radical transparency to do our bit to repair our broken food system, sharing failures is scary and makes me feel vulnerable and conscious of the uncharitable ways some might use it to disparage our efforts. But there it is, we’re learning and sharing and doing our best.

In recollecting the past year with all the benefit of hindsight I’m totally exasperated by our early inaction to start addressing the problem systematically and seek the right advice. I’ve been banging on for some time about the importance of keeping good litter records, but your records are only as good as the data you collect, and they’re only useful if you analyse that data. And even once you’ve analysed it, there may be multiple factors at play and solving farming problems is a complex matter… and an incredibly interesting and rewarding one when you start to crack the code again!

To the farmers and vets out there - please feel free to offer your experiences, advice, and wisdom. We welcome feedback from those who know more or differently than us!

And here’s to a more fruitful and focused year ahead! 

4 Comments

2 Comments

Community-supported agriculture at Jonai Farms

My interest in community-supported agriculture started in early 2000 as an eater in search of local, organic vegetables for my dear little family of three, soon to be pregnant with the fourth of ultimately five Jonai. We were living in Santa Cruz, California, pursuing the granola, earth-mama lifestyle so prevalent in that part of the world in spite of the exorbitant cost of living. Living on just $35,000 per annum with a rent of $1600 per month, we didn’t have cash to spare.

I was a vegetarian at the time, which helped keep food costs down, but I was also determined to feed the little people I had grown inside my own body organic produce only. And so after many months of joyful shopping at Santa Cruz’s excellent twice-weekly farmer’s markets, we stumbled across the CSA farm run by the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Even now, the UCSC CSA vegie box is a mere $25/week, payable as $560 in advance of the 22-week season. It was a struggle to find the money up front, but UCSC offers low-income households a few options to improve access, and we were able to pay in two instalments instead of one.

The bounty was incredible – a box of seasonal fruit and veg plucked from the farm each morning before collection time. Interacting with the student farmers and hearing about the harvest – successes & failures – was a highlight of the week, often helping us understand better what was and wasn’t working in our own little garden a mile away from campus.

A decade later we found ourselves setting up our own farm in the central highlands of Victoria, Australia. From the beginning we were keen to run the farm as a CSA, but until we tested our supply of ethically-raised rare-breed pork and beef, we didn’t feel confident asking people to commit. It seemed wrong to ask the community to share our risk when we weren’t even sure what the risks were, and had no production data to know what our average litter sizes or carcass yields would be.

The first year of meat sales (second year on the farm) affirmed our caution in waiting to start the CSA. We had a lot to learn about farming and butchering, and were pleased with the way demand for our produce grew rather organically as supply grew, without placing undue pressure on us to produce more.

Halfway through that first year of selling meat, we crowdfunded a $30,000 boning room and I trained as a butcher while Stuart built it, and we see the crowdfunding as our first foray into community-supported agriculture, because that’s just what it was. People pledged an up-front payment for a reward of fresh pork we delivered once we had a licensed boning room. And that’s how it works – people take a risk with you and you deliver, and so we did.

The same month we got our licence for the boning room was also the month we launched our CSA. It was also just a few months before we reached peak production – an average of eight pigs and a side of beef per fortnight. We’d watched our land carefully over the previous two years as we went from our original single boar and five breeding sows until we reached two boars and 12 sows on our 69 acres in addition to an average of 18 cattle.

We have sufficient demand to grow more animals for meat, but our land would suffer, so we reached the limit set by our soil and climate. We’d set out to be an ethically-viable no-growth model, and two years in, we found the limit of our start-up growth. It also just happens to be a very full and fulfilling schedule, and the workload, while sometimes quite intense, is sustainable for a small family farm.

So with those three variables – taking over our supply chain with the boning room, reaching peak production, and launching the CSA – in January 2014 we went from running a small loss to making our first profit, and we’ve been profitable since.

The first month, we had eight subscribers, which gave us an assured income of just over $12,000 for the year. Six months into the CSA, we had 25 members, and by the start of the second year our community had grown to 40, with about two-thirds based in Melbourne and one-third spread around our region. As we enter the third year, we have 74 members and a waiting list for Melbourne, with room for about 15 more members in the region.

In exchange for 6 or 12 months payment up front, or a monthly payment, subscribers get 3, 5, 6 or 10kg bags of pork only or mixed pork and beef cuts, including our range of smallgoods. The bags now may also contain pet treats, bone broths, air-dried muscles such as coppa, lonza and pancetta, and charcuterie such as our popular pâté de tête made from the heads.

The CSA currently guarantees us an income of just under $100,000 out of a total revenue of approximately $170,000 projected for 2015-16. The remainder is about $50,000 in ad hoc sales in the region and through farm gate, and approximately $20,000 from our monthly workshops. Our profit margin is around 30%, giving us an income of just over $50,000 after all farm expenses are covered.

Our cost of living here is so low as we grow and barter for the majority of our food and live a low-consumption lifestyle that we find this income meets all our needs, and will actually increase slightly as we improve certain processes and eventually stop building new structures!

Aside from a secure income, there are too many benefits to the farmers and the eaters in community-supported agriculture to possibly quantify, but I’ll mention a few. For us, getting to know our members, their preferences, and their appreciation for our efforts and the uncommonly delicious results is invaluable. The emails, texts, and photos on social media sharing how people have cooked our meat, or how their children will no longer eat any sausages but ours are salve to knuckle-weary farmers at the end of a day of what must otherwise be thankless toil for those working in a disconnected, windowless industrial boning room or cavernous sheds full of shrieking, stinking, miserable pigs.

Since joining your csa our monthly spend on meat has reduced by heaps. Also the meat you provide is so nourishing that we often have some left over by the time the new bag arrives (usually bacon so i freeze it). We get the small pack and it is enough for three full size women who eat well! (One is 12 but she is the middle size person). AND of course the taste is sensational. All three of us were unable to stomach pork prior to trying yours! You are awesome!  Thank you. (CSA member Tani Jakins, 2015)

Even the critical feedback – not enough meat on the ribs, too much fat on the bacon, uncertainty about the grey colour of our nitrite-free bacon – is so much easier to hear from people with whom we have an ongoing and genuine relationship. This feedback has helped me improve my butchering skills as members have guided me with their desires, just as it has taught many of them that fat is delicious and nitrites are the only reason most bacon is lurid pink.

Logistically, running a CSA with bags of mixed cuts enables me to ensure every carcass is fully utilised, and makes packing day a much simpler exercise than when I was cutting and filling bags to custom requirements. And the standard CSA set box model teaches eaters to be better, more resourceful cooks attached to seasons and the reality of just 28 ribs and two tenderloins per pig. It also means automated repeating invoices, instead of endless documentation of weights after packing followed by 100 tailored invoices into the night before delivering 400kg of meat.

Having attended the Urgenci: International Network for Community-Supported Agriculture conference in China in November, we’ve come back full of ideas from our CSA farming comrades around the globe, including plans to share our budget with members (starting with sharing the financial data here right now!), and preparation to host a members-only Open Day on the farm, with butchery & cooking demos, music, and of course a long lunch of Jonai Farms pork and beef surrounded with organic bounty from other growers in our beautiful region.

At Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths, we say we don’t need to scale, we need to multiply. In our region and across Australia we see this happening rapidly, and we’re delighted to be amongst at least half a dozen small-scale free-range pig farms within 100km of us. There’s room for many more if our waiting list is anything to go by, and imagine a land re-populated with families caring for the land, sending our kids to the local schools, and re-creating vibrant rural communities. You won’t get that with scale – quite the opposite in fact.

Community-supported agriculture comes from an ethics of connectedness, care, and solidarity. It ensures accountability at both the farmer and the eater end of the equation, provides a viable living for farmers, and helps everyone learn more about the hows and whys of food production. As we enter our third year of running our farm as a CSA, we’d like to thank our members – those who’ve been with us since the beginning and those recently arrived – we couldn’t do this without you.

If you’re interested in reading further about CSAs around the world, have a look at the Urgenci website, and especially the Principles of Teikei, developed in Japan, the birthplace of CSAs in the 1970s.

Viva la revolución!

 

Principles of Teikei

Principle of mutual assistance

Principle of accepting the produce

Principle of mutual concession in the price decision

Principle of deepening friendly relationships

Principle of self-distribution

Principle of democratic management

Principle of learning among each group

Principle of maintaining the appropriate group scale

Principle of steady development

 

2 Comments

5 Comments

Grow Your Ethics Part Three: The ethically-viable no-growth model

In Part Two of Grow Your Ethics, I wrote about supply chain control and connectedness.

In Part Three, I’ll share:

how and why we avoid a growth and competitive mentality,

how we manage the farm with fair labour,

what radical transparency has meant to us over these past few years, and

how all of these parts of our system come together to nourish us and our community while still respecting the pigness of the pig.

We live in a world that values productivism – the idea that more production is a necessary good. That we should constantly strive to produce more, and that society’s (economic) well-being is based on increasing production.

Sustainable intensification’ is a logical outcome of the productivist mindset, but under what conditions can we intensify production in a way that is in fact sustainable? If it involves putting more animals on less land, many would argue that it is impossible to do so sustainably. Concentration of effluence alone creates an environmental dilemma that requires more energy, infrastructure and externalization of the problem as the effluence is hauled offsite or, in worst-case scenarios, pollutes local waterways.

As long ago as 1975, British economist E.F. Schumacher declared that:

Infinite growth in consumption in a world of finite resources is an impossibility.

40 years later, we are still being told that we must grow the economy, get big or get out, and work to economies of scale to be as efficient as we can be.

At Jonai Farms, we agree with Schumacher’s claim that ‘small is beautiful’, and we are committed to running an ethically-viable no-growth model.

