Gooralie pigs roam free

Gooralie pigs roam free


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Mark and Charisse Ladner, Gooralie free-range pork, with two of their children, Bonnie and Tiggy, at the family property. - <i>Picture: MELISSA GLADMAN.</i>

Mark and Charisse Ladner, Gooralie free-range pork, with two of their children, Bonnie and Tiggy, at the family property. - Picture: MELISSA GLADMAN.

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ROAMING unrestricted under clouded skies, young piglets squeal with delight as their mother wallows in ankle deep mud, happy and healthy - together and free.

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ROAMING unrestricted under clouded skies, young piglets squeal with delight as their mother wallows in ankle deep mud, happy and healthy - together and free.

Sixteen years ago, when Mark and Charisse Ladner took over and developed the mixed sheep, cattle and grain farm an hour north of Goondiwindi, the couple never thought they would be dreaming up catchy sales pitches.

"Tickle your fork with Gooralie free-range pork" could be just the words to bring a smile to the face, even before you've put your fork anywhere near their tender pork product.

"We were farmers," Mark laughed, still a little amazed at how their business and life has changed, thanks to a decision to think outside the box to meet financial obligations.

When Mark and Charisse did their sums in 1999, it was obvious they needed to diversify. After a lot of market exploration, they settled upon a free range piggery as the best choice to not only give them their financial freedom but also to drought-proof the business, satisfy environmental and welfare sustainability priorities, and deliver a superb eating experience.

While the Ladners still have cattle and grain, their APIQ accredited free range piggery now accounts for more than 70 per cent of their business.

"There were free-range systems already in Australia, but mostly small. We knew we had to be large enough to have a continuous supply, build brand awareness and be commercially viable," Mark said.

"The feedback we were getting was that free range pork supply ebbed and flowed. We knew we had to stand behind our product and supply weekly."

They initially targeted a 500-sow piggery, established in 2004, but are more than double that size now.

They've been able to establish a powerless site, where all systems are complementary and gravity fed.

The Ladners grow and add their own grain to feed to their pigs and have made it an integrated system by composting all the manure to put back on the paddocks.

A bore supplies water to paddocks and the piggery and power is supplied through a solar system.

All Gooralie pigs have the freedom to truffle, play and wallow in mud. No teeth or tails are cut, and none of them are nose-ringed in accordance with being an RSPCA-approved farming scheme piggery. Pigs are hierarchical creatures, Mark said, and so the 500-acre site is hot-wired and internally fenced to keep family groups at an optimum 30 to 35 sows per paddock.

Mark said staff were integral to the wellbeing and productivity of the animals, with Gooralie employing one staff member to every 150 sows.

It's more than an intensive operation uses but is necessary for a free-range operation where sows can farrow in locations that are exposed to the elements.

"They need supreme husbandry skills and it makes a difference to productivity," Mark said.

"We believe free range gives the animals a better life, and that flows on to the taste of the meat."

The term "happy as a pig in mud" comes to mind when Mark lists the traits that the only RSPCA-approved piggery in Queensland can boast - free from antibiotics, free from hormone growth promotants, chemical residue-free, and GM-free.

As well as the animal care elements previously mentioned, pigs have constant access to fresh water and feed and are protected from the elements and predators.

Gooralie sells whole carcases direct to butchers in all of the east coast capital cities and in towns up and down the coast, and is now in the early stages of marketing value-added lines such as ham, bacon and individual cuts through the Borrowdale brand.

It's a partnership that is working well to reach consumers looking for good-eating, Australian and sustainably produced pork.

"People really need to support Australian grown products," Mark said. "We live on an island and we have the best produce in the world.

"Free range pork is more expensive because the cost of production is higher, but there's no better quality food one can choose."

The Ladners truly offer a happy eating experience in all senses of the word.

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