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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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Grow Your Ethics: Part One - The Production Model

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!

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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!



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



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


Est Unit $

Target $

Actual $







Design/spec consult





First inspection





Aust Meat Indust Council





40' Reefer















Rust treat





Floor level - MGO





Floor epoxy





Drains + grease trap


















Rework frame








Hot Water





UV filter





Water pump





Electrical + Lighting





AC Unit





Cool rm chiller





Hand sink





Equip sink





Chop boards




















Band saw
















Display fridge






Consumable set up



Butcher block
















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!



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



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



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...


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.


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_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.







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



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



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):


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.


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.


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.




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.



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.


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!


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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!



The First Pig

"I awake each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. This makes it hard to plan my day." E. B. White

Here’s a little irony for you. The quote above (which also graces our homepage) is by E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, a book about a spider who saves a pig, and about friendship and kindness and love. The little girl Fern, supported by Charlotte’s amazing web-spelling efforts, also spends a great deal of her time and energy saving Wilbur the pig from the usual farm pig’s fate to end up as bacon. And yet White’s sentiment in the quote above so helpfully captures the spirit of what we’re trying to do at Jonai Farms - raise happy pigs who only have ‘one bad day’, and then eat them.

Prudence enjoying the 9 acres she shares with Borg & Pinky Slash Black.

Sorry, Wilbur, but we savour while we save.

If that’s not disconcerting enough, of the pigs who will be slaughtered, we’ve taken to calling all the boys Wilbur, and all the girls Charlotte. Accuracy be damned. And so we found ourselves 15 months after arriving on the farm ready for our first slaughter.

Six months ago, I wrote about our first piglets and all the learning that got us to that point. Since that first, we’ve had another five litters born, though Big Mama’s entire second litter was taken by foxes in the night. She was the first we’d allowed to farrow out in the back paddocks, and it proved to be a huge mistake. The poor sow was distressed for a couple of days, and we were all deeply sad at the senseless loss of so many little piglets. As a result, all sows are brought back to the nursery paddock next to the house to farrow, where we can keep a closer watch while Danny Boy (our Red Heeler) patrols the perimeter.

Our first winter on the farm was an endless series of frosts and Stuart’s regular stress of getting bogged trying to haul feed to the pigs out in the back paddocks. A new road is going in next week to resolve that particular issue.

The orsmkids embracing winter on the farm.

We watched too much Portlandia, and Stuart grew a beard and took to milling some of the pig’s grain with an old grinder bought from another pig-farming friend.

Portlandia Farmer Stuart ;-)

We harvested our first full crop of Calabrian garlic, courtesy of the charming Stefano Manfredi on a visit to his charming Bells at Killcare in 2010.

Calabrian garlic

Holgate Brewery kept us in spent brewer’s grain as a proportion of the pigs’ diet - keep an eye out for Jonai Farms pork sausages on their menu soon…

Pilsner-fed pork (and that's not just us Jonai...)

And at last, spring came, the pigs were big enough, and it was time to test out our systems (and taste our pork!) before commencing sales next month.


Stuart took one of the Wilburs to Diamond Valley abattoir in Laverton, where he was satisfied with the professional and humane handling of the pig as he was escorted in. The pig didn’t appear stressed, and everything went smoothly. The next day, he picked up the carcass (split lengthways in half, cleaned and de-haired with the head removed - though we had requested the head back - we need to formalise arrangements with them if we want offal). He then collected me from work (I work five days a week - three in the city, two from home - a story I will tell soon about how many farms are surviving only by bringing in other income), and we arrived home around 6pm to commence butchering.



From paid labour to labour of love, I thought. :-)


The kids were excited, and remarkably philosophical about the first Jonai pig to end up on the butcher’s block. It’s obvious that our message has been absorbed intact - they are a lot more comfortable eating animals who have lived good lives than those who haven’t. We all found the butchering process fascinating.


At around 9pm, the pig was fully butchered into shoulder roasts, Boston butt and tenderloins (saved for sausages), belly for rillette, belly for bacon, loin rack roasts, leg roasts, hocks and trotters. We quickly cooked up the spare ribs with salt and pepper on the barbecue and served them with grilled polenta as a little tasty reward for our efforts, delighted to have our first sample of Jonai pork and to find it to be delicious!

spare ribs & grilled polenta

The next night I roasted one of the rack roasts, which you can see was luscious…

Loin rack roast

Next came jars of rillette for chrissy pressies for the fam...


A shoulder roast cooked on a bed of Jonai-garden-fresh leek, celery, fennel, garlic, and tarragon, plus cinnamon and star anise was the centrepiece of the extended family christmas lunch…

Roast shoulder on Jonai garden greens...

Finally it was time to make sausages, on the first free day since slaughter. Many hands made… if not light work… at least loads of fun with our assortment of grinders - the clear winner was actually the oldest of the three! Bratwurst, chorizo and Jonai garlic sausages have all since been enjoyed by many, and soon diners at Holgate will be enjoying these and other variants as well.

recipes & implementsMany hands

Old mincer chorizo links chopping garlic

Atticus mincing


bratwurst & cabbage

Our first bacon is too salty, and we let it dry out a bit much in the fridge, resulting in more of a pancetta. It’s been a welcome ingredient in such delights as my first ever pork pot pie (which also featured a luscious stock from the trotters - thanks @tomatom for the inspiration and recipe!), though less welcome to grace the plate with fried eggs. We’ll work on our recipe before moving into selling cured smallgoods in a few months.



And so we’ve done it. We’re truly eating paddock to plate - homegrown single estate sausages, if you will. And we’re ready to sell this wonderful pork to the public, starting in a fortnight. We’ll post a price list and details of how we’ll be selling (small, medium and large boxes of mixed cuts and sausages) in the next week.

