Rearing and Wrapping It on the Farm
BY KIM LANGEN
A new farm butcher shop is scheduled to open near Pilot Mound - with a fresh angle on both old and new ideas.
Pam and Clint Cavers, together with their three daughters, want to market their own home-grown beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers from the farm gate.
With around 80 regular customers presently on board with the idea and purchasing the products, the family is hoping to be up and running by June with their on-site farm project.
"We already have a customer base," said Pam Cavers. "It's already there. We provide for around 80 or 90 families now, and that's why we decided to take this big step."
And it isn' t your regular pork and beef. The Cavers are the first people in the country to rear a rare breed of pigs - mulefoots.
These single-toed pigs appear to have originated in the U.S., and may be related to a cross-breed of a feral, or wild pig. For the moment, the Cavers will be butchering a more traditional white breed of pig, raised outdoors on the farm, while they build up their new black-haired herd.
"We bought them in South Dakota last May," said Clint Cavers. "They're an old, free-range variety, and they winter outside very well. We are the first ones in Canada to have them. We have five gilts, and a boar. Our first farrowing is in May, and we are going to try for two litters a year. They usually have five to seven piglets each, and we will grow them to 400 pounds although they can go to 600 pounds. I suppose they are close to being like a Berkshire pig, which you see around now."
The second unusual fare planned for the shop's chill-section is Jersey beef. The Cavers have been successfully rearing what is considered a dairy rather than a beef breed after discovering what they think is an ideal meat for families with children. The practise also utilizes something often considered a by-product in the dairy industry - Jersey steers. The discovery came when Clint was 20 years old, and trying to set up his own farming operation on a lean budget.
"It was two cattle-cycles ago," he said. "The Jersey steers were worth nothing, and some neighbours I knew gave me 20 or 25 of them. I was bottle-feeding a barnful of them, and I felt there was an opportunity here to make some money and get back into farming. We butchered one of them at 18 months, and the packages came back very small. I shared that first one with my family, and it was so good we did another one. The meat was very fine-grained, with good flavour, and the steaks were much smaller. It wasn't a T-bone like we were used to. We've done it the same way since, and we like the small steaks and cuts. They are great for the kids."
All the steers will be grass-fed and finished at about two years, meaning the lean meat will be higher in natural vitamins,
said the couple. Jersey beef also tends to have a more coloured fat, a yellowish tone that comes from the Jersey's ability to retain vitamin A, or carotene
. The Cavers plan to hang the beef for 14 to 21 days in their on-site coldroom, just like the old days.
Clint Cavers learned to cut meat on his own over the years, and has been attending day-courses to bring up his skills. Both he and his wife will work in the cutting room, and the kids Mika (14), Autumn (6) and Tawny (9) will help wherever they can - feeding animals, cleaning up, making sausages, and slicing meat.
"We want to be a sort of old-style butchery, with minimum packaging if we can do it," said Clint. "We want it to be local, sustainable, and fresh. Customers will be able to come in the shop, see what's in the display case, and we can wrap up their order with butcher's wax paper. We want to do specialty meatcutting, and learn more about charcuterie, the French style of preparing pork. I think the pork is going to be our biggest seller."
Sausages, made with just meat and spices
, will be an in-house special. So far a peppery-sweet breakfast sausage, a Polish one, and an Italian style are on the menu. Many of the spices, such as fennel, dill, garlic, sage and marjoram will be grown in the garden at the couple's home place
, about eight miles away. Nitrate-free bacon and air-dried ham will be available
for sale, and Clint Cavers wants to perfect his corned beef. They will have recipes on their website once it is up and running, along with advice on cooking their beef.
"It needs to be cooked at a lower temperature, and for longer," said Pam Cavers. "It's not a strong beef, but it has a fine texture, and the fat has a bit more flavour. But it's a healthier beef without the grain. The grass-finishing means it retains more of the Omega 3 and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) so it's much better for you."
The couple plan to run a government-inspected facility, and have put up all the funds themselves for the project. The spacious meat-cutting room, behind the customer display area, will be open to the visitors' view. Just outside, and open to view, pigs and steers will range on the 200 acres of rolling poplar and oak bushland and pasture. In the summer, the Cavers will raise their pastured chickens on the property as well, for sale fresh in season, and frozen in the winter. They are even looking for youngsters in the area to pasture-raise more birds for them the same way, after a successful experiment last summer proved that good meat birds could be a lucrative business for the kids.
And there are goats - used for grazing and cleaning up brush and rough areas - slated for the butcher's block.
"These are Boer goats," said Pam Cavers. "We are going to do fresh goat meat on order, probably small orders. The cuts are a cross between lamb and pork; you can have a leg of goat, or goat-chops."
The family expects to process 50 to 60 Jersey steers each year (one beef animal a week), and up to 300 hogs (three to five hogs per week). Just under 1000 chickens will be finished and plucked for sale, and they are going to try rearing old-fashioned meat breeds such as Buff-Rocks and Dark Cornish birds this summer. "The birds retail for $2.25 a pound, and they fly off the shelf", said Pam Cavers. "Prices will not be identical to the local store, but the product is going to be worth paying a little more for", she said. Freshness will be the key, although frozen meat and poultry will be in stock for customers who want it.
"We are not going to be the same as the supermarket,"
she said. "We are going to be a bit higher. I think we raise our animals as humanely as we can possibly do it, and this takes more effort and time. We are also offering a connection to us and to the farm, and how we do things. People come here for farm tours already, and they love to see the animals out on range."
The kids enjoy 4H and music in their spare time, while Clint Cavers hauls flax straw in the fall, and does relief driving in the winter with his semi-truck and trailer. Pam Cavers works part-time at the Sentinel Courier in Pilot Mound, taking pictures, writing business profiles and doing some news reporting. They are a busy family, but still manage to do it all well. The butcher shop is a way to centralize and focus their farm business at home, and spend more time together in doing what they love.
"Farmers should be proud of what they do. We are proud of what our family does on our farm," she said. "And our family is our prime concern. The kids are part of all the plans we make here, and they help out a lot. But we will be keeping time just for them too."
Harborside Farms butcher store (4.5 miles north of Pilot Mound) is scheduled to open on June 1, 2008. Opening hours are planned for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, from 8:30am to 4:30 pm. A fresh-meat (or frozen) refrigerated delivery service is planned for two drop-offs per week on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the Pilot Mound, Crystal City, and Clearwater areas. There is a $3 charge per drop-off, but the Cavers hope families can group together to save on this cost. Deliveries can also be made to other communities for a negotiated delivery charge, and as far as Winnipeg for larger orders.
To contact the Cavers about delivery to your area, or to find the shop, contact: (204) 825-2465. They can also be contacted about raising chickens to order this season, for young people who are interested in this profitable scheme. They can also be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.