That is, we are led by our ethics, which we understand must be financially viable for us to survive and thrive. And our ethics include a rejection of productivism that we believe is the root of the current problems inherent in the industrial food system.

I’ve written previously on the need for an ‘ethics of scale’ rather than economies of scale. We’re currently living proof that it works, with a healthy profit margin that ensures we can pay all our bills, look after our animals properly, and still manage to travel each year to expand horizons and strengthen the family bonds.

We don’t compete with the other wonderful growers around us, we collaborate, support, and promote each others’ efforts.

We don’t need to scale, we need to multiply.

More small farms means more people on the land, which means thriving rural communities, which drives better resourcing of regional and rural towns. It means buses full of healthy children streaming into dynamic and diverse schools, and access to food grown locally by people you know personally.

There is no disadvantage in having more farms growing more food, whereas there are uncountable negative consequences of scaling farms. Scale decreases the number of people working the land, and increases automation typically through higher petroleum consumption. Bigger farms are demonstrably less diverse, and monocultures are riskier systems, which require higher chemical inputs to manage.

Small-scale agroecological farms like ours are more labour intensive, which we value as it means more people learning and earning an income, and a richer community on the farm. But one of the wicked problems of the emerging fair food farming movement is how to treat farm workers as well as farm owners fairly.  

We have a diverse approach to solving this problem at Jonai.

In terms of paid labour, we have a school-based farm apprentice, the wonderful Will, who works with Stuart 2.5 days/week. As the daily farming operation is technically manageable by one person, having Will here is of most benefit to progress further works – new building projects, more fencing, and soon, introducing egg chickens into our system behind the cattle on the paddocks.

We also have my head meat grrl Jass, who is paid to work with me in the boning room for the two major pork-cutting days (out of five processing days) each fortnight.

Next we have our volunteer residency program, a three-month opportunity to learn our system back to front. Our residents live on the farm with us in purpose-built accommodation (a converted 20-foot container with lovely views over home dam), and/or in the solar-powered hut next door on our lovely neighbours’ property, which we barter for with meat. J

Residents work five days per week with us, and are welcome to spend weekends here or away as suits them. They assist out on the paddocks through to the boning room and kitchen – wherever the need is greatest on any given day. We all sit down to three cooked meals each day and discuss farm logistics, new projects, and food politics ‘til the cows come home.

Finally, I run a meatsmith roster as we’ve had so much interest from people wanting to learn to butcher from me (especially women – Meat Grrl Mondays are legendary!). So on any given butchery day we’ll have one or two other volunteers lending a hand, learning to cut, and playing Captain Cryovac. They never leave without a thank you in the form of some Jonai uncommonly delicious ethical meats.

In regular conversations with the stream of helpers paid and voluntary, we ensure that our system is fair for all involved. While confident that we’re offering appropriate value to our volunteers, we’re very conscious of the need to seek feedback that everyone feels they are being treated fairly.

Short-term internships and voluntary residencies, it seems to me, are a great way to balance the problem of the need for extra hands on the farm with insufficient cash flow to employ a lot of people. But anything longer than about three months on a farm like ours would run the risk of exploiting that labour as by then people have mastered the systems to the point where they are a very useful and indeed autonomous part of the farm.

We semi-regularly take a few weeks or a month off from having residents to test that the farm is manageable without them – if it wasn’t, we believe we should pay for the labour in addition to the room, board and tuition we already provide. Each time we find that we can still run the farm on our own with our two paid employees, but it’s not nearly as fun and is a very demanding schedule!

This level of detail and honest accounting for our system brings me to the importance of radical transparency at Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths.

Over these past four years we have shared our successes (crowdfunding & butchery, hurray!) and failures (the regulator destroyed our salami, boo!), and the minutiae of our decision-making processes. Sometimes it has been hard to be so open – we copped a lot of criticism (mostly from vegan abolitionists, but also from other quarters) when we told you on Radio National of our decision to castrate, for example. And we’ve also been given a huge amount of positive feedback and support for our sharing.

We share to keep ourselves accountable to all of you, to our animals, and to the land. We share so that others don’t have to reinvent the wheel or make the same mistakes we have. We share because for too long food has been grown invisibly, and people have a right and need to know just how your food is produced. We share because we’re in this for the movement, and we want to help grow more farmers, not push them aside in order to pursue endless growth ourselves.

Ultimately what we’re really about at Jonai Farms is connectedness. Our connections keep us honest and ethical. A strong connection to the pigs and cattle carries a responsibility to ensure they only have that ‘one bad day’. And the daily feeding, wallow checking and litter admiring means feet on the ground and eyes on the paddocks, which ensures we’re accountable to our soils. If an area has been hit hard by too many pigs, it’s immediately apparent – we reject moonscaping the paddocks as unsustainable land management.

Connection to our workers holds us accountable to a fair day’s work for everyone. You can’t sit down to three meals a day together and look your workers in the eyes if you’re treating them unfairly. We have been blessed with so many intelligent, hard working, passionate, and fun people over these past few years, and we’re ever grateful for all of their contributions.

Jonai community dinner.jpg

Connection to our community here in the central highlands of Victoria involves a lot of bartering, sharing, helping and being helped.

And connection to our eaters is what makes us most accountable of all. Our food must not only be delicious, it must be as fair as we say it is, and critically, it must also be safe. If something goes wrong, we know every person we have sold our food to – there’s no hiding behind a long supply chain and the capacity to be faceless behind a slew of distributors and retailers. If Jonai pork makes you sick, you’re going to ring the Jonai.

Connectedness is knowledge, pleasure, and accountability.

Small is beautiful.

Ethics are delicious.

5 Comments

1 Comment

Grow Your Ethics Part Two: Supply chain control and connectedness

Welcome to the second instalment of Grow Your Ethics – supply chain control and connectedness. In Part One I shared what led us to grow our ethics and detailed our farming system out on the paddocks. In this post I’ll outline the rationale for a short supply chain and direct sales and then show you what a typical fortnight looks like when you grow, butcher and deliver all your own meat.

In modern conventional livestock farming, you raise the animals (pigs and poultry typically in sheds), and then take or ship them to the saleyards and hope for a decent price. That price is subject to market fluctuations based on whether there’s an over or under supply of animals and feed, and what processors and retailers are willing to pay to maintain their own share of the profit.

In Australia, pig carcasses are selling for between $3 and $4 per kilo at the saleyards. Let me take you through our input costs to see what that would mean for a farm like ours…

We’ve managed to get our feed costs down to below $125 per grower (from $200 when they were on a diet entirely of custom-made commercial pig). That $125 includes the small ration of commercial grain and the motor vehicle costs of collecting the spent brewers’ grain and milk from other food waste streams.

Based on saleyard prices, on a 55kg carcass, we might get $200. By the time you’ve accounted for labour, transport and general farm costs on top of feed, it’s really hard to make a living in that system. Of course you then understand the pathway into intensive industrial agriculture to achieve ‘economies of scale’ at the expense of animal welfare.

So the obvious thing to do for a small farm like ours is to sell directly to eaters, but of course there’s still processing that must happen first. Abattoir costs in our region are cheap – just $37 per pig at ours. But butchering costs are not cheap – we were paying an average of $200 per carcass before we built our boning room on the farm.

These financial realities, along with issues of reliability and the desire to work closely with our produce all the way to the eater are what led us to take on the butchering of all our meat. And what it’s meant to us goes far beyond control and profitability – it has deepened our knowledge of the animals out on the paddock because we understand what those working muscles end up like in the boning room. That in turn has extended my knowledge of the best ways to cut and cook different muscles. The butchery has also strengthened our relationships with our community of eaters as we discuss everything about the pork and beef they buy from us quite literally from paddock to plate, right down to the herbs I pluck out of the garden and use in our single-estate sausages.

Last year we introduced our community-supported agriculture (CSA) model as well, which now has over 50 members. The CSA reduces my admin and logistics load and provides us with a known base income for the year, and develops even stronger relationships with our regular community of members. We love the feedback we get from our community – positive and critical – and they help spread the word about respecting the pigness of the pig.

When we took over the butchery side of the business, I gained a much greater understanding of the actual labour input to the further processing, which has meant some changes to our pricing. I often say I’m basically a Marxist when it comes to pricing – I charge on the use value and actual input costs rather than what the market will bear.

For example, belly from us costs $26/kg and a bone-in shoulder is $25/kg as the butchering is quick and simple for those cuts. A boned-out coppa roast (aka neck or scotch) is $30/kg, and bacon is $32/kg for a slab or $36/kg for sliced – slicing is very labour intensive!

If you’re a chef, you’ll pay the same as everyone else. Our prices are based on what we need to charge to make a living, and dropping those prices would render us unviable. But we recommend that chefs buy whole or half beasts at $16/kg, or whole primals (shoulder/barrel) at $20/kg. See how it works? The less work we do, the less you pay.

I’ve added a Cook Your Ethics workshop to our repertoire to teach chefs how to butcher whole carcasses, which is intended to help chefs choose free range by buying half or whole pigs as per the pricing above. We hope this enables more restaurants to choose genuine free-range pork. (And in case you’ve missed the confusion around ‘bred free range’ v. genuine free range, I’ve written about it over on my food ethics blog.)

Logistically, what happens when the carcasses come back to us from the abattoir is this…

6 pig carcasses
6 pig carcasses

Eight pigs per fortnight are sent off and one steer per month. The pigs typically go to the abattoir on a Thursday and are back into our chiller on Friday. I pull the bellies off that afternoon and get them into salt for bacon.

