Étienne Gosselin | Agronomist | Journalist
Elzéar cleared the land, Freddy started the farm and Christian refocused on hog production. Yann is now focused on local marketing by promoting Porc de Beaurivage's special characteristics. In a sector where most follow the same direction, the Lefebvre family has decided to carve out their own path.
A 4th-generation business, Ferme Freddy Lefebvre is a 180-sow farrow-to-finish hog operation. They sell some of their pork through the Olymel network; for the past 3 and a half years, they've been selling most of it themselves to specialty butchers, restaurant operators and individuals.
Writing their own rules, respecting their values
The idea of self-marketing isn't new; it had been going through Carole Marcoux and Christian Lefebvre's minds since 1997. The couple has always been driven by the desire to fight the inevitability of "market price" by setting a price themselves that covers the cost of production. They want to continue running a family farm. Not a farrowing house filled with a thousand sows or custom feeding.
A difficult start
In the beginning, no one believed in them or their suckling pig, grain-fed pig and slaughter hog venture. They were able to start by self-financing 100%. Luckily, they started in winter, because they couldn't afford a refrigerated truck. They don't take anything for granted these days. They have clients from Quebec City and Montreal, some of whom are regulars, others sporadic; some want the best price, but all of them get a quality product.
Porc de Beaurivage: the keys to success
- Focusing on and promoting quality
- Outstanding logistics and customer service
- Being a price-setter instead of a price-taker
- Opening their doors, showing the conditions in which the animals are raised
- Being stubborn and persistent
3 questions for Carole Marcoux, an entrepreneur who never gives up
Q1. What makes your pork business different from others'?
A. We've always produced high-quality pork. An employee at the Olymel slaughterhouse in Vallée-Jonction has even told us that he knew when he was handling our pigs. Our carcasses are different--they're uniform, the meat is firm, the fat white, not yellow, and the meat we sell is always fresh, never frozen.
We do only grain-fed pork raised with no animal by-products, antibiotics or added hormones. Our pregnant sows have been housed in groups since 1994, which will be a requirement for all producers in 2022! On the environmental side, we've planted thousands of trees around the pits and set up hedgerows near the buildings and fields.
Q2. Is there strong competition in the farm pork market?
A. Yes, but we make a unique product, so no, not really! We don't see ourselves as being in competition with anyone. Our product has distinctive characteristics and commands a higher price. Some buyers negotiate on price, but we can't satisfy these kinds of customers long-term, because our production costs are higher; our pigs gain weight more slowly, and the mortality rate is higher, because we don't use drugs for prevention.
This spring, we're going to construct more spacious farrowing crates for the sows and comfortable places for the piglets. We'll also be installing automatic feeders that will feed sows multiple times a day, especially at night, a good time for feeding during heat waves.
Q3. What challenges do you face as a farm that's decided to operate on both sides--production and sales?
A. By doing the marketing ourselves, we bring in more revenue, but we also have more expenses related to our production decisions, slaughtering logistics, transportation and deliveries. We've lived on a line of credit, we haven't paid ourselves a salary for months...
Given our economic environment and that for pig farming in general, Yann would not have been able to take over without this venture. Yes, what we're doing is audacious. And yes, it's hard to get our names out there, to increase awareness. We can't do it for the money alone, because we'd run into problems!