Who are Ebony and Eli?
Ebony Garner and Eli Bailey are small scale farmers in their mid- to late-twenties based in Quialigo, near Goulburn, in South East NSW.
Despite coming from farming backgrounds, Eli and Ebony hadn’t yet considered a future in agriculture, and decided to pursue professional careers outside of the industry when they finished school. Ebony has a background in the childcare industry and Eli completed Industrial Design at University of Canberra.
Both acknowledge that despite their more recent professional experiences, that it was “handy that we have both come from farming backgrounds.” And for Eli, his professional skills have helped him generally with marketing and business development, and more specifically with layouts and construction of animal shelters in their farm business.
What do they farm?
Ebony and Eli run a pasture-raised, free range pig operation and produce a range of fresh meat pork products for local sale. They farm on 125 acres. This land is split into 20 paddocks in which they run approximately 20 sows and 150 pigs.
A range of heritage breeds are the key focus of the duo. They have chosen to raise Duroc, Hampshires, Tamworths, Wessex Saddlebacks and Large Whites as they provide them with specific characteristics for free range success, niche industry products, improved animal well-being, conservation and breeding genetics.
The pigs are raised entirely outdoors from birth until sale with access to wallows, water, shelters and shade. The paddocks are rotated regularly to reduce disease and parasites, recuperate ground cover and grow forage crops.
Ebony and Eli also produce small crops as forage into their paddock rotation and have planted a number of fruiting trees for pasture and forage diversity. They have also supported the establishment of native wattles on their pasture for improved soil management, shade and protection for their animals and as additional forage.
How did they get into farming?
Eli and Ebony have been farming free range pigs for just under five years.
They both grew up in rural families and recognise family support was pivotal in beginning, particularly through access to finance, equipment and machinery. Capital to invest initially was difficult but they were fortunate to obtain support from family members, enabling them to buy their land, a block that was originally owned by their grandparents.
Eli started off running Dorper sheep but found that the land was lacking in fertility and required improvement. He initially diversified into pigs to assist him with turning and improving the soil, and has not looked back!
What is their business model?
The duo have shifted their business model in the last 18 months to focus on selling direct to the consumer. The decline in market price for their wholesale product steered them into selling direct to consumers through the local food economy or “Farm-to-Fork” model. This has buffered them from the price impact in the general market that is witnessing the lowest pig prices seen in a long time.
“We are getting top dollar from our pigs and we are able to set the price that we want.”
Eli and Ebony reflect that while the direct to consumer model takes significantly higher time investment, they have far more business security and control over the price of their product.
“Definitely the go for small scale farms – not viable in any other way.”
How do they market their product?
Dewsburys Pork process approximately 10 pigs a week and 500 annually. Their meat is processed through Wollondilly Abattoir in Picton and packed by Marulan Meats.
At first they sold pork privately to customers. But, as they scaled their business, they began retailing through the local farmers markets. Their main market is direct to consumer through 3-4 farmers markets per week including Moruya (SAGE), Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Kangaroo Valley.
“We also sell pork by the breed, as each breed has its own unique taste, as do the hybrid pigs which offer a combination of taste, texture and marbling from the parent breeds. We also produce a number of side products including dog treats from trotters etc and lard for cooking to support our ‘nose to tail’ business ethic.”
Eli and Ebony value the farmers market experience. “It gets people to ask questions and explore animal ethics and the value chain,” they explained. At the market, they focus on breaking down the barriers and consumer perceptions through education and conversation. They have found visitors to be extremely interested in free range pork and the demand has led to them selling out on a continuous basis!
“Markets offer a great place to talk to people about practices and ethics.”
They also market direct to a number of high-end restaurants in Sydney and retail to the local community through a local butcher in Marulan.
What are their passions?
Small-scale farming, the local food economy and the preservation of rare breeds are key passions of Ebony and Eli.
“Our philosophy here at Dewsburys Free Range Pork is to produce high quality pork in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and ensures that every single pig on our farm, no matter how long or short their stay, has the absolute best quality of life that we can provide for them, as nature intended.”
Eli and Ebony value the nature of small-scale farming. They believe and demonstrate that being transparent ensures that their product and way of farming is truly free range and is of the highest welfare standards. In order to communicate this, they offer farm visits and tours, welcome questions and discussion with all their customers.
