One such partnership we have developed over the past few years has been with Bruce and Roz Burton of Milking Yard Farm. On their farm in central Victoria their chooks are raised with three things in mind; animal welfare, sustainability, and a delicious full flavoured chicken.
The Burtons grow a very special breed of chicken called Sommerlad, which is reminiscent of the famous Bresse and Label Rouge chickens from France. This is a unique, slow growing breed, with a rich flavour and texture.
Their birds thrive in small groups, roaming freely in the purpose-built farm forest and grazing on a diet of wild grubs, seeds, grits, and organic feed. Without hormones or antibiotics, they live healthy, happy and stress-free, in a natural habitat which meets the highest standards for the treatment of chickens.
The Burtons raise their chickens using farming methods that reflect truly free-range living, a diet free from antibiotics and pesticides, as well as genetic diversity among the flock. When choosing organics it can be tempting to purchase meat that is cheaper and at times, more convenient. However, when we take a closer look at the type of conventional farming practices that produces these meat birds available in the mass market, we are able to see the stark contrast in the health of the bird and the environment when compared with chickens produced at farms like the Burtons.
How are conventional chickens grown?
Industrialised food systems are driven by profit, typically using modified modern breeds that are fast growing that put on weight rapidly, particularly on their prized breast area. Almost every commercial chicken farm grow the same breed of inbred chicken for the mass consumer market where there is no genetic diversity.
To make this system most profitable these chickens must cost as little as possible to grow and to feed. They are killed at a young age, with some chickens in this system only living for 45 days. They live on high volume diets where their movement is restricted so as to grow as big and as quickly as possible. This often means higher stocking densities in their roost and living areas where their food source is central in the shed. This discourages the chickens from exercising and going outside to starch for their food.
With their indoor food source and constant temperature controlled shelter, some of these chickens never set claw outside. High density areas where food and waste are in the same space often results in illness and disease among the flock. The animals are therefore managed with antibiotics and food supplements to ensure lower rates of poor health.
In what ways are the Milking Yard Farm chickens unique?
The Burtons flock reflect interbreeding of over a dozen of the old breed meat birds that no longer used in commercial farming as they are slower to grow than modified modern breeds. These old breeds have been interbred to produce a wealth of diversity among the flock which not only leads to healthier birds that are able to better adapt to a local climate, but that also vary in flavour. These birds are also raised free from pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics.
During the day, they live freely among the open pasture and through the light forest to stay out of the heat where they scratch for food that falls from the trees above and comes from the debris beneath them. At night, they roost in shelters that protect them from the elements and predators. The Burtons use their tractor to move these portable shelters around the paddock intermittently to regenerate the land beneath.
The birds are healthy with bright eyes and clean feet, free from blisters. They are active foragers always on the hunt for food. The chooks diet consists of leaf litter, seeds and bugs that they scratch for along the forest floor and around the paddock.
The Milking Yard Farm chicken’s appearance are significantly different to the birds we see and eat in the mass market. They enjoy a much longer life than conventional chickens and are able to grow to their full size over more than 100 days. There is a terrific fat covering across the keel bone underneath the bird the is nicely muscled.
Their diet, movement and environment all result in a bird that is tasty and full in flavour for us to enjoy.
Bruce and Roz have developed their farm to meet both organic and humane choice certification level, which to them is not a commercial goal or end in itself but rather just an observation of their own farming principles and values. As Bruce puts it;
"profit for us is probably number 4 or 5 on the priority list".
Milking Yard Farm chickens are not certified organic but they are completely free range, are feed on organic feed, grown using organic principles and completely chemical and hormone free. There are two reasons why they are not certified;
We value working with the Burtons and see it as a privilege to retail the chickens they have put so much time, attention and care into. Our relationship is one family business working with another family business.
For more information visit www.milkingyardfarm.com.au
Located in Tooborac, about one and a half hours out of Melbourne, Jason and Belinda Hagan (no relation) raise and care for their herd of pigs. They are the only producer to supply pork to Hagen’s Organics, and as such, we have developed a strong relationship with this dedicated farming family.
The Hagan’s herd consists predominantly of Berkshire Old Breed and Berkshire cross-bred sows, boars and piglets. Berkshires are said to be ‘Britain’s oldest pig breed’ and can be identified by their black coats, commonly with white markings on their faces (like a blaze), legs and the tips of their tails.
McIvor Farm Foods’ focus is holistic and orientates to the health of the land to ensure the health of the animals (and people) who rely on it.
“We’re really a soil farm, it’s our focus, we just happen to run pigs over our property” Belinda says.
McIvor Farm Foods all about producing nutrient-dense soil that hosts a whole manner of living things which support the ecosystems living above.
Belinda’s background is in agricultural science, specialising in animal nutrition. Jason, who grew up on the family farm in Tooborac, studied farm business management. These two personalities combined, have created an enduring farm ecosystem that supports happy and healthy pigs.