On Monday following, we (my Head Meat Grrl Jass, and our wonderful residents – currently Andrew and Theresa, and I) break down the shoulders and barrels into a set repertoire of cuts plus any custom orders.

ham boning
ham boning

Tuesday morning we bone out the back legs for schnitzel, porko buco and our single-muscle hams (I do a brined & smoked noix de jambon), and the rest goes to sausage. Tuesday afternoon we make 40-60 kg of sausages, flavour dependent on the season (Mexican chorizo, Toulouse, sage & pepper, apple & sage, bratwurst…).

Wednesday morning we slice and pack bacon, wrap hams, then sanitise the benches and pack sausages. That afternoon we pack orders – somewhere between 200 and 350kg of meat depending on whether it’s a regional or metropolitan fortnight. I send invoices that night after recording all the weights during packing.

Thursday morning I load up the coolbox on the back of the ute and head off on deliveries – nine hubs around Melbourne one fortnight and five in the region the other.

Friday I catch up on farm accounts and admin, and the following week I call my ‘non-cutting week’ even though we break down a side of beef on Thursday and pull those bellies off the next lot of pigs on the Friday… repeat ad infinitum. But the fortnightly schedule is amazing – it gives me the freedom for the writing and fair food advocacy work I do, now in my role as President of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA).

So for those who’ve emailed me during a cutting week, I hope this explains my silence. And for those who’ve emailed me in a ‘non-cutting week’, I hope this explains my slowness. J

Stuart has completed construction on the commercial kitchen and curing room and we’re looking forward to having the facility inspected by Primesafe in a week’s time. My fortnight will get a bit fuller with that addition as we transform every bit of the beasts into delicious nose-to-tail offerings such as bone stocks, pate de tete, lard, fricandeaux, and a range of single-muscle cures such as jamon, coppa, and guanciale. We’ll be submitting our process to the regulator to make farmstead salami within the next couple months as well, so watch this space!

Supply chain control and direct sales make us viable, deeply, viscerally happy, and connected to our land, our animals, and our community. We are fully accountable for every step except slaughter, and we’re working with others in the region to hopefully solve that problem.

In the next instalment of Grow Your Ethics, I’ll share how and why we avoid a growth and competitive mentality, how we manage the farm with fair labour, what radical transparency has meant to us over these past few years, and how all of these parts of our system come together to nourish us and our community while still respecting the pigness of the pig.

1 Comment

1 Comment

Grow Your Ethics: Part One - The Production Model

Jonai-Joel_paddock.jpg
TJ & Joel
TJ & Joel

Nearly five years to the day after Joel Salatin of Polyface inspired us to be farmers just down the road at the Lake House in Daylesford, that wonderful man rolled up our driveway to see what we’ve done and gave us a huge thumbs up. Over three evenings hosted in collaboration with Ben Falloon of Taranaki Farm, we held agrarian salons where we shared our journey and our ethically-viable no-growth model as Joel listened and then offered his feedback and trademark heretical take on the industrial food system. Is there anything more gratifying than affirmation from our most respected teachers? 

I couldn’t stop smiling for a week, and now I have the privilege of visiting Joel again at Polyface after going to the Slow Meat symposium in Denver next month, a trip of research and advocacy that culminates with lunch with another advocate I hold in great esteem, Michael Pollan.

After sharing our story repeatedly while Joel was here and at our many workshops, I thought I’d get it onto the page for everyone to read, whether you can visit us or not. We hope that sharing our story helps to inspire more people to make that leap and join the fair food farming revolution.

So here’s Part One of our version of how to Grow Your Ethics, which will come in three instalments:

  • The Production Model,
  • Supply Chain Control & Connectedness, and
  • The Ethically-Viable No-Growth Model.

The Journey

As I’ve written elsewhere, we grew tired of choosing between savouring and saving the world, so came to the land to be regenerative, ethical farmers of pastured pigs.

I was formerly an academic in cultural studies, chronically ‘nearing completion’ of a PhD, and taught at the University of Melbourne and Southern Cross University. My focus specifically was culinary cosmopolitanism. I am also a former vegetarian of seven years. I loved my work and study, but I needed to produce something more tangible than words for a select few.

Stuart was a business development manager for a venture capitalist firm out of Singapore. With a background in building, he’d found himself in a series of coordinator and management positions that left him desperate for fresh air and handyman projects every time he cycled home to our many farm-like suburban backyards.

In 2010, Joel inspired us to take our obsessive DIY-ism, our love of horizons, and our deep desire to produce and contribute meaningfully to a fairer food system to a life of farming.

So in 2011, we packed up our suburban lives, took a four-month detour to eat and learn our way across America, and landed on 69 acres of volcanic soils of Eganstown, just outside the popular gastronomic destination of Daylesford, Victoria.

The Production Model

We now run a small herd of Large Black rare breed pigs entirely on the paddocks – just 12 sows and 2 boars, which means a total herd of around 110 at any time. We also have a small herd of cattle – a mixture usually of Lowlines and Murray Greys, though I think we’ll stick with Murray Greys in future as we need the bigger carcass to meet demand without running more cattle. In production terms, that means we process 16 pigs and 1 steer per month. But more on that in Part 2 of this Grow Your Ethics series.

We chose Large Blacks for a few reasons. There are eight breeds of pigs in Australia, and Large Blacks are among the rarest. They’re a very slow-growing breed, renowned for farrowing big litters and being excellent mothers, as well as for being quite docile, probably due to their beautiful long ears that mostly obscure their vision! We wanted to contribute to the rare breeds movement to save these old breeds from extinction by growing them commercially, and as new farmers with three young children we loved the sound of a docile pig.

black pigs
black pigs

The cattle production model is pretty conventional set stocking, but very different to most Australian beef production as we grow mature animals and dry age the carcasses. We don’t over-stock, which means we don’t have to bring in feed. We buy in steers between 18 and 30 months old then grow them on for another six to 12 months so that we’re slaughtering between three and four years old. By that stage the meat has developed a rich, deep flavour and colour, and dry ageing tenderises and deepens the flavour even further. We credit our decision to grow mature animals and dry age them to Warialda Beef – their Belted Galloways are out of this world and we’re grateful for their openness about their own system that enabled us to do something similar.

cattle skylove
cattle skylove

Our pigs are fed a diet mostly of beer porridge – spent brewers’ grain from the local Holgate Brewhouse mixed with milk from Jonesy’s Dairy. That’s supplemented by what they eat from the paddocks, which we’re working to diversify to include not just the rye paddocks we inherited, but also brassicas, turnips, sweetbeets, sunflowers, barley, lupins, and millet. They also still receive a small ration of pelletised grains – wheat, barley & lupins. Ours is a custom mix we had to work with our feed supplier to obtain as most commercial pig feed contains soy, which is 80% likely to be GM, sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and post-industrial food waste - basically smarties off the factory floor. We’re seeking to eradicate the need to bring any purpose-grown animal feed onto the property.

S feeding
S feeding

The sows are kept in pairs at all times. This means they don’t have to sort out their social dynamics by changing who they’re with, and it also means they’re never alone as pigs are very social creatures. Further, it provides an auntie for nursing if one litter is bigger than the other. They go in with the boar together, farrow within 24 hours of each other usually, and then we wean their litters together at 6-8 weeks.

They farrow (give birth) out in the paddocks – we put deep litter into their houses, which encourages the sows to nest inside the shelter. That serves to keep the piglets warm in the colder months, but also protects them from foxes. The deep litter also provides a measure of protection from squashing – we lose 10-15% of piglets to squashing, which is similar to the intensive pig industry’s stats even in systems where the sows are confined in crates through and after farrowing.

sow housing
sow housing

We castrate our male piglets before 21 days. You can see the whole discussion of that decision here. To be brief, we had issues with boar taint and unwanted teen pregnancies before we started castrating. Castration enables us to leave the pigs in family groups right up until slaughtering age between 6 and 8 months for market-sized pigs, and 12-18 months for salami pigs.

We also made the decision to vaccinate after an initial period where we didn’t. This decision was also chronicled during our six months on Bush Tele following a piglet (Wilbur 101) from paddock to plate. In short, we decided that although the risk of disease in our tiny herd is very low, the consequences could be too high. So the breeding herd are all routinely vaccinated, and the growers are immunized through the sows’ colostrum.

As for paddock management, we’re basically running a set stocking system and pushing pigs off higher use areas with single-line electric as they expose the soil. This means we can leave the pigs in bigger paddocks (1-3 acres) that gradually get smaller as we push them away from the fence line, until such time as they return to the start after some six months or so. We reckon we still have a lot to learn about best practice rotations, but we’re proud that we never have bare paddocks – we work hard to ensure we have cover year round.

When it’s time for slaughter, we load the pigs onto a large stock trailer with a rubber mat and loose hay and give them access to water until the hour-long drive to the abattoir. Our pigs are offloaded and go straight through to the kill floor – they’re not held amongst the large groups of industrially-raised pigs that are also slaughtered at our abattoir. They enter a gondola three at a time, which is then lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber where they are rendered unconscious in less than 30 seconds. Once fully unconscious, the pigs are stuck and bled out before continuing down the line for de-hairing, evisceration, etc.

Our abattoir has always been very open and transparent about their practices, so although we would prefer on-farm slaughter or even a small, regional abattoir that only dealt with smaller batches of animals, we are happy with what we have access to right now. We regularly tour the abattoir and witness the professionalism and careful handling of the animals pre-slaughter.

The carcasses are transported back to our on-farm meatsmith the day after slaughter, where I, my meat grrls, and assorted other volunteers transform them into a range of uncommonly delicious cuts.

Stay Tuned

In the next instalment of Grow Your Ethics, I’ll detail our miniscule supply chain and direct sales model. In Part Three, I’ll return to the farm’s philosophy, including our ‘ethically viable no-growth model’ and future plans to ensure we’re doing our utmost to respect the pigness of the pig while regenerating our landscape.

