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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!

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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...

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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...

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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!)

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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?).

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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