They love being involved and in control of their entire business and the entire lives of their animals, from birth to abattoir. Breeding is important and they have selected a number of breeds which perform better outdoors in a natural environment.
They are acutely aware of the poor animal welfare standards of conventional indoor farms and have designed their production system carefully to minimise animal distress. Their farm is made up of large outdoors spaces which they actively understock, allowing the pigs to nest and express their natural behaviours. They ensure the pigs well-being and demonstrate the importance of calm handling practices.
“Our pigs are just so happy and easy to handle. We can’t even remember the last time the pigs got sick.”
What are their challenges?
Starting out their farm business journey was difficult for Eli and Ebony as they found it hard to get good quality information and industry support. They find that the support and services available are not particularly targeted at small scale producers and recognise that the commercial industry is drastically different from their style of operation.
“It would be great to have more support from Australian Pork and for them consider producers outside of the commercial farming model.”
Eli has also found that small farm pig equipment is hard to find and has had to come up with a lot of ideas to solve this accessibility issue. He is now considering selling his designs for his functional and cost effective free-range pig shelter.
Initially, they considered value-added products such as bacon and ham, however the additional time investment in managing additional products as well as the complex logistics from Braidwood smokehouse made it too difficult. They now prefer to supply fresh pork so that the consumers can experience the quality and appreciate the product for it natural qualities/characteristics. “It’s a shame to make bacon out of a purebred pigs,” they explained!
How do they use digital platforms in their business?
Digital forms of communication are becoming increasingly important for Eli and Ebony as customers are finding them through their online channels. They maintain an active website as well as Facebook and Instagram account to drive traffic and business to their website.
Social media has also offered them the ability to authenticate their free range practices through a virtual “open gate” policy, with social media playing a huge role in their ability to connect with, and educate, their consumers.
“We consistently keep all social media up to date with plenty of photos and videos of our day to day activities with the pigs and keep an extensive website that details how the farm is managed, what infrastructure we use and how the pigs are handled and cared for.
We feel that it is extremely important for us to clearly show the living standards of our pigs and how our practices are implemented.”
Eli puts their success down to their ability to communicate their story. Farmers now need to have the online presence and social media provides the a level of transparency and quality assurance that the customer is after.
They also connect with other farms online through social media and other web based platforms, frequenting forums in New Zealand and America that focus on similar breeds, breeding and feeding.
“Social media has opened up a whole other network.”
How do they innovate in their business?
Using the ‘DPI feed calculator’ and an on-farm mill they mix their own feed from locally farmed wheat and other additives. By making their own feed mix on farm, Eli and Ebony have saved money and are producing a better product than they could have bought in at a higher cost. This also helps them to localise their inputs.
They also use GESDATE, a herd management platform designed specifically for purebred and show pig producers, to keep track of breeding sows and all the breeding pigs information for traceability and management purposes.
What is their advice for new starters?
“Keep scale small. It’s best to do things well and keep high quality and ethics.”
What’s next for Dewsbury Free Range Pork?
Eli and Ebony have recognised there is a market for breeding genetics and are working with niche and rare heritage breed pigs for conservation purposes and to meet a growing demand for quality purebred boars.
From the beginning, the duo found it difficult to access the right information for the type of small scale/free range operation they are running. So, they are looking to continue to build their public online resources and an education platform, starting with developing resources on the website to support other growers, including demonstrating marketing and industry development potential for small scale/ethical meat production. They are keen to support more farmers enter into ethical meat production and offer some great resources on how to set up and start a free range pig farm, including references and advice on farm layout, design, watering systems, fencing and housing.
Once finished building online resources, they will look at running on-farm courses and internship programs.
And if that isn’t enough to keep them busy, as pig equipment is hard to find and access, Eli has also considering selling his design as a functional and cost-effective free-range pig shelter!
- Ebony Garner (26 ) and Eli Bailey (28)
- Small Scale Farming/Local Food/Free Range Pork
- Quialigo 2580 – South East NSW
- 125 Acres
- 20 paddocks for their free range pigs, holding approx 20 sows and 150 pigs on site.
- Small crops and fruit trees into paddock rotation for feed diversity
- Processing approximately 10 pigs a week: 500 a year
- Breeds: Duroc, Hampshire, Tamworths, Wessex Saddleback, Large White
This case study is part of the Young Farmer Business Program’s series on Small Scale Scale Farming. Be sure to check out the other case studies!
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