If you want more detail and encouragement to grow your ethics on your own piece of land somewhere (served with some uncommonly delicious produce from us and other lovely local growers like Angelica Organics and Captains Creek), you might like our one-day Grow Your Ethics workshops. Hope to see you on the farm soon!

1 Comment

Comment

Happiness is Hard Work

dam reflection daffodils
dam reflection daffodils

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in three years of farming, it’s that for us happiness is hard work. That is, working hard makes us really really happy.

Happiness doesn’t come in the little indulgences used to tolerate one’s day-to-day life, it comes with rejoicing in daily life. It doesn’t come with so-called leisure time in front of a tv, it comes with making things with bare hands, including dinner made from animals we’ve grown, butchered and prepared for the family meal every night.

What some see as drudgery, we celebrate as small achievements, from weeding the garden (yay more room to grow beautiful food!) to building a fence (yay more paddocks to keep the happy piggehs safe & out of mischief!) to chopping vegetables for an hour (yay more beautiful food!).

Competence is happiness. Relationships are happiness. Kindness and caring for others is happiness. Knowledge is happiness. Food you grow yourself offers a greater quotient of happiness than that bought down the street – though of course thoughtfully-made, fresh, seasonal food brings its own kind of happiness wherever you find it.

I haven’t had a single case of ennui since we rolled up this driveway three years ago today, wheelbarrow on the roof and romantic visions of our new life so bright they made our eyes water. The romance is alive and well, and certainly more mature – there’s happiness in every glorious sunrise, but so there is in the hard-earned strength of this meatsmith’s forearms.

I wasn’t planning to write about happiness today – I was going to write about what we’ve learned in the past three years. But there it is – everything we’ve learned comes back to happiness. Learning new skills and knowledge is joyful. Being competent is gobsmackingly good for one’s self esteem. And focusing on others – be it children, animals in the paddocks, or the many families we help feed with our farming efforts – is utterly more satisfying than focusing overmuch on oneself. Big skies are also really life affirming. :-)

Over a typical Jonai farm brekky of poached eggs & farmstead bacon with Tammindaise this morning I asked Stuart what he’s learned in the past three years, and he offered these nuggets:

  • Community is essential to a farming enterprise – we give thanks for the Ciderhouse Stringband playing at our salami days, for Turk making my butcher’s block and our beautiful dining table, for Morris dragging the farm ute out of the bog with his tractor so many times that first winter, for the stream of hard-working WWOOFers with whom we’ve been blessed, and for the many neighbours, friends and family who have helped us build, fence, garden, and look after animals so we can get away sometimes
  • Relationships are more valuable than economic transactions
  • The quality of life up here cannot be compared with our former urban lives
  • Managing soil and water health and availability across seasons is a tough gig – and critically important to everything
  • Constant work and problem solving is a very creative environment – so many ideas, so little time!
  • Caring for animals is an emotional rollercoaster – such joys and sadnesses in life and death on the farm
  • The best farming texts are all pre-1950s

He also offered some concrete skills he’s learned:

  • Fencing!
  • How to move a shipping container with a 4WD and half a dozen fence posts (TJ - we’re so old school we’re practically Egyptian) ;-)
  • How to fix anything with a pair of pliers, a couple bits of wire, and a knife velcro’d to the back of your iPhone (Stuart calls it his new app)

Then I asked myself what I’ve learned. As well as ticking all the boxes on Stuart’s list (except I leave my knives in the boning room), here’s what I came up with:

  • Practising what I preach is essential for me to offer honest, knowledgeable advocacy for sustainable, ethical agriculture
  • Our rural community has an abundance of smart, kind, creative, hard-working, and helpful people for whom I am deeply grateful – our lives are the richer for all of you
  • WWOOFers are awesome and can teach you as much as you teach them, whether it’s new skills, knowledge or just a brilliant attitude towards life
  • I really really like dogs
  • Big skies and wide horizons are salve for the happiest or the saddest soul
  • Working in a partnership is an excellent way to see each other’s strengths on a daily basis, which helps soften one’s view of the weaknesses – also how to play to each of our strengths & play down the weaknesses
  • Raising kids on the land offers them freedom, responsibility, and daily pleasures that I hope will help them grow up as grounded and appreciative of natural cycles as it did me
  • Farming really is a seven-day-a-week job (though we've introduced Make-a-Day on Sundays...), but the rewards are greater than any 40-hour week I ever worked, and being able to set our own priorities (animals and weather willing…) helps make the workload less onerous
  • Physical work is bone-deep satisfying, and creates an excellent balance for time spent at a computer to run the business and write all the things – everything’s good when there’s not too much of one thing
  • Recipe development out in the boning room for seasonal single-estate and single-region sausages is fun, rewarding, and generally has uncommonly delicious results
  • Giving up a PhD to focus on farming, butchering, and fair food advocacy is one of the best difficult decisions I’ve ever made
  • For some people going for a run is the best way to clear the head – for me it’s putting my hands in soil – weeding, planting, harvesting…
  • Pigs are quite smart, but no, they’re not as smart as a three-year-old child
  • Joel Salatin was right - if you control your supply chain and sell everything directly, you really can run a profitable small farm
  • A lot of things in life are rather daunting – be dauntless!

And my concrete learnings:

  • Pigs build enormous nests like a bird when they’re due to farrow (give birth) – it’s a natural instinct to keep their piglets safe from weather and squashing
  • Raising pigs (or poultry or any animal) intensively, especially indoors, is truly, utterly unnecessary and in my view cruel. We’ve now raised our animals outdoors for three years and have been inside an intensive piggery and cannot under any circumstances agree with the justifications for those systems – the stench alone is almost unbearable for both humans and the pigs. Our pigs are healthy (free of respiratory ailments and infections from chewing each other’s tails common in intensive piggeries), farrow well outdoors year round with constant access to huts, and never show signs of stress or aggression such as tail biting.
  • If you don’t strain a fence properly with well-braced wooden posts it will sag & taunt you with a day’s wasted efforts – as my dad always said, ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’
  • There’s a season for everything, including fencing – once the ground dries up it’s all over rover, so get your fencing done by springtime
  • Insulated gum boots are amazing
  • You can indeed have a wooden butcher’s block in a licensed butcher’s shop
  • I can transform an entire pig carcass into an array of excellent cuts in an hour and a half. A side of beef takes me about five hours now (remember the first steer that took me three days?!)
  • If you do meat workshops in your shed, you cannot legally let anybody take any of the meat home – doesn’t matter whether you’re a licensed butcher or not, if the shed isn’t licensed, it’s illegal. But it’s legal to eat anything you make onsite
  • You cannot cryovac ham (or any other ready-to-eat product) unless you have in place a Listeria Management Plan, which in Victoria involves monthly swab testing and quarterly product testing (after an initial three months of fortnightly testing)
  • The longer you slow cook muscle meat (pork shoulder, beef blade, chuck, brisket…) the better. If the recipe says at least two hours aim for at least four.
  • Curing meat is not in fact a dark art, and once you crack the code, you can cure anything. It’s just meat, salt & time.
  • Patience tastes delicious.

There really are opportunities to live a great life farming, and I encourage anyone considering the move to go for it. We need more farmers, not less – lots of small farmers like us out here on the land maintaining and creating vibrant rural communities and growing food that’s fair from soil to stomach.

I salute my fellow farmers across Australia and the world – you’re amazing, and I’m honoured (and ecstatic!) to be one of you. Here’s to the next three years of hard-working happiness!

Comment

Comment

On rhythms & making days

On the 1st of September we’ll celebrate three years at Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths. Yep, just three years ago we landed on our own little volcano to both savour and save the world, and we are gobsmacked at just how much has happened in that short time! Remember when I got fed up with being called a farmer’s wife and wrote about being a farmer, and how my husband is too? Little did I know then that I would also become a butcher…

As we dance to new rhythms and settle into our new, more comfortable and weathered skins, we’ve emerged as The Farmer & the Butcher. Stuart is Chief Farmer and I am Chief Butcher, though of course we both work out in the paddocks and in the boning room… (cue smirk).

The patterns are fortnightly, with butchering weeks associated with abs runs and deliveries, and non-butchering weeks that allow for more Jonai power to catch up on fencing jobs, but also the accounts, vehicle maintenance, communicating with our lovely community, the plethora of odd jobs typical around any farm, a bit of writing, and plenty of activism in the fair food movement.

It’s an incredibly full life, and we slipped all too easily into working seven days a week – not that hard to do when you love your work. But it was taking its toll, and on our recent trip overseas we took time to reflect before returning to the hamster wheel… and came up with Make a Day.

We’ve said for years that we just need one more day in the week, so we made one. It’s commonly known as Sunday. We’re not that interested in a day of actual rest, so our Sundays really are Make a Days – each family member works on something creative that day. It might be cooking, sewing, designing a house, brewing beer, writing, drawing, painting… anything that you feel like working on, and wherever possible projects we can work on together.

Introducing Make a Day gave us a new appreciation for rhythms and knowing when to switch off. I look forward to Sundays with the orsmkids, and in turn I also look forward to butchering and delivery weeks without that slight sense of hysteria that we will never keep up with everything to be done.

So this blog that was The Hedonist Life is now The Farmer & the Butcher. The stories and learnings come from the same heartsongs, but we’ve worn in our boots and can take you on some deeper journeys now. Thanks for your part in sharing this wonderful life with us – we couldn’t do it without you. x

Comment

2 Comments

Why and How to Do On-Farm Butchery

As I’ve already detailed here on The Hedonist Life, last year we crowdfunded and built our own butcher’s shop here on the farm. Once again, can I just thank the wonderful community of ethical omnivores (& vegetarians!) who supported our efforts, and who have been duly rewarded with uncommonly delicious pork & Jonai Farms calendars. ☺

In the interest of supporting Australia’s fair food movement and the other small livestock farmers who would like to move to on-farm processing, it’s time we gave you some more details about our budget and actuals on the project, and on how we went with our local council and the state regulator PrimeSafe.

