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Long Ranch Capitalizes on Booming Farmers Market Trend
“Our pork to your fork.” That’s the motto of Long Ranch, a Manteca, California, small-scale hog operation that is capitalizing on the national farm-to-fork trend.
For Scott Long to stay competitive in a commodity business, he basically markets one pig at a time, taking feeder pigs through finishing at various weights. Some 10,000 pigs are processed annually at the small state-inspected slaughter facility on the farm. The pigs are sold primarily through direct sales to customers.
Premiums over the commodity price for pigs are in the range of 25% to 30%, depending on the pig weights. Long sells roaster pigs (80 to 100 pounds) for $1.40 per pound on average. That compares with a commodity price of about $1 per pound.
“We get quite a bit over the market prices, but we’re including a service, too, and that’s included in the price – the butchering and everything,” says Long.
The business was established 45 years ago, based mainly on sales to individuals in California’s many ethnic groups, including Southeast Asians, Hispanics, Filipinos, and Croatians.
“Most of the pigs are bought for parties, and many people come to the ranch to pick out their pigs,” says Long. Many customers are also involved in the butchering, as part of a cultural experience. Almost all of Long Ranch’s business is generated by word of mouth.
Increasingly, the locally raised, all-natural pork is appealing to consumers interested in buying directly from farmers and farmers markets. Long Ranch is starting to cash in on that trend through a small market on the farm. The shop sells fresh pork, including loins, ribs, chops, bacon, and sausages.
People don’t mind paying a premium for the product. For example, bacon in the shop sells for $7 a pound, about 30% over the national average price.
Another aspect of the niche market is in selling live pigs to brokers who, in turn, brand the all-natural, farm-sourced product for sales to high-end markets and restaurants. This channel recently earned Long Ranch an award: Best Pork Chop in Los Angeles.
“The farm-to-fork movement in California and on the West Coast continues to grow at a rapid pace,” says Erica Sanko, executive director of the California Pork Producers Association. “It is successfully bringing awareness of the regional agriculture and livestock industry to today’s consumers. Many hog producers are becoming involved in this niche movement, marketing directly to consumers off the farm, via farmers markets or to restaurants.”
Hoop barns and Deep bedding
Long Ranch pigs are raised in 16 hoop buildings with deep-bedded straw.
“We’ll put 200 pigs in a barn, averaging 40 pounds, and we do that every week,” Long says. “Because of our niche market in which we sell all different sizes of pigs, we’ll start taking pigs out of there after about five weeks as roasters up to about 120 pounds. We’ll take another group out at 140 to 160 pounds. We’ll take the final pigs out at about 240 to 250 pounds. Then we start the whole process again.”
Long buys all the feeder pigs from a nearby producer. The pigs are a 50-50 Yorkshire-Duroc cross. “We get a little higher marbling from the Duroc,” Long says. “It works well for the meat quality.”
Long feeds six different rations, using Kansas State University formulas. A nearby feed mill custom-mixes and delivers the Midwestern-grown corn-soy rations.
On all the pigs, average gain is 1.8 pound per day on about 2.3 pounds of feed.
Long believes his type of operation could work in other parts of the country, especially where producers would have access to ethnic markets or a good number of farmers market customers nearby.
The system requires a lot of extra effort to manage. Four full-time butchers are employed in the slaughter facility. Long must contend with California’s strict environmental regulations for animal agriculture. Securing insurance for the operation is difficult and expensive.
But it’s all part of the price of playing in the strong farm-to-fork niche market. “We wouldn’t be in business if we were selling on the open market,” Long says.