Bringing home THE BACON
dish talks to the free-range pig farmer who’s on a mission to change the way we eat meat
It’s a pig farm named after a dog. A pig farm that is now chiefly goats. A pig farm where the family who run it are ‘mostly vegetarian’. But when it comes to the ‘free range’ bit of Woody’s Free Range Farm, there is no ambiguity, says owner Daniel Todd.
From the 80-acre property – christened after Daniel and wife Claire’s pet pooch – in Manakau, south of Levin comes a high-quality range of pork and goat products. It all began when Daniel, a managing director at a consumer electronics company who’d emigrated from England to Sydney, became interested in pigs. Or rather horrified at the way pigs were farmed.
“I got a bee in my bonnet and thought I should do something about it. I did a pig-farming course in Australia.”
Daniel moved to New Zealand in 2013 after meeting Kiwi Claire, and they bought the property where they currently farm. With the pig-rearing course under his belt, and after a lot of reading, he selected his pig breeds.
“It turned out Large Blacks would be best as they’re docile, friendly, they grow large and they’re suited for outdoors.”
However, the Large Blacks ended up being, pardon the pun, not much chop. “They’re just fatties, they’re lazy, they don’t build muscle. So you end up with small pork chops with a lot of fat.” After more research, Daniel settled on the short, muscly heritage breed Berkshire. It was when he started breeding the two together – into Berkshire Blacks – that he knew he was onto a winner. Not only was the Berkshire Black bigger, musclier, but its temperament was the perfect compromise between the
Large Blacks’ docility and the Berkshires’ sometimes aggressive nature.
The farm, at the foothills of the Tararuas, was idyllic… but the finances were decidedly not. By 2016 the couple faced a big decision: shut their doors or invest further. As serendipity would have it, they had old friends – Naya and Jeremy Wilhelm – on the other side of the Tararuas, at Longbush farm, who had secured investment for their pig-farming operation and were looking to ramp up the business. It was arranged Longbush would sell their pigs to Woody’s, and Daniel (who was setting up a butchery) would do the butchering, sales and marketing.
What sets Woody’s apart is the ‘free range’. It’s a topic that brings out Daniel’s, let’s say, more Berkshire-esque side. He’s fiercely proud of his free-range credentials, and critical of those who masquerade as free-range farmers. “Free range is not a marketing term. They shouldn’t be using pictures of pigs in fields when for most of their lives these pigs are not in fields.” So how do we consumers know what to look for, especially since there’s no legally binding definition for ‘free range’? “There’s only one thing you can look for, and that’s if the farm is named. Then you can be sure they’re transparent.”
So it’s about ethics and business… but also, according to Daniel, quality. “There’s a big difference between free range and the pork you buy from intensive farms. To ensure a pig kept indoors doesn’t get sick they’re fed with antibiotics, to ensure they don’t put on a lot of fat, they’re fed high-protein diets. So free-range pork is not even the same as the pork you’re used to.” True, you pay more for free range, and it’s a luxury many can’t afford. But Woody’s answer to this is summed up on the website: ‘eat less, buy better’. In fact, eat less … or not at all.
Daniel, whose family is vegetarian much of the time, says “I’d much rather people became vegetarian than ate intensively reared meat. If I go out of business because everyone’s become vegan, fine. But if I go out of business because somebody that is rearing pigs indoors is calling it free range, then that I care about.”
The second factor that sets Woody’s apart, says Daniel, is that they take in whole pigs, which he says few producers do these days. This forces them to be innovative, to use every inch of the pig. “Any waste that goes out the door, I’ve paid for. You pay a per kg price. If I send out 100kg of bones it’s cost me whatever that per kilo price is.”
He’s particularly proud of Woody’s nitrate-free bacons and dry-cured meat. “My favourite is lonza; a dry-cured loin. We do coppa and guanciale, and some salamis as well. We’re about to invest in a salami curing room so we can start producing quality European-style salamis.”
The farm acquired goats to keep the weeds down; now it’s the goats that have taken over. “We’ve started selling goat sausages and dry-curing some goat prosciutto,” says Daniel.
When he does get a chance to kick back with friends, he loves to throw together a grazing platter of different meats and, he says proudly, “all from our butchery”. woodysfarm.co.nz
Muscly, meaty and mellow... in Berkshire Blacks, Daniel found the perfect pig. Below left: Woody’s pork pastrami. Below: Daniel is proud of his farm’s – genuine – free-range credentials.