Rationale & Profitability Before I give you the nitty gritty I’d love to share the rationale and real financial benefit to our farm.

Based on the final four months of having our meat butchered (Sept-Dec) and the first four of doing our own butchering on farm (Jan-Apr), our butchering direct costs went from 43% to 30% of total direct costs. More dramatically, it went from 22% to 11% of our total costs (including overheads).

While running a coolroom & other associated infrastructure took our energy costs up some, it was in truth only a 3% increase (from 2-5%) in overheads, or a 2% (from 1-3%) in total costs.

This change in costs came at the time we increased our supply from 5-7 pigs per month to 8-12 pigs per month (which would have increased our butchering costs a great deal), and introduced our CSA model (we now have 28 members!).

We went immediately from making a loss on the farm (subsidised by my off-farm income, which I gave up in December with some trepidation…) to turning a profit. Huzzah!

Now onto the details of building the boning room…

Construction In my earlier post on the meatsmith, I recounted the process we went through to build it from a 40-foot refrigerated container, so have a look at that for timelines, materials and construction challenges.

Council We were initially informed we would need a planning permit, but due to changes to the planning scheme in Victoria 1 September 2014, that proved not to be the case for us. The new scheme allows for primary produce sales & rural industry without permits. Clearly if you have overlays on your property they could trigger the need for a planning permit, so you'd need to check those.

So that just left us with PrimeSafe.

Regulation We were really uncertain about how we’d go with our regulator as we’d heard stories that they could be difficult to deal with. Also, many said we were crazy and they’d never approve a butcher’s shop on a farm. As there are other butcher’s shops on farms, that’s clearly not true… and now we’re here as another example!

Understanding the Victorian Standard for Hygienic Production of Meat at Retail Premises is slightly daunting when you’ve come from outside the industry, and working out how to operationalize standards is tricky without advice. Now that I’m a butcher I have to say they make perfect sense…

I won’t go into great detail here though except to say that the Standards are for the most part quite reasonable and relatively common sense (eg non-porous materials for benches & floors for obvious reasons of hygiene). I will also note that there is an entire sub-clause for wooden butcher’s blocks under section 4.1.3:

(d) wooden chopping blocks (“Butchers Blocks”) shall be free of splits, cracks and holes; and shall be maintained in a hygienic condition;

That is, wooden blocks are legal, and simply must be kept in good condition.

If you want more insight into how to build something legal, we found it very worthwhile to join the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC). They not only have been great at providing advice and making visits to check out our facility before the inspectors came, your membership fee pays your year’s audit fees, so is a great value proposition.

Butchering qualifications There is no legal requirement to have a certificate to be a butcher. But there is very good reason to ensure you are trained by one! Butchering is hard, skilled work, and should be approached seriously as such. I apprenticed informally with our butcher for six months, butchering between two and four pigs per fortnight over that period. It was invaluable, and I’d strongly recommend you do similarly if you can find someone as accommodating as Sal was.

Budget & Actuals I’ll finish with our budget, target and actuals. As with most things at Jonai Farms & Meatsmiths, we buy secondhand materials as often as possible. Virtually everything in the butcher’s shop is secondhand (excepting the bandsaw, MGO & expoxy flooring, and my beautiful red gum butcher’s block made by our mate Turk). So while we budgeted for possibly having to pay the price of new equipment, we typically found secondhand due to Stuart’s excellent commitment to spend time trawling the internet & back laneways for others’ disused or discarded items. That’s why the ‘target’ column is lower than the ‘budget’.

Note that the actuals column includes items we hadn’t foreseen, and yet we still came in under budget (*high fives to Stuart*).

At the bottom we’ve costed in how much we think labour would have cost if Stuart hadn’t done it all himself – based on paying a qualified builder full time for one month to do the full conversion. Happy to take feedback on whether we’ve got that right or not.

Budget Jonai Farms Boning Room

Component

Est Unit $

Target $

Actual $

Difference

HACCP QA Manual

$700

$700

0

-$700

Design/spec consult

$500

$0

0

-$500

First inspection

$300

$300

340

$40

Aust Meat Indust Council

$1,000

$1,000

1200

$200

40' Reefer

$6,000

$4,000

4500

-$1,500

Delivery

$1,500

$1,500

700

-$800

Footings

$160

$50

40

-$120

Rust treat

$100

$50

50

-$50

Floor level - MGO

$1,000

$1,000

300

-$700

Floor epoxy

$1,000

$1,000

1050

$50

Drains + grease trap

$800

$600

200

-$600

Window

$600

$400

70

-$530

Door

$2,000

$400

110

-$1,890

Frame

70

$70

Rework frame

185

$185

Plumbing

$1,500

$1,200

700

-$800

Hot Water

$4,500

$500

1200

-$3,300

UV filter

$1,300

$1,300

600

-$700

Water pump

$300

$50

100

-$200

Electrical + Lighting

$1,500

$1,300

3706

$2,206

AC Unit

$3,000

$400

600

-$2,400

Cool rm chiller

$2,000

$2,000

3000

$1,000

Hand sink

$500

$100

100

-$400

Equip sink

$1,000

$500

355

-$645

Chop boards

$600

$300

120

-$480

Mincer

$250

$250

150

-$100

Benches

$2,000

$1,400

1800

-$200

Slicer

$300

$150

1500

$1,200

Band saw

$2,000

$400

2164

$164

Shelves

$1,000

$500

390

-$610

Rail

600

$600

Smoker

3250

$3,250

Display fridge

2500

$2,500

Freezer

300

$300

Consumable set up

1500

$1,500

Butcher block

$0

$0

Incidentals

$2,000

$1,000

1600

-$400

$0

TOTAL

$39,410

$22,350

$35,050

-$4,360

Labour

 $6,400.00

The work and cost involved in taking control of our supply chain has had enormous benefits to us, which we sum up as an ‘ethically viable no-growth model’.

Most importantly, we can provide total transparency to our customers (e.g. there’s really no gluten in any of our sausages, just meat, fat, salt, pepper, spices & herbs from the garden!), and can respond flexibly to their orders just like a regular butcher’s shop, instead of being locked into particular sized cuts, number of chops per package, etc.

We also have control of the reliability of our butchering – only we can let ourselves down if we can’t cut for some reason. This is an enormous relief as most small producers will attest.

We don’t need to grow our herd to make ends meet – we’re fully viable at a size that respects what Salatin calls the ‘ecological umbilical’. We have no need (let alone desire, but who does?) to tax our land beyond its capacity.

We hope this information is all useful to lots of other passionate fair food farmers out there! We take Joel Salatin’s advice to ‘hold your innovations lightly’ very seriously, and intend to keep sharing what works (and what doesn’t!).

Viva la revolucion!

* * *

If you’re keen for more information, we now offer producers’ workshops on our ethically viable no-growth model, which we’re keeping intentionally affordable as we are here to help grow this movement, not just our own wallets. The next one is on 16 August 2014 and right now has plenty of room, but the last one filled up so don’t leave it too late to book.

* * *

Our next step in taking control of that chain and making more delicious things for our wonderful community is to build a curing room and commercial kitchen, where we’ll be able to cure salami, prosciutto, coppa, and pancetta, and cook a range of charcuterie such as rillettes, pate de tete, and other things that make the most of the rich potential of the pig.

You can check out our latest crowdfunding campaign to do just that over on Pozible, where we’re asking people to let us feed you instead of the banks!

2 Comments

Comment

Jonai Farmstead Salami - Crowdfunding is community-supported agriculture!

Last year 166 wonderful people believed in us enough to support our Pozible campaign to build our own butcher's shop right here on the farm. We raised $27,570 in 40 days, and six months later we were open for business! We've delivered over 400kg of ethical pork rewards, and welcomed nearly 30 of our supporters to last year's Salami Day, and many became our first CSA members. We love this engaged community of ethical omnivores, and are grateful for the support. Now it's time to take our uncommonly delicious ethical pork to the next level and start curing at a commercial scale! To do that, we're aiming to raise $30,000 in 30 days on Pozible, adding cured goods to our range of tasty rewards. We're also offering the opportunity to join our CSA (community-support agriculture) via the campaign to raise the funds up front, then deliver to you over the course of a year.

After our success last year, plenty of other farmers have used crowdfunding to build major infrastructure as they develop their businesses, and I reckon it's a fantastic emergent trend in community-supported agriculture. Rather than farmers going into debt and lining shareholders' pockets, we're feeding our communities - literally!

For other examples, check out the huge success of Madelaine's Eggs last week - she raised over $60,000! And our mate Lauren Mathers of Bundarra Berkshires is nearing her target of just over $15,000 to build her own curing room up near the Murray. There are plenty of others around, and I think we'll see more and more as farmers and their communities work out how to support each other to re-localise the food system and form deep connections between growers and eaters.

So check out our campaign and spread the word! There really is a Fair Food Revolution underway, and it's in your hands!

Curing room cover
Curing room cover

Comment

Comment

Fair Food Farming

This month I was part of the launch of the new Fair Food Farmers United (FFFU) - a branch of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA). Our aim is to connect farmers working to grow food fairly - fair from soil to stomach - and to then work collectively on the issues we face in the current system. You can read my thoughts on what 'fair food' means to me and why I belong to FFFU here. And if you're a fair food farmer, don't forget to join! Non-farmers can also join AFSA to be part of the fair food movement - it will take all of us to turn this ship around! You can also read an interview with me about how we've worked towards our current miniscule supply chain on the AFSA website.

