On about 100 acres of biodynamic farmland, located just along the Murray River, outside the little township of Barham in Southern NSW there are about 70 sows and their piglets that many would say are living the life.
Fed with nothing but love from husband and wife duo Lachy and Lauren Mathers, the sows are bred to help cater for their smallgoods and charcuterie business, Bundarra Berkshires.
For Lauren it has always been about caring for her pigs first.
“It starts with our animal welfare first because that gives us a great product,” she said.
Having grown up on a farm, and then later going through university studying agriculture and journalism, Lauren said she knew she would end up in farming again, but not pigs.
“I always thought I’d get into cattle farming because we had a Limousin cattle stud and so pigs were never on the card.”
She first found herself getting involved in farming again when she started her own cause of trying to help struggling farmers with mental illness through the drought. She did this by showcasing local food produce in a café she co-founded with a friend back in 2008, a store that still stands today.
“Where I come from water allocation and irrigation is the biggest issue for farmers to grow food. We’re in such an amazing climate to grow the best food because of the sunshine hours that if we don’t have irrigation, you can’t really grow anything,” she said.
“I found myself dealing with a lot of farmers in jobs that were struggling to make an income off their farms, and all this amazing food was growing in our area and so a real deep passion started for supporting local producers and food systems.”
Without any experience as a chef, Lauren recalled that on the first day of opening the café she was cooking 80 breakfasts including poaching 10 eggs at once that allowed her to go through a “steep learning curve” of how to run a kitchen.
But she said at that point something was missing, “I couldn’t find good pork or rare breed pigs; I just found that element of our café could have really been improved.”
This sparked the idea for Lauren to start a little pig collection at home, with their first sow named Doris.
“When we started to get a few pigs I realised I really loved them and they became quite addictive. We just started collecting these animals. My husband Lachy was like, ‘What are you doing? We don’t have any land!’ We just had orchard on our rural block. Doris lived on the back step for a while.”
Fortunate enough Lachy’s dad owned a farm down the road from the pair’s home and they were able to expand their farming that way, before purchasing the farms around their house.
“From there we just kept building. We went to a lot of farmers market and then threw heaps of samples at restaurants. We found we had a really good product because we were so passionate about our animals, how we raised them being totally free range, and how well their diet was,” Lauren said.
But the issue that arose then was that they couldn’t find a good butcher.
“I thought I guess I’ll just have to do that as well. I’ve always been heavily influenced by my parents for cooking food, and cooking our own food on the farm so killing animals has been a normal part of our life,” Lauren said.
The couple now has their own farmstead butchery on their property, something that, Lauren said, she did not plan. These days while Lachy is running his family’s transport business, Lauren is producing nitrate- and preservative-free smallgoods and charcuterie.
“I’m trying to set this up to run as a couple full-time, or so that’s the plan. It’d be nice if a restaurant overseas were using our smallgoods. But we have to be careful in how we grow because I want to maintain the quality. We can only make as much stuff as we grow the pigs.”