Pork, in all its forms, is so readily available that it can be a surprise to hear a pig farmer say, ‘One of the hardest obstacles we have faced is to get people to understand what pork should really taste like,’ but that has been the case for Bronwyn and Michael Cowan who own and operate Gypsy Pig on their property in Darnum, West Gippsland in Victoria.
The Cowans breed what are termed rare breed pigs; Large Blacks, Tamworths and Wessex Saddlebacks. Rare breed pigs are animals that are not currently used in commercial pork production and because of this their populations are under threat.
As the Cowans continue to breed these pigs, they create a demand for them which means the consumer can have a direct hand in saving these species by buying the pork produced from them.
Piglets at the Gypsy Pig farm drink only their mother’s milk for the first two weeks, then gradually eat more solids as the milk supply naturally decreases. By the time they are weaned at 8-12 weeks they are eating the same food as their mother. All the pigs are fed a daily ration of milled grain mix which contains grains such as wheat, barley, sorghum and maize and produces a meat with a distinct earthiness, slight sweetness and a fleshy, delicious texture.
The pigs on Cowan’s farm live in social groups: a breeding group of a male and several females; a sow with her litter, or groups of the same sex and similar age. Each group has their own 2 acre paddock with a shed for shelter and each paddock is defined by electric tape.
The male pigs are used for fresh meat at 6-8 months old and the females for their bacon at 10-12 months old. Bronwyn explains, ‘Generally the Tamworths are leaner than the Large Blacks due to their temperaments, Large Blacks are placid, the Tamworths very active. Being free range for their whole life means the muscles develop naturally and the meat in both breeds is darker in colour than commercial pork.’
With a farm staff of just one (Bronwyn) and Michael looking after the marketing side of things, Gypsy Pig is growing slowly but surely and the Cowans certainly want to spread the word that free-range pork is worth eating. ‘People have had bad experiences with pork,’ explains Bronwyn, ‘they have been buying anonymous meat from supermarkets, which can be dry and tasteless and have become reluctant to buy pork again.’
Far from resigning to these difficulties, the Cowans believe time and education are the key, ‘Once people try our pork, they often come back and buy again…and again.’
If you choose to eat pork try to purchase your pork from a producer and seller of rare breeds. Look to farmers markets in your local area. It may sound odd, but if you choose to eat these rare breeds, you are also allowing the species to exist and grow as you are creating demand for their quality meat and thus, their existence.
03 5627 8201
The Gypsy Pig is at Cardinia Ranges Farmers’ Market 2nd Saturday of each month, 8am – 12pm, Pakenham Racecourse; Gasworks Farmers’ Market, 3rd Saturday of each month, 8.30am – 1pm, Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park; Slow Food Farmers’ Market, 4th Saturday of each month, 8am – 1pm, Abbotsford Convent, St Helliers St, Abbotsford
Also have a look at http://www.rbta.org/ the website for the rare breeds trust of Australia