We now get two or three phone calls per day about our system, so we're developing a producers' workshop to add to our Eat Your Ethics suite - a Grow Your Ethics  program! :-) We hope to be ready to host the first one in May, and we'd love you to leave a comment with the kinds of questions you'd want answered in such a workshop below!

Happy equinox, everyone, and don't forget to look up! #skylove

March skylove
March skylove

xo Tammi & the Jonai

Comment

Comment

Jonai Meatsmiths - a crowdfunded dream come true!

It's been awhile between posts, but the long one below will explain why... for those who don't want to read the whole long story of what's happened to transform Jonai Farms into Jonai Farms and Meatsmiths, here's a spoiler - we're now a licensed butcher's shop as well as ethical farmers of pastured pigs and cattle!IMG_4158 Remember back when we said we'd be farmers? Well, here we are just two years after arriving with heads and hearts full of book learning and knowledge gleaned from visits to the wonderful farmers in Australia and America who've gone before us, and our herd has grown from six pigs to about 120 - and now we're butchers too!

As every small livestock producer doing direct sales to their community of eaters knows, finding a reputable butcher who has the time and inclination to cut your meat, whether it's once a month or once a week, is a difficult task. In fact, although we'd been cautioned by other free-range pig farmers to make sure we locked in a butcher early, we were still taken by surprise when it took nearly three months to find one who would work with us. One was openly rude - a sort of, 'why in the world would I want you to pay me to cut your meat' stance, one just had too much work on his hands already, and another actually wouldn't cut to our specifications over-charged us to boot. Finally we found the fabulous Sal of Salvatore Regional Butcher in Ballan, a half-hour drive from home.

By the time we found Sal, we'd also started talking to the meat regulator in Victoria, PrimeSafe, about our options for either sharing a commercial kitchen with someone to do our own cutting (not allowed) or setting up a boning room here on the farm (difficult but not impossible). Note that early conversations with the regulator were stilted - they won't give any advice as to how to meet operational standards, which can make it pretty bewildering for those just starting out. So when I first spoke with Sal, I mentioned that we had a mad idea to build our own butcher's shop and would he let me cut with him to learn the trade. He readily agreed as he is a man who loves a mad idea himself, but little did he know I was serious about becoming a butcher myself...

DSC_0963

I cut up my first pig here at home in December 2012 with a book and a few Youtube videos to aid me. I was still working for the federal government at the time, so Stuart collected the carcass from the abattoir, wrapped it in a sheet and popped it on the tray of the ute before collecting me at the train station after work to head home and butcher. Nuts, but four hours later, I'd done it, and gee was I pleased with my efforts!

 

The next few months were part of our endless hunt for a butcher, during which time I kept working on my skills, roping friends into sausage making and tasting my early attempts at bacon making... I note that there were no complaints.

IMG_0195 IMG_0267 IMG_0292

IMG_1889From February onwards, Sal let me cut with him each fortnight when we sent him our pigs, which was incredibly generous considering I slowed him down to about quarter speed. He was a good-humoured taskmaster, teaching me how to cut my bellies straight, where to find the joint on the shoulder, and to waste nothing, as well as how to stop waving my boning knife around in a rather alarming fashion. He makes quality sausages too, which were certainly well received by our earliest Jonai Farms community of eaters!

In April I decided I was ready to cut up my first steer out on the back patio for our own use. Even with the help of Stuart, the orsmkids, my dear friend Bronwyn, and a British book and Australian video, it took three solid days. Thank goodness it was cold outside!

IMG_1758 IMG_1777 IMG_1791 IMG_1805

By early May 2013 we were ready to launch our crowdfunding campaign with the online Australian platform Pozible, asking ethical omnivores to support our attempt to take control of the supply chain and give them full confidence in the provenance and further processing of their ethical pork and beer-fed beef. And my word, did they deliver (and some are in fact vegetarians)! We hit our target of $21,450 on day 19 of a 40-day campaign, finishing with $27,570 in total. Along the way we got an extra $2000 boost from the Awesome Foundation and Pozible themselves because they liked our project so much!

601932_10151473003687561_1977633801_n IMG_2187

IMG_3403

IMG_2562Our Pozible success and the audacity of our plans to be on-farm butchers caught the attention of the media, and a few stories started to be published about what we were doing. Around that time Cameron Wilson of the Bush Telegraph on the ABC asked if we'd be willing for them to follow one of our piglets from birth through to the plate as an educational exercise for listeners. We jumped at the chance as it's intrinsic to our business plan that Jonai Farms is a platform to advocate for ethical farming, and this series not only gave the opportunity for radical transparency, it had feedback from listeners built into it in the form of polls on management decisions we make every day. And we coped with the vegan abolitionists' 'feedback' okay over the six months...

On a wet, muddy day in June, just six days after the Pozible campaign ended, the 40-foot refrigerated container (aka a 'reefer') arrived, pulled by yet another game truckie willing to navigate our narrow, slick driveway.

IMG_2539IMG_2592

Stuart started cutting the back wall with the old three-phase compressor on it off immediately, as a) it was in disrepair and b) we have single-phase power. As soon as the rain stopped for five minutes, our lovely third-gen farming neighbour Morris popped around with his tractor to pull and push the container into position behind our big shed in barter for a bit of pork. I marvelled at the ingenuity of farmers, the 'can do' attitude that helps them through many a perplexing challenge. I reckon farmers are some of the best problem solvers the world has - everything from the physics of where best to attach a chain to heave a container through a narrow gate, to what to feed their animals in times of drought or flood, to how to fix just about anything with a length of wire and a song.

IMG_2603IMG_2606IMG_2609IMG_2641

IMG_2741IMG_3593IMG_2913Then it was our first Salami Day! On a cold central highlands mid-winter day, some 60 people gathered to help us cut up a 110kg pig and transform it into an abundance of salamis, pancetta and prosciuttos - most of them here to claim their Salami Day Pozible reward - a beautiful community of people who care deeply about where their food comes from and how to bring back the old skills of thrift and resourcefulness.

 

IMG_2884Our next challenge - it turned out that the power in the shed didn't have the capacity to cope with the increased load it was about to cop from setting up a chiller out the back, so the budget stretched out a bit as we had it upgraded from the box at the house. And we didn't mind bogging through the consequent mud trench for the next three months one bit (that may not be true).

I kept practising the arts of curing, making many a pancetta, bacon, and pastrami, as well as digging new garden beds to both beautify the path to the boning room and to create a 'herb hill' on the northern slope where I've now planted all my herbs for sausages, porchettas and the like. It won't be long before we can offer bundles of sage and rosemary in our members' deliveries given how much I've planted...

IMG_2949 IMG_3362 IMG_3313 DSC_0008 IMG_3244

Meanwhile, Stuart was held up for a couple months by the sodding rain, which flooded the holes he'd dug for the footings before he got all of them cemented in. We kept fencing out in the back paddocks instead to keep up with our ever-growing herd, and as soon as the rain abated, he was back in there to lay the flooring. As reefers come with rails on the floor, Stuart was able to lay the piping for drainage in between the rails, then lay MGO board over the top for a false floor before painting on the red epoxy himself. Have I mentioned just how clever my man is? Yes, truly.

IMG_3202 IMG_3272 IMG_3360 IMG_3359IMG_3323

IMG_3491

By October things finally really sped up, as Stuart got the internal wall finished to the coolroom with salvaged refrigerated panels and an old coolroom door he picked up on eBay and we got a new compressor installed to run it. Then we scored a secondhand smoker (YES!), and started fitting out the inside with the 200L display fridge, chest freezer, stainless benches, sinks, handwashing station, and trolley and vaccum-pack machine, all sourced secondhand on eBay. He even found an old glass shop door, and then it started to feel real... and finally I got my view too...

Stuart installed a solar hot water system on the roof, and we got everything plumbed in and electricity wired in by our affable & able local sparky Paul, and the place was *nearly* ready to go, but actually still a ways off to finish details like installation of a grease trap and plumbing to the septic, as well as a step and bits of finish work left to do...

Never ones to let reality stand in the way, however, we launched the boning room in October with the help of the lads from A Most Delicious Dinner, who put on a sumptuous feast showcasing our beautiful region's local produce. We had the chance to show many of our kind supporters around the farm, and made merry to the music of our mates The Cider House String Band after many months of hard work. But of course, the work was not actually done...

DSC_0082 IMG_5507 IMG_5530 IMG_5546 IMG_5515 IMG_5698

 

As Stuart kept building, I took advantage of the new-to-us smoker and experimented with the difference in dry curing or brining bacon, and smoking whole muscle hams with local hardwood chips sourced at the sawmill from where the wood for my butcher's block came. The block is still under construction by another great mate and neighbour Turk, also in barter for a steady supply of pork and beef. (Have I mentioned how much we adore our community? Seriously awesome, talented, kind and helpful people!)

IMG_3515 IMG_3596 IMG_3637IMG_3600

I started honing my single-estate sausage recipes in preparation for taking on full responsibility for all Jonai Farms butchering, and delivered the last Canberra Pozible rewards to our supporters up there, which was a great excuse to hang out with the awesome Zoe. :-)

I was rather chuffed to be named by the lovely Hilary McNevin as a 'must read' in Delicious magazine, and in the Weekly Times as a winner for 2013 (rather oddly alongside Clive Palmer, but hey, madness loves company, right?).

IMG_3421 IMG_3775

IMG_4131IMG_4093IMG_4095

Two weeks ago the Jonai orsmkids stuffed 160 envelopes with our calendars for Pozible supporters as we did final prep on the pathway to the boning room in readiness for our Primesafe inspection.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4193

On Tuesday, 21 February 2014, about a year after we hatched this crazy plan, and seven months after we commenced construction, Primesafe awarded us our licence after a surprisingly pleasant, short and positive inspection, and Jonai Meatsmiths is a go! So thank you again to the wonderful people who have supported us, believed in us, and promoted our efforts in so many visible and invisible ways - we are forever grateful.

