"For me, agriculture was always a drawcard. Some of my closest friends lived and worked on farms, and I grew up in a rural setting. After school, it was a natural progression for me to go on and take an agriculture certification on a sheep stud."
Claire Coats faced the overwhelming challenge to find a way to get the backing to buy the land to live her passion - farming. This is a problem many aspiring farmers face in Australia. After many years of share farming, Claire and her husband wanted to realise their dream of growing pigs on their own farm.
In 2017 Claire participated in Cultivate Farm's accelerator program ‘Cultivator.’ Out of the thirteen want-to-be-farmers, she was the one who successfully attracted the attention of a farm investor. With her husband Marc, she is now the co-owner of Freeland Pork.
Located in Kyabram, Freeland Pork is free-range, hormone-free, ethically raised premium pork. Now secure and reaching profitability, Freeland Pork's 40 hectares is at capacity with sixty-five free-range large white sows and three Berkshire boars. Every week the farm turns off between six to twenty, nineteen-week-old pigs.
"We spent a lot of time understanding what would make a viable paddock to plate operation. Farming isn't just about pulling on boots and walking out the door. A lot of it is business management, it's not just farming.
“When you understand your business, you can start to use leverage. The key is to know all aspects of your business before you leverage. Leveraging means getting someone else to do certain aspects of your business, and then you can build a team.
“At Freeland Pork, we are committed to growing our business and staying accountable to our goals, and one of the ways we achieve this is by having a board of management. It's all very official, we have a chairperson and take minutes, and we also have goals
“I aim to get Freeland Pork to a place where it hits its peak, then we can allocate time to a coach and mentor to other people in small farms. I would love to help other small farm operations to create a sustainable and profitable enterprise that is low in infrastructure.
“The Freeland Pork model could run without owning a pig, we could buy our pigs, as long they were grown ethically and with the right nutrients to Freeland Pork specifications. This would be a business model with reduced risk, as we would not own the land. There are so many risks in growing pigs, changes in feed prices and piglets die.
“We chose to co-own land, grow and sell our pork. We want to grow our business and own the land as an asset. Right now, we are working toward buying the farm back from our co-owner, our Cultivate Farm investor and expanding our operations without necessarily buying more land.
“An essential partner in our business is Echuca Meats, our butcher. I am employed by Echuca Meats, which directly helps both businesses build systems and streamline production. It has been a very important learning curve for me and I really enjoy it.
“I think it is Ok for businesses not to be doing their own bookkeeping, but you need to know how to read profit and loss and balance sheets, and then give the task to the bookkeeper. I never do my BAS, but I know how to look at the BAS for the business.
With her natural enthusiasm and a deep well of inspiration and ideas to grow her business, it would be easy for Clare to become overwhelmed by everything she wants to do.
"I write down all my ideas and plans and then make sure I get enough sleep. I focus on being well-rested so I can keep up with my business plan. Keep adding to your list, and revisit the priorities and have an accountability team. Don't get wound up with the day-to-day of doing. When I am running and running, I know I am overwhelming myself. This is when I need to look after myself.
“I go to dancing classes. When I am dancing, I remember the moves, instead of my to-do-list! I regularly do dinner with friends; go to the kids’ sports. There are plenty of times when I have worked instead of looking after myself, but you need to fill up yourself before you fill anyone else.
“Being an entrepreneur can be lonely because not many people get you. My relationship with Marc and the farm management side of the business is so important, as is my relationship with my butcher, it’s a comfort to know we each have each other's back.
Find out more about Freeland Pork