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”. woodys­

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.

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