Those who have expressed interest, I promise there is a newsletter coming soon as well! If you haven’t already expressed interest and would like to, you can do so by emailing

It’s a pleasure raising your pork, ethical omnivores! :-)


P.S. A big thank you to so many for the support and advice through our first butchering, but especially to the unwavering enthusiasm and recipes from @nopigtoobig, aka James Whetlor!




Here at Jonai Farms we had what seemed a long wait for our first litter of piglets. First, it took a few months longer than expected to get any pigs. Then they were younger than we’d planned, so we needed to wait a bit longer before we bred them. Then we waited (3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, to be exact - not a bad gestation period, hey? And by the way, before their first litter, the girls are gilts. After they farrow (give birth), they’re sows). Big Mama was meant to be first, but she didn’t get pregnant during her first cycle alone with Borg. While we waited and wondered, another gilt busted through the electric wire to get to Borg when she cycled, and low and behold, she was up the duff. We named her Keen.

At last, spot on her due date, the 3rd of May, Keen farrowed, giving birth to eight little black piglets - one stillborn and one we think was squashed before we got to them in the early hours of the morning. And they were totally adorable.

Keen has proven to be a good mum. She was in the nursery paddock with Big Mama, who was very pregnant (or ‘in pig’, as they say) herself by this stage, and who shouldered the auntie burden with panache, minding the little piglets once Keen was able to hoist herself out of the barn and head out to eat voraciously to meet her increased energy demands feeding six mad little suckers.

Sadly, we made some mistakes. The new piglets were just as happy to suckle off the heavily pregnant Big Mama, and as we’d read that they often adopt each other’s piglets when they don’t have enough teats, etc, we didn’t think this was a concern. But when it was Big Mama’s turn to farrow, the new piglets had to compete with ‘the adolescents’, as we started calling the now two-week-olds, and they didn’t compete well. Big Mama had given birth to seven piglets of her own (of which one was stillborn and another squashed again), and they were no match for Keen’s solid little progeny. Within 24 hours, we’d closed Big Mama and her brood in away from the others, but the damage had been done - the new piglets had missed out on their mama’s colostrum.

When one fell sick at about a week old, we were perplexed. She was having trouble walking, and I thought perhaps it was an overlooked case of splay leg. We brought her inside to keep her warm and feed her various concoctions based on recipes from old-school pig-rearing books, other pig farmers, and observation of what she liked to eat. The bottle failed (was she simply too small still?), but we could get a decent mix of raw cow’s milk with a bit of sweetened condensed milk and corn meal into her with the syringe, and soon she was happy to slurp it from a flat dish.

But the little piglet’s appetite was very changeable, and her willingness to walk was as well. She appeared to be in pain when she stood up. The day before Stuart and I were to fly to Tassie to visit Mount Gnomon and Black Ridge free-range pig farms, she seemed stronger, and Antigone had proven a good nursemaid.

While we were away, the dear little piglet struggled on, and then came the call from our friend Clare, who was looking after the farm & its menagerie of animals and kids while we were away: another sick piglet, same symptoms. Clare and Antigone (and Stuart’s parents, who also did a stint of farmsitting during our five-day Tassie adventure) did their best, feeding both sick piglets and keeping them warm.

The night we returned, the first little sick piglet looked frightfully frail, and died overnight. Stuart took the second one to the vet that day, and though the local vet doesn’t have a great deal of experience with pigs, he thought it was probably a kind of pig arthritis bacterial illness, contracted through the umbilical cord, leaving the piglets incapacitated with painful joints. He didn’t believe she would recover, and so she was put down with a lethal injection. At $80 for the consult and shot, this will not prove to be a viable way to humanely euthanise sick piglets, an issue we’re now discussing.

Alas, a couple days on and one of Big Mama’s remaining two piglets showed symptoms of the same illness. By this stage, we were in contact with Chris Richards and Associates, who are specialist pig vets. They were scheduled to visit us the next week. So we started giving the new sick piglet supplementary feeds, but leaving her out with the others to hopefully keep her stronger and more competitive with the others. She responded well to the increased feeds and began to put on weight.

When the vet visited a week ago, she was pleased with the little piglet’s progress and thought that with some penicillin she would get over the illness entirely. In fact, she made a full recovery before the penicillin even arrived a few days later. We’ll always wonder whether the second one would have been saveable as well.

As well as the sick piglet, however, it seems Keen was losing weight too quickly - those six little suckers are clearly very avid feeders and now a robust six weeks old. So we made a quick decision - we put Keen on her own with Big Mama’s two dear little piglets to ensure the sick one especially doesn’t have to compete for lots of healthy mama’s milk, while giving Keen extra rations, and left the rowdy six out with Big Mama, meanwhile giving all of them endless supplies of spent brewer’s grain, fresh, crushed commercial grain and the usual (no meat) kitchen scraps, including whey from my cheesemaking.

Come November, we’ll be shipping the same piglets we’ve worked so hard to protect off to the abattoir. I’ve named our little survivor ‘Charlotte’ as a roundbaout nod to Wilbur, but we’ll still send her to the abs. As an article in the Huffington post recently said,

“Ethical meat eating begins with ensuring the animals we eat live well, and ends with an open-eyed acknowledgement of what we do to turn those animals into dinner,”

and the author argues that we should ‘love, kill and eat’ them. It’s simply not right to refuse to love animals while they’re alive - that’s how we ended up with an industrialised animal farming system, where animals are referred to as ‘production units’. It’s complex territory, this loving the animals you want on your plate, but we’re up to it.