On a hilltop in one of the Bega Valleys most picturesque locations, a drift of rare breed pigs are living like royalty.
They are free to be pigs, to snout up the ground, wallow in a purpose-built dam, suckle their young and commune with their piggy friends.
No stalls or cages for this lot.
The pigs are the breeding herd of a young venture, Bega Valley Pork Pty Ltd, started up by Chris Coleman and Leanne Griffin of Nethercote.
Their goal is to offer a paddock to plate, stress-free, locally grown, exceptional quality pork product to consumers.
By increasing public demand for these rare breed pigs, they also hope to ensure their future and make the meat more affordable.
With a growing consumer backlash against pork raised in stalls, Bega Valley Pork’s goals also make good business sense.
Coles has announced it will no longer sell fresh pork grown on farms using sow stalls from 2014, under its Coles brand fresh pork label.
Woolworth’s policy is less stringent. Their website states: “The vast majority (99 per cent) of our fresh pork meat is sourced from farms that only use stalls for less than 10 per cent of the sows’ gestation period.”
Far from the supermarket shelves, Chris Coleman calls up English Black Miss Piggy for a scratch.
Miss Piggy became the catalyst for what is now Bega Valley Pork. She is well aware she’s the star of the show.
“Miss Piggy was bought as one of a group of nine pigs that came from out west. I had an idea to give everybody a ham for Christmas. But when I went to collect them, they were all in such poor condition…it was terrible. Rather than make hams I decided to save them. Miss Piggy and her daughter Honey were the only pigs to survive. That was about three years ago,” Chris recollects.
The pig breeds on the property read like a list from a porcine Who’s Who.
Berkshire: considered by some to be the best pork in the world and the pork of choice for Japan’s Emperor; Tamworth, Bred by Sir Robert Peel on his Drayton Manor Estate at Tamworth, said to produce stunningly good pork and tremendous bacon; English Black, the only pig that is entirely black that produces lean, quality meat with delicious flavour; Wessex Saddleback, a great dual purpose pig, renowned for both its pork and bacon.
The list goes on…Hampshire, Pot-belly, Duroc and then there are the crossbreeds.
They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and if you are unfamiliar with pigs, what might stand out is that there are no white pigs in this herd.
It stands to reason that white pigs are not suited to free ranging, outdoors 24/7, especially in the Australian sun.
“People get confused when you go to the market. The Berkshire and Wessex Saddleback pigs are black pigs but they have the blondest meat you can find. They also take longer to bring on and that’s why they aren’t as popular,” Chris says.
“People think pork from white pigs is the best but it isn’t, it’s just the easiest to grow.”
Less than 1 per cent of the entire nation’s pork is produced using either organic or free range methods which means nearly all the pork you buy comes from intensively raised pigs, white pigs, kept indoors, in a man-made environment.
The taste of this meat, and the way it is raised, is a less than satisfying experience.
Having hand-raised, free range pigs for our own table for a few years, I can tell you there is no comparison to the taste of meat bought from the major supermarkets.
Now, thanks to Bega Valley Pork Pty Ltd, consumers in these parts have a choice and can purchase this meat in a few butcher’s shops, and order it on some local menus.
“If people get behind buying this pork, which isn’t caged or stalled, we can create demand. We’re not asking people to pay more money for it,” Chris Coleman says.
“Browns Butchers (Eden) and the Butchers Block (Bega) have come on board and you can buy the pork through them – well done to them.
“Club Sapphire (Merimbula) also took the chance and they had it on the menu. They sold out in four days,” Chris says.
Chris Coleman hopes more farmers in the Bega Valley will join up to breed and grow on Bega Valley Pork in a co-operative type of arrangement.
“The farmers in the Bega Valley have been sustainable farming for years. There no reason why they can’t take this on board. We’re not telling them, just asking those interested to come on board.”
Bega Valley Pork is not just about this one Nethercote farm.
Breeding sows are transferred to other like-minded pig farmers in the Bega Valley where there is room, and most importantly, the right conditions for the pigs to thrive and have their litters.
“The only way we can keep the rare breeds going, is to farm out the sows to other farms where they can breed up. We can help people get started, help them with feeding and also teach them about the pigs,” Chris says.
“By growing the numbers, we can keep the price (of the meat) down as much as we can, not take the rare out of rare breed but give people a choice.
If farmers want to make some money, it could be worthwhile.
“If we come together as a group, in a co-operative, we can get the grain cheaper; it will cut other costs down.
“We have a situation here where four of five trucks with only a handful of pigs on are making the trek to the abattoir in Orbost every week.
That’s such a waste. It can be done much more efficiently through Bega Valley Pork,” Chris said.
If you want to find out more about Bega Valley Pork, call Chris Coleman on 6495 6695 or 0408 211 159.
If you want to taste the product, ask for it at your local Bega Valley butcher.