Farming Old Breed Farm Animals in Ngaruawahia

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Farming Old Breed Farm Animals in Ngaruawahia
Marion Farrell

It had been a few years since I last visited Jonathan and Sarah Walker of Soggy Bottom Farm to see their rare breed pigs, cows and sheep and knowing what an innovative and hard-working couple they are I was eagerly anticipating hearing about new projects and seeing many more animals.

Three years ago the couple who hail from Britain, turned a hobby – rare breeds farming – into a business plan.  Not more than a year before this they bought 60 acres of rough, hilly farmland with a boggy valley (hence the farm’s name) west of Ngaruawahia where they introduced Belted Galloway cattle, Wiltshire Horn sheep and a few Tamworth and Wessex Saddleback pigs.  Within a year the Walkers had more livestock than their dinner table and freezer could cope with, and with the advent of the Hamilton Farmers’ Market decided to send some of the animals off to market as steak, sausages, ham and bacon – all made by Jonathan – a largely self-taught butcher.

More recently, it was great to catch up with Jonathan to find that their enthusiasm for an environmentally sustainable business is as strong as ever and that they continue to practice organic farming methods. “You’ve got to love it, because it’s more than a hobby for us. It is a lifestyle. People have no idea how much work is involved.” What’s more, they simultaneously manage to fit other professional commitments into their lives: Sarah is a specialist nurse; Jonathan runs a mobile saw-milling business and they are parents to two boys Finn, 13, and Mallory, 10.

Their decision to farm old breed animals has paid off – the animals are happy and healthy. “Older breeds work better in a practical sense – they work well in an outdoor set-up and adapt to rugged land,” says Jonathan. For a townie like me, it’s heart-warming to see the animals fossicking about outdoors. We seem to hear – all too often – about cases of neglect, animals confined to ridiculously small cages and the like. As for the meat: “It just tastes better. It’s firmer and has better texture than that of conventionally farmed,” he says.

Soggy Bottom meat is additive free, in fact their purpose-built butchery, located on the farm, is in the final stages of receiving full organic certification. While I expected to see greater numbers of livestock, numbers are modest: 12 pigs, 25 cows and 30 sheep, which means there is plenty of room for them to roam, intensive farming this is not. The couple has contracted two farmers to grow animals remotely who follow strict organic guidelines to ensure they can keep up with a steadily growing demand. “We have loads of regular customers and a number of new ones who actively seek our meat out through word-of-mouth”.

Right from the outset sausages were on the menu, as were bacon and ham. All their bacon is dry cured for one week for a greater intensity of flavour and beef is aged for up to three weeks this makes for a full-bodied flavour and optimal tenderness. I’m told that the best sellers are Cumberland sausages – a classic British variety made with roughly chopped pork and lots of pepper that are coiled rather than linked. “We can’t keep up with demand for bacon and black pudding.” He has also added some more sophisticated items to the Soggy Bottom repertoire – one being the Italian cured ham: prosciutto, salami and gourmet beef burger patties. With such a high quality product I was not surprised to hear that their fellow market stall holders exchange items such as cheese, bread and vegetables with the Walkers’ produce making them almost completely self-sufficient, a goal they have strived for from the beginning.

As for the future it’s about fine-tuning the running of the farm for more family time: “I don’t want it to get too much bigger. I just want to keep the quality really high and make a living from it,” he says.

For meat lovers who would like to learn the art of making sausages and/or how to cure and smoke bacon and make ham and salami – Jonathan takes one day courses. For more information contact: [email protected] or ph: 07 824 8383

Soggy Bottom trades at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, Victoria Square and at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market every Sunday morning, cnr of Tristram and Collingwood Streets.

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2 thoughts on “Farming Old Breed Farm Animals in Ngaruawahia

  1. Very interesting to find out about the passion that the Couple have taken and transformed into a business.

    Its great to hear that the animals are looked after well, and must be very happy.

    Cool article.