We delivered our first pork butchered by your Mistress of Meatsmithery last week, and next month we'll be including our new line of American-style streaky bacon and English-style black ham - cured in brine and Stuart's dark ale. If you haven't heard, we've also set up a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, whereby you can subscribe for monthly deliveries of uncommonly delicious rare breed ethical pork and beer-fed beef and never be without ethically-raised meat again!

So the moral of this long story - never let anyone tell you you can't do something, and never be afraid to learn something new. Also, it's still true that if you hashtag it it will come.

#Immabeafarmer #Immafarmer #Immabeabutcher #Immabutcher

Now it's time for me to try out #ImmabeaDr... wish me luck. ;-)

x Tammi & the Jonai

Comment

Comment

Gratitude & Progress!

Like an old world barn-raising (2.0), you came and helped us build a dream. When the clock ticked over past the 40 days and 40 nights of seeking funding for our on-farm boning room, we’d just hit $27,570 - $6,120 over target (which we reached on Day 19!)! It’s a testament to how much people do want to know about where their food comes from that we’ve had such a success, and we’re grateful to all of our wonderful supporters and to Pozible for providing the platform that connected us. Last week the Weekly Times ran a feature on Jonai Farms (p.65-66), as well as a news piece about our success. And then we were on ABC Statewide Drive to talk about our plans and the benefits of crowdfunding. Apparently we’re the first farmers in Australia to crowdfund on Pozible!

IMG_2562

We've already been able to deliver over 70kg of ethical pork rewards to the wonderful people who have supported us, and look forward to delivering another 450kg over the second half of this year. We've also got the shed ready for a day of fun, feasting and learning for Salami Day, at which we look forward to meeting many of the people who've so generously contributed to our project.

Well supporters, once again we thank you. The 40-foot refrigerated container arrived last Monday after a week’s delay due to very wet weather and a boggy driveway, and one of our lovely neighbours came around to help us drag it into position with his tractor. Stuart has commenced the fitout, and the knives are ready and sharpened. ;-)

IMG_2539

IMG_2603IMG_2608

We’ll keep you posted on progress, but we hope to be doing the butchering here on the farm by the end of August… wish us luck!

Thank you so much to all of the people who supported us, all of whom are part of the real food revolution in Australia!

Jonai Farms Supporters

Adrian Wong
Al O'Toole
Amie Batalibasi
Angela Ashley Chiew
Angelina Ng
Anne Shea
Antonina Lewis
Benjamin McCarthy
Bronte Lance
Clancy Whittle
Dani Valent
Ed Charles
Eleanor Attwater
Evie Pereira
Fiona Edge
Fiona Simpson
Firstdog Onthemoon
George Stavrias
Goldie Pergl
jane canaway
Jenni Draper
Joanne Feehan
Jodie McPhee
Jude Reid
Justine Ward
Kate Stanton
Kathryn Healey
Katie Falkiner
Kim Bridgland
Kirsten Wright
Lara McPherson
Laura Vickers
Lauren Wambach
Liam Bantock
Lilly Cleary
Linda Kirkman
Lindsey Smith
Lionel Watson
Lisa Winkler
Liz Blaxell
maia sauren
Michele Borghesi
Mick Russell
Monica Barratt
Mosey
Ms Brown Mouse
Olaf Delgado-Friedrichs
Pat Allan
Paul Irvine
Reuben Acciano
Rick Chen
Rob Sheehan
Sebastian Vetter
Shelley Warner
Sophie Fisher
Steve Cusworth
Tobi Pedersen
Will Tait
Annie Field
Ben Dutton - The Stock Merchant
Billy Lee
Bron Lawson
Bronwyn Crowe
Cheng Lau
Desley Insall
Emily O'Brien
Georgie Smith
J L
Janet Campbell
Karin and Rhett Woods
Liz Rowe
Paddy OReilly
Pam Meyerowitz
Pat Churchill
Patsy Hill
Phillip Stevens
Claire Davie
Erika Russell
Graham Burge
Jeanette Fyffe
Jim Ettles
Kerri Feigan
Liz Rowe
Lostandwandering
Mellie Teo
Shane Hewitt
Simon Matthee
Taiss Quartapa
Angela Nicolettou
Arpad Mihaly
Belinda Hopcroft
benj binks
Brendon Eisner
Carita Kazakoff
Carmel
Catherine McGlead
Catherine McGlead
David Barlow
Earl Canteen
Fooi-Ling Khoo
Kate kilsby
Kim Jenkins
Laura Binks
Neil Moody
Neil Moody
Norma Foster
Phil Lees
RedBeard Bakery
Sally Syme
Stephen Weber
Tosh
John Nolan
Kelli Garrison
Leslie Swearingin
Mich Zeitoun
noel bayley
Scott Anderson
The Wolf Taskers
Wayne Jonas
Daniel BondFrank KeanyJulia Morris

Melissa McEwen

Meryl McKerrow

Mindy Johnson

scott & penina

Tommy Hoschke

Zoe Bowman

max king

Yu-ching Lee

Zara Pearson

Jim Collings

at Glebe2037

Celia Maslen

Dylan Copeland

Geoff Tolchard

Jo Scard

john

Kirsty Leishman

Matthew Smith

Melissa Brooks

Monica Sharma

Naomi Ingleton

Reem Abdelaty

If you want to keep up with our progress and delivery days, you can now subscribe to our regular newsletter!

Comment

4 Comments

On transparency...

In response to last week's spot on Radio National Bush Telegraph, we had a lot of negative reaction online from people who don't agree with eating meat. So a friend of mine and I wrote a response, which was posted on the RN site just before I went on air again to discuss the reaction and our decision to castrate in spite of a very close poll that voted against it. Unfortunately, RN edited out Nathan's part, which really is a shame because he's wickedly smart and reflexive, and also happens to be a vegan.
Here's the full text, unedited (you can see the RN version here):

Tammi:

Showing a vegan a photo of an adorable piglet and then asking them to help decide whether to castrate is undoubtedly a red flag to a bull. But it wasn’t vegans we were asking, it was omnivores. What some will call ill-considered (I did briefly), I will here defend as a serious exercise in transparency by farmers who want to educate the public about the realities of food production, and especially the raising of animals for meat. And my vegan friend Nathan and I will argue that vitriolic attacks on those of us committed to transparency create a perverse incentive to retreat to secrecy and obfuscation of regular food production management practices.

We’ve been farming free-range rare breed Large Black pigs for a year and a half now. We came from Melbourne with a clear vision to contribute to what we consider ethical farming - raising pigs on the paddocks who are free to root and wallow at will, and basically express what Joel Salatin calls ‘the pigness of the pig’ until they have ‘one bad day’, which they don’t even know is coming. We believe it’s morally right to eat meat, but not from animals who have suffered or been raised in close confinement their entire lives up until slaughter. Our views and farming practices are not especially controversial, and generally our efforts to raise animals for food humanely and with care and kindness are met with appreciation - both for our practices and for our openness.

So it seemed a great idea when Cameron Wilson of Radio National Bush Telegraph asked whether we were willing for them to do a series tracking one of our animals from piglet to Christmas ham. Too many people don’t know where their food comes from or how it’s raised, though the tide is hopefully turning as information is now more readily accessible and people are realising there’s a lot that happens from paddock to plate.

The idea is a monthly radio interview where we update listeners on what’s been happening with the pig, who we’ve called Wilbur 101 (we call all the boys Wilbur and all the girls Charlotte unless they’re our breeding stock, in which case they have individual names, such as Borg, Big Mama, Keen, Pink and Prudence…). Many people believe you shouldn’t name your food, but we take the view that we’d rather know the animal on our plate well than not at all.

Supplementary to each month’s interview, we agreed to allow a poll to be held to seek the public’s view on management decisions. It gives an opportunity to inform people of the multitude of issues and decisions farmers face daily, and we hoped that using a poll in addition to the podcast and information on the website would lead to more buy in from the public, and in turn more care about the type of system animals are raised in. The first question we posited (as it’s the first management decision we face with newborn boars) was whether or not to castrate.

Unfortunately, while the omnivorous public might have wanted to discuss the practicalities and ethics of castrating boars, a significant number of those opposed to eating meat joined the discussion and turned it into a rant against us, the ABC, farmers generally, and meat eaters specifically. We were called ‘sick freaks’, ‘Neanderthals’, and ‘animal abusers’, to name some of the milder insults.

Nathan:

There are a number of things worth considering here: namely, the ad hominem attacks, the issue of transparency, and the illusion that either veganism or vegetarianism are without their own set of complications, also linked to transparency.

The issue of ad hominem attacks, whether against Tammi and Stuart, the ABC, or meat eaters more generally, brings into question the motives of those willing to utter such comments as to what they are trying to achieve. Considered, respectful discussion is never going to be the effect, nor is any type of conversion from eating meat tenable if the basis of an antithetical argument is vitriolic abuse. Moreover, it lacks all credibility and illustrates a lack of knowledge and understanding not only of farming processes and practices, which is seemingly what this project is attempting to bring to light, but also appears to lack an understanding and knowledge of why people become vegans or vegetarians in the first place, or why people may 'de-convert' — a phenomenon equally present to the phenomenon of people becoming vegan or vegetarian.

All these considerations are not only deeply philosophical, but are also sociological, religious and political. If the conversion to veganism or vegtarianism is well considered, it would be charitable enough to expect that an argument against eating meat is equally considered; calling someone a 'sick freak' or 'Neanderthal' does not range in the category of a rationally considered argument.

