I am such a sucker for cute baby farm animals. So when Phil Stringer from Tamworth Flyers mentioned that his sows had just had a batch of piglets that week, I was out there! Pronto!
Well, that was not the only reason. Tamworth Flyers had been on my radar for a little while. I had heard the words ‘free range’ and ‘ethical’ mentioned in association with ‘pork’ and ‘bacon’ and decided it needed further exploration.
Now, the words ‘free range’ get bandied about a bit when it comes to pork and pig farming which leads me to conclude that some farmers are in serious need of a dictionary so that they may be enlightened as to what that actually means.
Phil Stringer, however, needs no enlightening, nor a dictionary. He not only knows the true meaning, he has added his own definition.
These are Phil’s words…
“If only the prominent appearance of the ‘free’ word meant more than a minor detour from the intensive animal husbandry path. If only we realised that for a pig to act freely, she needs a setting she would choose herself.
“For pigs are creatures of the forest. And our beautiful purebred Tamworth pigs are much happier under the shade of a banana or wattle tree than a tin shed (they can’t eat the shed for a start!). They appear to delight in gathering all the materials they need to build their nests. They get to express their creativity and individuality in where they choose to site their nests, and how they build them.”
And they are not just words, they are backed up with actions, and his pigs experience exactly as described.
Let me backtrack a bit.
Tamworth Flyers is based at Mothar Mountain, just south of Gympie. The property where Phil grazes his pigs is unique in that it is pretty much free range too. There is no confined cultivation going on here, it’s kind of an ‘everything is as it should be’ kind of property. You are not going to find manicured lawns or topiary fruit trees, and you are especially not going to find confined or enslaved animals.
What you will find is wild tussocks of lush grass, patches of cassava, taro and other tubers, grown especially for his piggies.
His pigs, Tamworths, a less common ginger breed originating from the UK, live in a paradise. The sows get brought offerings of all of the above to enjoy… it is their bonus for producing the 16 piglets, which I might add, are absolutely gorgeous!
Phil is not greedy. To ensure that the he maintains the quality of his property, he only has the 3 sows and their progeny… and Charles Kingsford, the handsome boar, who looked to me, quite proud of his bountiful offspring… he has been a busy boy. They have plenty of space to roam free and are moved from one plot to another so as to not tax the land too much. Pigs, left to their own devices, uproot the earth, foraging vigorously for succulent tubers, many of which Phil has planted for them, for that exact purpose. So they can make a bit of a mess… but Phil has it covered. He also grazes cattle, which follow from plot to plot, evening out the land that the pigs so vigorously uproot – what a great system!
You only need to look at the boundary lines of the land, in comparison, to Phil’s neighbours. It is regenerative farming at its best.
Pigs aside, Phil has also been cultivating a lot of roots and tubers such as cassava, yam and taro – he makes a pretty awesome cassava cake. Living on the Sunshine Coast, these underestimated crops grow especially well, and while he does grow them predominantly for the spoiling and pampering of his pigs, he has been exploring these crops for human consumption as well. If the cassava cake is anything to go by, I’m in.
Phil actually sent me home with this massive cassava root, and it was cassava chippies for dinner that night – YUM!
Having said that, the rest of the community has yet to catch on. Asian countries have been utilising these crops for generations, while we are still stuck on our predominately potato and three veg diet, discarding the notion that we should be growing what grows well in our climate, rather than pushing the barrow up hill, so to speak, trying to grow things that are clearly not suited to our sub tropical climate *step down from soap box*.
While I am not suggesting that we should just live on cassava and taro roots, I do think that it warrants further exploration, and I am glad there are people like Phil that are pioneering the process.
So, back to the piggies… all sixteen of these adorable little creatures. Phil wheels the barrow (down hill just in case you are wondering) to the sow’s enclosure. Well, it is hardly an enclosure. It is just an electrical charged wire that runs the perimeter. The piglets wander in and out, but they never venture far from their mothers. There are these massive mounds of twigs that the sows amassed and turned into their nests in which they gave birth to their young. They are quite the architectural feat, shading them from the harsh afternoon sun and providing shelter and a hiding place while the piglets are relatively inactive. As first I didn’t even see the piglets, they were so well hidden.
The mothers, well, they see Phil coming with his spoils, and they are not really that interested in their babies just this moment. One or two get a little nudge, when they get in the way of the food, which leads me to believe that there are moments where pigs do fly…
Which brings me to the name ‘Tamworth Flyers’. Phil has quite the sense of humour, and the ‘Flyers’ is reference to his family’s aviation background, his father having been in the air force. All his pigs are named after famous aviators, Nancy (Nancy Bird Walton), Maude (Maude Bonney) and Freda (Freda Mary Thompson) – a popular name for pigs it seems, we had a pig called Freda as well – though she was named after my dad (Fred – not an aviator). Then of course, the handsome and incredibly efficient boar, Charles Kingsford(Charles Kingsford Smith).
Phil makes many ‘pigs might fly’ references, which is perhaps owing to a utopian believe that one day we will all see the merits of ethical farming, free range livestock and a greater consciousness of what we eat and where it comes from… but then again… pigs might fly… but there are those of us that live in hope 🙂 When you speak to Phil, you can’t discount the fact, that with more passion like his, pigs just may well fly!
Visiting Phil’s farm is an enjoyable experience. Seeing the pigs so free, and so looked after, is divine. They looked so cute with their grubby little noses, proof of a busy morning forage. We wander from paddock to paddock, visiting piggies at various stages of growth, in their pre-prep for the dinner table. This is the bit that most people find a bit unpalatable, but for me it is the part that gives the greatest joy, it is ethical farming at its absolute best.
If you would like to know why ethical farming practices are so important, please read this: Ethical farming practices…
So the pigs graze and forage until they reach 6 months, at which point Phil organises them for them to be ‘processed’ by a local butcher at Kandanga, so that he can offer the meat direct to the public – no middleman – straight to you, the consumer. There are no preservatives, or additives, no growth hormones or any other nasties that you can think of. Just pure, free-range pork.
Just in case you are wondering. There is a difference. In fact a huge difference. The actual texture of the meat is the first thing I noticed – it is much more compact, but succulently tender and full of flavour. The fat doesn’t feel as fatty – ok, it may just be my perception, but the flavour is definitely far superior to your supermarket pork. The colour is also different. It is not the insipid pink of supermarket pork – it is almost deep red – in the way duck meat is a deep red in comparison to chicken. I would attribute this to their free-range foraging diet, as opposed to grain. And the bacon – sensational. I got some nitrate-free bacon, which is a bit grey, due to it being nitrate free, but the flavour, ahhh, bacon and eggs never tasted quite so good.
Due to the smaller scale farming practices, Phil can hardly keep up with demand. He sells his pork, by order, buy the ¼ or ½ beast, or you can visit the Dagun Station Growers Market where you can buy smaller quantities direct from Phil when available, so that you can give it a try – I guarantee you will be back for more. It is also available through the farm shop at Melsted Park and Eumundi Beef – but make sure you order to avoid disappointment.
To find out more about Phil. Visit his profile on the Sunshine Coast Food Directory, or send him an email to be put on his email list, so you can be kept informed as to when and where his pork is available.
Email Phil: firstname.lastname@example.org
And remember to support farmers like Phil – these are the farmers we need to protect and support, as they are the farmers that are going to ensure that we continue to have ethically raised meat, and to demonstrate how free range operations can be maintained, and we can continue to hope, that pigs, may indeed fly, one day.
This story was written by Petra Frieser – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds