Demand for free range pork grown at Gunnedah and Barraba is increasing.
The Free Range Butcher – a Syndey-based business run by former Barraba local Ben Clinch and his wife Alison – has sold all the pasture finished pork Mr Clinch could source from his parent’s farm at Barraba and Jack Hewitt at Gunnedah in the lead up to Christmas. Even though the animals cost twice as much to produce compared with intensive systems, demand has been steadily growing as consumers become more educated.
“We’ve sold out already and have been taking orders for Christmas since October,” Mr Clinch said.
He has spent the past three weeks smoking hams “24/7” and the small batches mean complete control of the finished products.
Mr Clinch started the online butcher business nine years ago and now has a “really good” base of customers buying pasture finished, free range and organic meat.
All the pork he sells comes either from his parent’s property or from the Hewitts at Gunnedah.
“We both use old English breeding stock that exhibit really good mothering ability and foraging traits,” he said. “Jack is extremely passionate about his pigs and he really understands his animals.”
Breeds include Berkshire, Large Blacks and Saddlebacks and Mr Clinch said they were hardier than modern breeds.
The sows come into huts or nurseries for seven to 10 days when the piglets are born and they all go out into the paddocks in small groups.
“As the piglets mature they move up in the weight classes, but we don’t push them to produce quickly like the intensive systems,” he said.
“The pasture adds depth of flavour to the meat and in a good season, the pigs might get 40 to 50 percent of their feed from the grass.”
While the animals aren’t organic – the Hewitts and his parents Peter and Trish Clinch use ordinary drenches and vaccines – they run freely, are pasture finished and are exposed to as few chemicals as possible.
The pigs are ready for slaughter at around 75kg live weight, which they reach at about six months.
“It’s about four to eight weeks slower than shedded pigs,” he said.
“We don’t buy in any other pork.”