The pigs live their entire lives outside, snuffling and rooting through the soil and wallowing in the mud. They are provided with shelter, water and supplemented with 100% Australian grain diets that are non-GMO and antibiotic free.
The Jason and Belinda’s approach to farming is aligned closely with organic and biodynamic principles. The animals enjoy lives free from antibiotic feeds and harsh grooming practices, instead, they live their entire lives outside, in their social groups, doing what pigs do.
One of the biggest questions we get asked about our pork is how come it’s not certified organic?
Certified organic pork in Australia is a rare, often due to the challenges faced by farmers. For meat to be certified organic, there are a number of rules and regulations that must be adhered to about the way the pig lives, this includes their feed. This states that animals must be fed certified organic feed.
One of the challenges faced by farms such as Belinda and Jason’s is the access to certified organic food. Presently there are no certified organic stockfeed mills in Victoria, therefore feed must be sent down from Queensland, which ultimately blows out the cost. Unfortunately, given the current cost of certified organic feed and the large volumes that pigs need to consume, it is not feasible for farms such as Jason and Belinda’s to operate in a competitive market. It would drive the cost of their product to an unmanageable price for retailers to then sell to the customer, as a result losing the farm’s market share and ultimately taking them out of the race to operate.
In the case of McIvor Farm Foods, the pigs are termed ‘beyond free range’ meaning they enjoy their entire lives outside (rather than being confined to crates) and are not exposed to sow stalls, tail docking or teeth grinding/pulling practices. They eat the bugs and bulbs they turn over in the soil and are supplemented with 100% Australian grain. The farming principles employed to produce the pork are closely aligned with organic principles, however, given they do not eat certified organic feed, they cannot be certified organic.
We support Jason and Belinda’s choice to use 100% Australian grain to supplement the pig's diet when there are challenges in using certified organic grain. We will continue to work with them as they move forward to meet challenges in the pork industry.
The flavour of the pork is exceptional. Old Breed Berkshire pigs grow slowly, creating marbled cuts prized for their delicious juiciness and flavour. This just might be the best ‘crackle’, ham or bacon you ever taste!
For more information visit www.mcivorfarmfoods.com.au
Hagen’s Organics longest running supplier relationships is with Neville and Carol Bredden of Wattle Grove Beef. Nev and Carol have worked with the Hagen’s family since Sue and Royce Hagen owned the fruit and vegetable store at the Prahran Market in the 1980’s. The Bredden’s had been veteran beef farmers who had decided to turn their hand at growing organic herbs. The Bredden’s supplied Hagen’s with certified organic herbs for several years.
Nev had always been a beef producer and had never heard the word 'organic' until he went along to a herb-garden workshop in Euroa in the 1990’s. He decided that if he was going to grow herbs he would do it organically. When Royce told Nev that he was going to open an organic butcher, the Bredden’s turned his attention to raising certified organic beef.
Wattle Grove Farm is located just outside Euroa in North-East Victoria. The herd is primarily made up of black Angus beef and is certified organic. Nev and Carol worked for years to get their entire 184 hectares Creighton Creek farm certified organic, and they have never looked back. Nev says "the first and foremost organic law, is that the animals must be looked after". The cattle are predominantly grass-fed but have their diets supplemented with certified organic hay during the dry season when grass is reduced.
Nev and Carol are committed to organic farming practices and have been implementing them decades on their property. They use non-synthetic chemical interventions for caring for the animals and the land including liquid kelp, apple cider vinegar and cod liver oil.
“We can do anything any other farmer can do,” says Nev. “It just takes us a little longer to get there.”
Currently, Hagen’s purchase the majority of Nev’s stock around 98% of the herd are sold in Hagen’s stores.
The Hagen’s and Bredden’s relationship is now in its second generation, with Nev and Carol’s son Scott working with Oliver Hagen to continue as farmer and retailer, remaining close friends.
Bendele Farm, located near Gympie in South East Queensland (one and a half hours from the Sunshine Coast), is owned and operated by Sarah and Fred Sterns.
Realising the importance of organic farming practices, they were quick to prioritise the environment, food supply, shelter, water and even noise levels for growing happy and healthy poultry. In order to produce a truly unique meat bird, they knew that the combination of all these elements had to be carefully balanced.
Bendele Farm is regarded as the leading supplier of organic poultry to the local market. It is certified organic with ACO as well as Safefood QLD and it maintains an extremely high standard of operation in order to produce higher-welfare flavourful poultry.
Bendele Farm was originally established in 1999 as a duck farm. Sarah and Fred took over the farm in 2004 after having had careers in agriculture education and on cattle stations.
Bendele Farm have been recognized several times in national food rankings coming in as state finalists in the Delicious Food awards for their ducks.
As well as natural vegetation the flock is fed predominantly organically accredited wheat or sorghum.
