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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.

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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



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!


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. ;-)



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
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Ed Charles
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Fiona Edge
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Goldie Pergl
jane canaway
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maia sauren
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Ms Brown Mouse
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Rick Chen
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Ben Dutton - The Stock Merchant
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Bronwyn Crowe
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Desley Insall
Emily O'Brien
Georgie Smith
Janet Campbell
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RedBeard Bakery
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noel bayley
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The Wolf Taskers
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scott & penina

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max king

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at Glebe2037

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Dylan Copeland

Geoff Tolchard

Jo Scard


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Matthew Smith

Melissa Brooks

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Reem Abdelaty

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


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Jonai Farms in Epicure!

Today we got a short write up of our Pozible project to build a boning room on the farm and do all our own butchering. If you haven't seen it already, check out the video 13-year-old Oscar produced for us, and spread the word about re-localising and bringing greater transparency to our food systems! And if you'd like some of our uncommonly delicious ethical pork, the rewards we're offering through the campaign are primarily pre-orders of pork! Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 4.06.12 PM


For those interested in more background on why we're farming the way we are and why we want to do our own butchering and curing, Amanda at Lambs Ears & Honey did a great interview with me last week that answers a lot of those questions. :-)

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Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms!

We’ve said since we arrived to farm free-range pigs that we’re working on a transparency model, and we’ve been clear that anyone is welcome to visit and scrutinise our farming practices. Last Sunday we really put the model to the test by hosting our first Eat Your Ethics at Jonai Farms (as part of the wonderful Daylesford Macedon Produce Harvest Week Festival)- a real paddock to plate journey for our visitors as we took them on a farm tour, then onto the back patio for a butchering demonstration and barbecue of the chops and ribs they’d just seen me cut up. IMG_1956

In keeping with our general life philosophy, we were keen to do everything ourselves, from bread to boning, scones to slaw.


We greeted our ethical enthusiasts with platters of American-style scones - Jonai ham and cheese for the savoury palates, pumpkin scones for the sweet tooths, and plenty of plunger coffee, and a selection of black or garden-fresh mint tea. I explained the Jonai journey to be ethical farmers, and then we were off to meet the happy piggehs.


We stopped at the empty nursery paddock, where we diligently bring every sow the week before she’s due to farrow after losing one entire litter to foxes out in the back paddocks. We now have five gilts in there all due to farrow within the fortnight - a story I’ll post soon.


We walked our guests along the road we had built at the start of summer to ensure we have bog-free access to our growing herd, then showed them the five paddocks we’ve created out of one 8-acre paddock, plus the 9-acre paddock where Borg still reins supreme with his rotating bevy of beautiful Large Black sows. We’re now hard at work fencing to break that paddock into nine 1-acre paddocks for quicker rotation through winter, when the pigs turn the soil much more quickly.


The aim is to rotate the pigs more quickly to ensure they improve the land rather than degrading it, which can happen from too much rooting or hard pack in the feeding areas. As we move them out of a paddock, we’ll seed fodder crops behind them, reducing our feed inputs and diversifying the pigs’ diet even further when we restock those paddocks a few months later.


Back at the house it was time for the butchering demonstration. I’ve been apprenticing with our butcher Sal, who is generously teaching me the trade in preparation for setting up our own boning room here on the farm. Having now butchered  (or helped butcher) six pigs and one steer, I’m getting the hang of it, but with a huge respect for the skills of this trade!


I showed how to break half a carcass down into the forequarter, the barrel, and the hindquarter, then talked through the cuts, including a discussion of why muscle meat (the shoulder) is tougher but more flavourful, so very responsive to slow cooking for a fabulous result, whereas a rolled leg roast has less flavour, but is much more tender. I may have carried on too much about my preference for the shoulder, as we sold a lot of those at the end of the day, and not a single leg roast!

There were great questions and comments throughout the day, such as when one person watched me bone out the ribs and exclaimed, ‘so that’s all the ribs you get from one pig?’ That’s right - just 14 per side, or 28 ribs per pig, and the first four or five are typically left on the shoulder roasts. And if you have loin chops, you won’t be having the full length of those ribs, and nor will you be having traditional Australian-style bacon, which includes the loin.

Many people’s exposure to pork is predominantly bacon and ham, and plenty of others really only add ribs and chops to that repertoire. Many butchers will simply turn a lot of their shoulders into sausages to account for these preferences. While we love the sausages Sal’s been making for us (seriously, our bratwurst turned me back to sausages, and our new single estate pork and sage sausages with sage from our garden are delicious), we also want people to appreciate all the cuts, not just the primes.

In fact, next week’s Melbourne delivery will be mostly shoulder and leg roasts (and a few remaining packs of chops), as we’re not slaughtering any more pigs until we move the last of these roasts - the bacon disappeared first, ribs were next, and we’re down to our last two blocks of ham and three packs of sausages…

Most of us wouldn’t know what to do with a pig’s head, though many are comfortable with trotters and hocks. We’re lucky to have a great relationship with the wonderful Lake House here in Daylesford, who buys all our heads and trotters to make their sublime ‘Charcuterie’ entrée from our Black pigs - it includes a fromage de tête, a crumbed galette, rillettes, and a black pudding (that sadly isn’t from our pigs’ blood as we have yet to negotiate with the abattoir to secure it). We are delighted to be making full use of the pig (we’ll work on the rest of the offal with the abattoir down the track), and to have our ‘uncommonly delicious’ ethical rare breed pork on such a distinguished and delectable menu!


As the day drew to a close, everyone full of beautiful pork marinated in my secret American-style spicy bbq sauce, slaw made from kohlrabi, celeriac, fuji apples, red onion, chives and cabbage and dressed simply in olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, roasted spaghetti squash direct from our garden, and my freshly made sourdough rolls, I think we all felt we’d eaten our ethics with gusto!

Special thanks to my dear mate Bronwyn who came up from Melbourne to help the day run smoothly with her tireless efforts!

Stuart’s generous parents then treated five tired but elated Jonai to a celebratory meal at the Lake House, where we not only got to taste the superior results of rare breed, ethical farming, combined with artistic cookery in the Charcuterie entrée, but an abundance of other beautiful dishes by the talented Lake House team in the warm, convivial setting Alla has created so well. Our brood were suitably impressed with this level of dining, just as the staff were suitably impressed with our brood’s sophisticated palates as they savoured everything from the fromage de tête to eel wrapped in pancetta, and of course left room for plenty of dessert!

We’re already looking forward to hosting the next Eat Your Ethics, and sharing our passion for ethical farming and the finer skills of butchering with more people who can keep spreading the word about how we might best inhabit the planet lightly and deliciously.

And if you want to support our efforts to shorten the supply chain and do on-farm butchery at Jonai Farms while being rewarded with plenty of uncommonly delicious ethical pork, check out our Pozible campaign to fund the project!