The problem we face

If you’ve been following us for a few years now, you’d be pretty familiar with our journey from pig farmers, to farmers market managers, to butchers, then to coop founders to build an abattoir, to chicken farmers, egg producers, beef farmers to restaurant owners. Even so, you may not be aware of the trouble we have faced along this journey- all of which may appear insane to an outsider. Believe me, I have thought about what we do what we do many a time and thought, ‘is this all worth it?’. We have settled with the decision that yes, this IS all worth it and I’ll tell you why.

When we began our journey in 2010, pork was a touchy subject (still is, que recent video footage of unseeable animal welfare issue at an unnamed piggery), hard to get the good stuff and questionable as to how it was raised and slaughtered. This led to us establishing a paddock to plate pork business, local farmers market and associated food group. After several abattoir closures over the following years, we were instrumental in setting up the Murray Plains Meat Coop to build a farmer owned micro-abattoir for multi species animals at Barham. This became a reality through several funding streams and is currently (yes still not open) going through the motions to be compliant with the DPI, the responsibility which lies with the local council.

Two years ago now we approached Bruce form Milking Yard Farm who was growing and running a paddock to plate Sommerlad chicken business, and was closing down. We saw a great opportunity here to help the breed and pick up what Bruce had started in Victoria, seeing an abattoir was about to come online in our region, we would be ready to go and it would compliment what we already do with our pork. Fast forward two years, we still have no chicken processing options unless we drive to Melbourne where the birds being bigger and not conforming to a commercial chicken often are not processed very well, feathers left on, legs or wings missing, insides not clean. This means we have to double handle them, the hours to do this are excruciating. Catching birds is a night time job- 10pm onwards, then in the truck to get to the abattoir by 4.30am… wait until they’re chilled for 5 hours then bringing them home to pack and distribute them. This isn’t what the plan was, and we aren’t making any money out of this scenario. I’m worried Lach will run off the road one night. He’s not the only one, we have several producer friends doing the same, it’s dangerous and costly BUT it’s the only option.

So the birds- do we need to keep doing them? You tell me, the breed took years to develop, then market and then establish customers for them. But the processing side of things is so heavily dominated by large scale commercial breeders which have their fingers in the processing pies. Small producers are simply not able to fit in with this, too hard, too annoying, not uniform. This isn’t just for our tasty feathered friends, the same applies for pigs, beef and lamb. If you’re reading this you are most likely a meat eater and may have some awareness around these issues. Hopefully you do. The rising cost of food and negative media around the state of the country is not helping our farmers solve these issues around getting good food into our population. I feel like it’s scaring people from spending their money on good food, and scaring producers from pushing forward with their production- the confidence in the system is wavering. We need to make our own paths and get OUT of the system. Make access to our own supply chain pathways, fuck the middle man (aka unnamed big chain supermarkets and corporate international owned abattoirs).

Where does this leave our pretty little friends, the ethically raised chook? Well, we still want to provide chicken to our customers and are currently looking deep into setting up a very small on-farm but mobile chicken abattoir until the local abattoir is operating, otherwise we won’t be able to continue doing this. You can’t stop breeding chickens once the process has started- it takes over a year to get enough breeding stock to get enough numbers to process what we need to weekly which is only 100 birds a week- small. I fear this is the reality for our other chicken farmer friends too. Securing funds for something like this that could cost around $30-$40K is the next battle when we have already put so much into our butchery facility and setting up our farm for regenerative farming practices.

We’ve bought a great little direct drill, seed (lots of the pasture which we lost in the floods), silos, chicken tractors, an egg grading machine, a small dairy beef cattle herd soley for their manure for the chooks and dung beetles to fertilise the soil, have secured an RAA loan to build a shed so we can pack eggs on farm, make bio-fertilisers and biological soil innoculants using our waste streams, improve our pastures, plant 5000 trees and manage a wetland. That’s why we need to keep going, we’re seeing our farm improve, our Carbon in the soil is increasing and we can see the icing on the cake, shimmering in the distance. We don’t think setting up a small chicken abattoir would be that hard, what do you think? I wonder if it is rude to put our hands up and ask our eaters to help us out this time round??

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