Of course, the idea behind this project is transparency. While I as a vegan may disagree with the killing and exploitation of animals for various reasons, the kind of practices brought to light through this program are refreshing to see. In the wake of footage and articles that surround the practice of live export and animal abuse in abattoirs, the program undertaken here ought to be a welcome relief to vegans and vegetarians as we have farmers not only willing to transparently show how animals are treated, but also have public involvement. The outcome of transparency and public involvement is the basis of a descriptive set of guidelines and practices that can be adopted by all farmers. In effect, this program has the potential to become a national standard whereby consumers have the confidence to purchase animal products that have been treated in an ethical manner; whereby the ethical treatment of animals has been considered.

The issue of transparency and the ethical treatment of animals is also a problem for vegan and vegetarian foodways. The ethical treatment of animals is not just to be considered for the animals we can see, but also for the ones we don't.  What consideration is there of the countless rodents and small marsupials that are killed through the processes of producing a loaf of bread? Are the numerous animals killed in the process of pest control of wheat crops, the storage of wheat and flour worthy of our moral consideration? What about the fish whose parts are used in the mass production of beer? Or what of the environmental cost of the global shipping of processed vegan and vegetarian food items? Is the environment also worthy of moral consideration to vegans and vegetarians?

Often the mistreatment and exploitation of animals and the environment is a symptom of a much larger problem. With the spread of global capitalism, the need to feed the starving, unemployed, underemployed and low waged is met with with cheap meat, dairy and eggs at the expense of animal well being. How does veganism approach the problem of starvation, unemployment, underemployment and low wage employment with highly priced soy products? While veganism can betray the maltreatment of animals through analytic critique, the sense in which veganism is able to confront issues of starvation, low wage, under and unemployment betrays itself as being unable to satisfactorily confront environmental and everyday living conditions; veganism requires a level of wealth and prosperity that isn't afforded to the underprivileged. While it is important to analyse and critique the way animals are treated within the global economic market in which we live, it is equally important to engage with farmers and producers willing to be transparent about foodways and the way in which animals are treated in a respectful and considerate manner, as well as being aware of the issues of transparency within our own vegan and vegetarian foodways.

Tammi:

All issues and concerns around the ethics of food production and consumption are worthy of discussion and open scrutiny, but when one group restricts itself to shouting the loudest abuse, or refuses to engage even marginally with the topic at hand (and makes it very unpleasant for any who do engage), there can be no winners - especially not farm animals.

Surely we can all agree that a farming community unwilling to share its practices with the public due to sustained, personal attacks by so-called ‘animal rights activists’ is a very bad outcome. We here at Jonai Farms won’t be frightened away from the challenge of transparency - we understand why people choose veganism or vegetarianism (I was a vegetarian for seven years, and write frequently on my blog about these very questions), and we quite simply disagree with that decision while respecting one’s right to make it. Vegans have every right to disagree with our position, of course, but should think long and hard about what can happen to our food system when they so zealously shout farmers off the stage.

BIOS: Tammi Jonas is a free-range pig farmer with her husband Stuart and three children near Daylesford, Victoria. She is also a cultural theorist nearing completion of a PhD on the role of engagements with multicultural foodways on the development of a cosmopolitan, sustainable society. Tammi blogs atTammi Jonas: Food Ethics and on the farm blog, The Hedonist Life.

Nathan Everson is currently undertaking a Masters of Research degree through Macquarie University, Sydney, focusing on the structural intersections between humans and animals and how these intersections form the basis of our conceptions of politics, ethics, and law. He is a vegan working with his wife and two children on self-sustainable practices within a suburban environment.

 

4 Comments

46 Comments

To castrate or not...

IMG_2193 It’s been exciting times around the farm as we welcomed 37 new piglets in five days, though three litters were the result of unplanned teenage pregnancies… yes, that can happen on a free-range pig farm, especially when you don’t castrate. Let me tell you more about our decision to castrate after all…

As someone concerned about animal welfare, I took it as a given that we wouldn’t castrate, and that the only management strategy we would require for that decision would be to send boars to the abattoir no later than six months old, before they reached sexual maturity. The primary argument against castration is that it causes unnecessary trauma to the pig. The primary arguments in favour of castration are to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the herd, avoid boar taint in the meat, and control undesirable behaviours commonly manifest in boars (aggression against other boars, and occasionally people, though I think this is uncommon amongst well-treated pigs in free-range systems). To my knowledge, most free-range pig farmers do not, as a rule, castrate.

And so we didn’t castrate. What we observed in the paddocks was boars from tiny little piglets through to 60kg growers appearing to ‘play fight’ a fair bit, and to hassle the gilts regularly from a couple months old, including clumsy mating attempts from a young age. They tend to be dominant in the herd, making the gilts less likely to get their fair share of the feed, and if they come together with another young boar from a different family group in another paddock while we move stock, they fight fairly vigorously from about four or five months old. We’ve not had any seriously injured, but torn ears and skin abrasions are common consequences of such aggressive interactions, which also occur around feeding time (amongst gilts and sows too - not just the boars).

When we slaughtered our first pig, I lived in fear of boar taint, as we’d had trouble finding a butcher and had let the pigs grow on to nearly eight months, well past our planned six. The first loin chops had a very mild taint to them, but were still quite delicious. I cooked our Christmas roast for a huge extended family gathering on a bed of aromatics to try to ward it off, and was clearly successful given the reviews that day. The boars we’ve had slaughtered since have been free of taint until the last one, which had a mild case of it, as noted by The Hangry Bitch who came along to Eat Your Ethics during Harvest Week.

Boar taint is a funny thing - not everybody tastes it to the same degree, and allegedly some can’t taste it at all. It can definitely be managed to some extent in the cooking process, or by turning the meat into sausages or salami where lots of other flavours are at play. I am very sensitive to it, which is rather handy as a pig farmer - we taste some of each pig before we sell the meat. I’ve heard stories from other pig farmers of entire carcasses being pulled from sales due to taint - that’s a lot of lost money in expenses to raise and slaughter that pig with no profit in sight, and a very sad outcome to take a life and be unable to serve it at all. (And to confuse matters, it really is a matter of taste, some people like the flavour of boar taint, though few in Australia.)

And then came the pregnant gilts. We keep our pigs in family groups - pigs are very social animals, and have to adjust to new social orders when the groups are mixed. Plus if they’re kept as a litter their feed rations are collectively appropriate for their development stage, and we can easily manage those ready for the abattoir if they’re all in one paddock. Our reading and discussions with other producers had somehow never brought to light the fact that boars can reach sexual maturity as young as four months. The rounding bellies of a few gilts at six months, however, brought it clearly to light.

Not only were they younger than is ideal (younger gilts have smaller litters, and reportedly may not be as good at mothering as if they have their first litter a bit older), we don’t in-breed our pigs - the boar (Borg) and our breeding sows are from different lines. In-breeding is an old practice, and as one of our favourite books (Pig raising in Tasmania, 1966) says, if it’s successful, it’s line breeding, if not, it’s in-breeding! Still we choose to keep our lines separate, except in the case of wayward young boars.

And so we separated out the boars from the gilts, a practice we now do routinely when the pigs are around three months old. At first the boars suddenly fight more, even though they’ve been together. Something about the steadying influence of women, etc. ;-)

Given our experience with boar taint and unplanned pregnancies, we returned to the debate over whether to castrate. This time, of course, we had the benefit of having farmed pigs for over a year, rather than having our inner urban, leftist, idealist glasses on. Okay, I will never take those glasses off except for the inner urban bit, but a year and a half with pigs has taught me that they have an extremely high pain threshold (they’re quite hard on each other when it comes to scrambling for feed, as attested by the number of torn ears in the paddock, no matter how well fed the lovely blighters may be), and that castration would not be any more traumatic than being shoved down the social order by an older sibling when there’s delicious grain to be had.

And that’s the whole story, and why we do now routinely castrate the males. We still don’t vaccinate, and nor do we use sub-therapeutic antibiotics (there’s absolutely no need in a free-range system), and of course we don’t nose ring or dock their gorgeous, curly tails. The sows still farrow in a nice warm, safe stall with fresh straw and a heat lamp to attract the piglets away from cumbersome, dopy new mamas and their lethal squashing accidents, and piglets aren’t weaned until six to eight weeks.

IMG_2192

 

And those barrows (the castrated boars) give a short squeal when they’re cut, antiseptic is applied, and they scamper off as though nothing has happened. I imagine they’re sore, it seems only logical that they would be (as were our cat and dog when they were fixed). But for that period of soreness, they in turn get to have an extra couple of months on the farm, and all within their family groups to the end, as we have been growing our pigs on to seven to eight months with good results.

For us, the trade off is worth it on many levels. Some may disagree with us, and some may think we’re crazy to even tell you the details of management decisions like these, which have real commercial as well as ethical consequences. But we signed up for a transparency model, so that’s what you’ll get, and if you don’t like what we’re doing, please say so, and if we can’t agree, there is surely another system out there that will work for you.

***

If you’re interested in following one of our pigs through his entire life, from birth to Christmas ham, through decisions like whether to castrate, vaccinate, when to rotate through the paddocks, what’s the right feed ratio, and what to do if he gets sick, you can each month with Radio National Bush Telegraph, as Cameron Wilson visits us and gets to know Wilbur 101. He’ll be putting up polls each month where you get to have a say about our management decisions - though we do reserve the right to make the final decision in line with our knowledge and philosophy of what’s best for the pig and the planet.

IMG_2207

Oh, and if you really like what we’re doing and why we do it, you might like to support our Pozible project to do our own butchering right here on the farm! We’re 76% funded on day 14 of 40! Thank you to the wonderful, generous ethical omnivores who’ve already supported us! If we go over our target, we’ll be able to put a smokehouse in straight away - the possibilities are endless!

46 Comments