Looking the animal in the eye
(This post was first published in our newsletter in June 2014 and was subsequently reprinted as an opinion piece in Business Insider. Since then, Lisa Boardman and Todd Dennett have relocated to a new farm where they are continuing to breed Langshans and Saulsbury Berkshires with great success. Their beautiful 'Sebastian Saulsbury' just won 'Best Pig in Show' at the 2018 Royal Easter Show.)
16 June 2014
Last Monday afternoon at about 3.30 pm we experienced a moment of deep existential angst.
We were celebrating Her Majesty's birthday by taking the country air at Fairview Farm near Camden, accompanied by the Lords and Ladies of Feather and Bone, the Queen Mother, Feral 3 and his mate. This was our second visit to the home of the pure bred Saulsbury Berkshire pigs we have been buying and we wanted to show our team where they are raised. It was an absolutely delightful and fascinating day.
On the way to Fairview, we visited Country Valley Dairy Farm near Picton, where John Fairley, the sixth generation to farm his land, proudly described the radical changes in soil and pasture health he's seen develop in the six years since he changed his land management practice and stopped using chemicals to prop up the fertility cycle. It's a direct line from his soil to you. As the soil becomes more biodynamic and fertile, the grasses growing on that soil draw more varied and increased levels of nutrition and minerals, all of which pass through the cow directly into her milk. The same milk you just poured on your cereal. (And the same milk that's used to make the butter you're spreading on your toast, that is if it's Pepe Saya butter.)
After Mr Bone had finished sniffing the Country Valley soil, we continued on to Fairview Farm near Camden, one of a small number of remaining Sydney basin farms that hasn't succumbed to the lure of the developer's dollar. It's these farms that provide the 'idyllic rural vistas' touted by real estate agents but it's exactly these picturesque farms which are under threat as demand for land near Sydney grows, the value of land rockets and the risk of rezoning as residential rather than farming looms. After all, you may not want to hear and smell the idyllic rural chooks, pigs and cows that go with your idyllic rural vistas.
The Boardmans have been living at Fairview since the 1880s when Reuben Boardman first moved onto the land and the property and buildings are steeped in classic early Sydney history. Today there are four generations of Boardmans living on the farm including the irrepressible Vic Boardman who is 93 years old and still driving, through to the equally irrepressible Reuben Dennett who is three and would drive if you gave him half a chance.
Fairview Farm, Vic Boardman, Lisa Dennett with Matilda, Reuben and Tyler
Over the last couple of decades the property wasn't farmed and fell into disrepair but the family has now embarked on an inspiring project to restore the farm to it's previous glory as a thriving, award-winning mixed farm run on sustainable farming principles. Lisa Dennett, Vic's granddaughter, tracked down the Mudgee family who had purchased Reuben Boardman's award-winning Langshan chickens back in the 1930s and found the direct descendents of the original Langshans. She returned triumphantly to Fairview with the birds and she's now breeding Reuben Boardman's Langshan chickens again. The family also decided to revive the Berkshire pig herd that had originally been part of Fairview's livestock and they managed to source pigs bred directly from the original Fairview Berkshires to set up the new herd.
Langshan chook, Fairview farm eggs, chicks
The pigs and chooks and kids are raised on the same chemical-free pastures on which their ancestors grazed, scratched and played and it was very moving and exciting to see the place coming back to life and hear the family's plans for the farm.
Saulsbury Berkshire pigs
After we'd had a delicious al fresco lunch and been entertained with stories from the extensive Boardman family repertoire (interrupted occasionally by a pack of black baby pigs hurtling past at full speed and Vic Boardman's motoring antics) we went to visit four special porkers in a paddock alongside the others.
And that's when we had The Moment.
You see, these four bright-eyed pigs, the same ones who unwittingly approached us full of curiousity and confidence, whose backs we were patting, who were pushing playfully against our legs and who were (seriously) trying to eat our boots were about to become our dinner. The next day, they would willingly file into the race, trot onto the truck and be driven half an hour down the road to Wollondilly Abattoir where they would be slaughtered, bled, eviscerated, chilled and then delivered to Feather and Bone in Marrickville on Thursday morning.
Of course, our precious little urbanite crisis about the paradox of caring so much about the way an animal lives only to kill it for our dinner no doubt seems a bit wet to farmers who have to face this fact every day. And we're not pretending that we gave those four pigs a reprieve. It's just that it was a poignant and challenging moment when we looked those lovely, healthy, contented pigs in the eyes and accepted the fact that we are partly responsible for their death.
The four pigs at Fairview on Monday, Thursday morning at Feather and Bone
There's no getting around the fact that this is the unpleasant side of what we do for a living and we may have lost some of you by telling this story. For us, the only way we can look the animal in the eye is by ensuring that we do whatever we can to support a livestock farming system that prioritises land and animal welfare and recognises that they are inextricable.
As for you, we recommend you do your best to find out where your meat came from and how it was raised. Don't take marketing claims at face value and ask questions all the time - the people selling you your food should be able to answer them. You need to know what and who you are supporting when you spend your money.
Which, of course, is your cue. Get it? Those lovely, healthy, chemical-free, pasture-raised Saulsbury porkers are now gracing our cool room and ready and waiting to grace your table. What are you waiting for? Put your orders in now!