Fluctuations in environmental conditions keep the Bendele Farm team busy throughout the year, dealing with extreme heats in summer and colds in winter. They work hard to keep the stock as comfortable as they can all year round. However, these extremes impact upon the flock numbers, sizes and weights during various times of the year.
The flocks have 24/7 access to pasture where they can frolick and scratch in the dust. Their stocking densities are well under the organic standards, with each bird having twice as much space as the minimum organic certification standard. All the sheds have fresh non-treated sawdust as litter with ample access to food and water. The farm is protected by a dingo-proof fence which with local predators a real threat to the flock.
Sarah and Fred have been working with Hagen’s Organics since around the mid-2000's. One of the ways they encourage people to enjoy their birds is butterflied out and marinated and baked or cooked on the BBQ.
Madeline started her NASAA certified organic, truly free-range business in 2002. Based on her family’s 440 acres, organic Macedon Ranges farm, Madeline passion became her full-time job.
Unlike conventional free-range practice, Madeline is hands-on with her chickens from when they are 24 hours old. As they grow, they have moved onto grassy paddocks in a sustainable rotational system the cattle they also have on the farm. The chickens spend their days roaming the paddocks or roosting in the ‘chook-mobiles’, guarded by a pack of large, fluffy which Maremma dogs.
The chickens sleep and lay their eggs in insulated chook-mobiles which she designed and built with the help of her dad. With insulated walls, wooden perches, natural nesting material and a misting sprinkler system (for hot days in the summer), the chook-mobiles keep the clucky hens cheerful. Chook-mobiles are moved to fresh pasture every second day, which keeps the paddocks fertilised and green.
Madeline has a maximum stocking density of 250 hens per hectare. This number of hens is just 2.5% of the national free-range standard which is 10,000 hens per hectare. That’s 40 square meters for each chicken – now that’s free range! As a result, the hens have an abundance of grass, wild plants, leafy greens and bugs to forage for which results in delicious eggs with bright yellow yolks. They’re an excellent source of omega 3, iron and protein.
Madeline’s Eggs are certified organic (NASAA), cruelty-free, truly free range, GMO-free, hormone and antibiotic-free, no added food colouring, no de-beaking practices, no live plucking, no artificial lights.
For more information visit www.hollyburton.com.au
Saltbush Livestock is owned by Jamie McTaggart, a sixth generation northern pastoral livestock producer, husband and father to 3 children. He has worked on pastoral sheep and cattle stations in Qld, NSW and SA and is an experienced retired shearing contractor. He has a passion for livestock and the land, using low stress stock handling techniques and conservative stocking rates.
Their unique environment with careful management of the land and animals is what sets Saltbush Livestock apart from others. This approach to sustainable land and animal management has been acknowledged and endorsed by Australia Certified Organic, granting their company certification as an organic producer and supplier of certified organic saltbush lamb.
Ensuring good animal health and welfare is a key priority for Saltbush Livestock. They are committed to the highest levels of animal welfare and the humane treatment of livestock using and promoting low stress handling techniques. All of our sheep are processed in Australia in accordance with national and international requirements.
Bultarra Australian Saltbush Lamb, a unique, distinctive lamb product – is set to revolutionise culinary choices and fine dining preferences at restaurants across the world. Quite simply, Bultarra Australian Saltbush Lamb is the superior lamb product exported from unique native pastures in Australia.
Bultarra Australian Saltbush Lambs are grazed on the unique Saltbush based pastures in the pristine natural environment of the Australian outback. The lamb is seasoned on the hoof with robust and rich flavours while still delicate enough to carry exceptional spice blends and an exceptional fresh clean taste.
For more information visit https://saltbushlivestock.com.au/
Sambell Organic is a family run farm producing high quality grass-fed organic angus beef.
From humble beginnings as butchers, the Sambell family began farming angus in 1970. The farm has expanded over time by focusing on herd genetics breeding award winning Angus cattle. Stephen and Emma are now continuing the family’s dream of supplying organic grass fed, high marbling angus beef.
Sambell Organic has been farming using organic techniques for more than 25 years, and officially transitioned into a certified organic farm in 2011.
Using naturally sourced products greatly improves the soil, the grass, and benefits the health of the cattle. The cattle are handled with care in a low stress environment, which leads to their tender, juicy high marbling organic Angus beef.
Greg and Jodi Clarke farm free-range Aylesbury ducks on their 16-hectare property overlooking Port Campbell, near the Twelve Apostles and Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
They began with 30 ducklings in 2009. The couple chose the Aylesbury ducks for its historical connections. It is the classic English table duck and was wildly popular in the 19th century.
In late 2012 they began rearing Pekins (and feeding them strawberries and other fruits). In 2020 they have close to 3000-3500 ducks roaming their beautiful property.
After finding that a lot of their customers struggled with ideas on how to cook duck, they created their cookbook 'Just Duck'. Their aim was to demystify cooking duck with their simple and easy to follow recipes.
For more information visit https://greatoceanducks.com/