Mark and Charisse Ladner, the innovative Queensland farmers behind Gooralie Free-Range Pork, are featured in the current issue of rural publication Go Farmer. We love their story and thought you might too!
After taking over the family farm in 1999 and producing beef, lamb and grain, Mark and Charisse ventured into free-range pig farming. Gooralie Free-Range Pork is now the longest standing RSPCA Approved piggery in Australia and the only approved pig farm in Queensland, with all their pigs living the good life on their 10,000 acre property near Goondiwindi. Mark and Charisse supply an ethical free-range product that customers can trust has come from pigs that enjoy the freedom of being able to forage, root and wallow in the mud, exhibiting their natural behaviours at all times.
RSPCA: Firstly, well done on participating in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme for more than a decade – that’s a really great achievement! Offering customers a pork product that’s Australian, has been raised humanely, and has a focus on sustainability is a big deal.
Mark: Thanks – we’re proud of what we have achieved to date. We think it’s really important to be able to offer customers a branded free-range product from an Australian farm that exhibits good farming practices, especially when more than 70% of processed pork products are imported from overseas. It’s definitely possible to raise pigs in a free range, higher welfare environment and still be commercially viable. We’re currently supplying more than twelve hundred carcasses a month. Our brand is stocked in many specialty stores and butchers in Queensland and NSW.
What’s your property set up at the moment?
Mark: The piggery side of our farm is now the core of our business. We have a great team who work together for the bigger picture and they have a strong commitment to growing animal welfare friendly free-range pork. We continue to run cattle and produce grain and we incorporate the grain into the feed for our pigs. We want them to be able to have a natural, nutritiously balanced diet, free of any chemical residue, antibiotics or hormone growth promotants.
Why did you decide to get into pig farming?
Charisse: We’ve been beef, lamb and grain farmers for many years and we wanted to diversify the business in order to drought proof it. Mark decided upon pigs and then did extensive research. We recognised a gap in free-range pork and wanted to hit this niche market. We knew very little about pigs but knew that we wanted to raise them in a free-range setting and have an all-natural ethos.
Why is it important for pigs to live outdoors?
Charisse: We’ve always said, if we were a pig, how would we want to live? A free-range setting, coupled with a strong focus on animal welfare, gives the pig a better life. A better life lends itself to a stress-free existence and ultimately a more tender, flavour filled, succulent meat. We believe that the supreme taste of the meat is attributed to the way we grow it. Our pigs are literally ‘as happy as pigs in mud’. For sows, being able to raise their piglets in individual straw filled huts allows them to express their natural nesting behaviours, simultaneously being protected from the elements and predators. The piggery is set on 800 acres within our property. The area that houses the pigs has space for up to 35 sows per paddock. Pigs are really social and being able to establish family groups is important for their wellbeing.
Mark: We believe our humane production system and fine-tuning over the years is the reason why the quality and taste of our pork is superior. We are also fortunate that we have been able to expand throughout the years. We pride ourselves on being able to deliver a consistent quality article.
What does it mean to be RSPCA Approved?
Mark: Being RSPCA Approved means that our pigs enjoy an environment that lets them socialise with each other and express their natural behaviours. Pigs at Gooralie are free range and have access to fresh water, feed, and mud wallows. We don’t perform tail docking and teeth clipping. We enjoy seeing them in a natural environment.
Charisse: We’re proud to be able to tell our customers that we’re RSPCA Approved. With more people curious about how their food gets from the paddock to their plate, we definitely witness support for animal welfare friendly farmed pork. Butchers love being able to tell their discerning customers that Gooralie Free-Range Pork is RSPCA Approved and a brand they can trust.
Can you tell us a little bit about the environmental and sustainable side of your farm?
Mark: The piggery runs on a solar power system and the feed and water systems are all gravity fed. We take the compost from the pigs (which is a lot), and spread it over our farming country as fertiliser. The results have been outstanding and we love being able to utilise this matter to improve another part of our enterprise. We enjoy trying to make the system as self-sufficient as possible.
Gooralie is very much a family business. How are your children involved on farm?
Charisse: We have three children. Are they going to return home and partake in the family business – who knows? They have grown up in the country though and have a strong connection to it. Regarding the pigs, the fact that they have interacted within the piggery from a tender age displays how laidback the pigs are. This is only due to the outstanding animal husbandry practices displayed by the staff in the piggery and it makes us proud to think that a “suggestion” in 1999 became a reality.