These little piggies are going to market

The Southern Farmer
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Community Supported Agriculture with its annual subscriptions allows boutique producers like Angelo Greco of Taggart’s Paddock Pork to continue to produce ethical, top quality meat at a reasonable price. Grown out for over a year, these Berkshire/Large Black crosses are at an ideal weight when they are processed, with a superior quality flavour and fat from those extra months being paddock raised.

Taggart’s Paddock Pork was initially a chat over a couple of drinks, sitting on the deck of Angelo Greco’s Taggerty-based property.

“I knew this guy who had moved to Gippsland and he had these heritage breed pigs, Large Blacks, and I was telling my friend Danny all about them,” Angelo said.

Danny Dalton, who had spent a summer in France working on a free-range piggery, was intrigued, and the conversation turned to the two of them purchasing a couple of pigs and rearing them for a spit.

The talk was of parties and salami making and at this stage there was no mention of turning it into a business.

And then Taggart came along, one of the original two Large Blacks purchased, and he became the breeding boar and three breeding sows soon followed.

The breeding sows were Berkshire pigs, a breed chosen for their temperament, taste and parenting ability, and Taggart’s Paddock Pork was born.

Taggart, a massive all-black boar is now three years old.

His ears sit forward and cover his eyes at times, hindering his sight.

“He’s a good natured pig,” Angelo said, which is lucky considering he weighs in excess of 300 kilograms and sports two hefty tusks.

Angelo and Danny stagger the breeding in their small herd to give the females a break, and also to meet demand.

“We’re averaging nine to 10 piglets per litter,” Angelo said.

He and Danny are happy with this number, as they don’t want too large a variation in size with the pigs which can happen in much larger litters.

THESE LITTLE PIGGIES: Summer becomes more intensive for Angelo as wallows and water troughs need to be checked regularly, and shelters moved daily.

Initially the business sold the pork through a co-op in Coburg, however, their goal was always subscription based.

“Community Supported Agriculture or CSA was the best fit for our product,” Angelo said.

“We’re not breeding for the hell of breeding, we know where our subscriptions are at and how much we need each month and we cater accordingly.

“We have three litters of pigs at the moment at different stages and this will see us through the year, with our subscriptions starting this December and ending the same time next year.

“And the land is only a certain size,” Angelo adds.

Taggart’s Paddock Pork is a 34 acre farmlet overlooking the Cathedral Ranges in Taggerty.

Originally a weekender, the property was covered in blackberries and bracken when Angelo and his wife, Catherine, bought it five and a half years ago.

It was a haven for deers, kangaroos and rabbits, and a massive undertaking for a soon to be family of three.

Off-grid and self-sufficient there are vegie patches surrounding the house and an orchard, tended by Catherine, a landscape architect by trade.

A dam has been built and irrigation laid around the farm, and there are sheep and chickens kept for personal use.

The original plan had been to run a bed and breakfast, and the accommodation still exists but is rented out on a more permanent basis now.

As a boy growing up in Kyabram, Angelo had no interest in farming at all, preferring football, and a future as a draughtsman.

Catherine’s family is from Yea and a horticultural background growing berries for a living, and so farming was a more natural progression for her.

Both Angelo and Catherine still work in their chosen professions, with Taggart’s Paddock Pork becoming a hobby farm that pays for itself.

Danny lives in Melbourne, but spends his weekends bringing up mash for the pigs or assisting with castration and fencing.

He’s there when the pigs go to the abattoir in Wangaratta, and there at the Thornton Butcher when the meat is being processed, sorted, cryovaced and delivered.

Danny is also responsible for the sales side of the business, and when Angelo and Danny put on a stall at the local market selling pork rolls it’s Danny who’s great at cooking and amazing with flavours.

It is the flavor of the meat itself which also distinguishes Taggart’s Paddock Pork from other producers, and commands a loyal following for their annual subscription.

“It’s the breed itself and the fact that it is grown out in the open air, that makes the product amazing,” Angelo said.

“Commercial piggeries grow pigs out to six or seven months and then send the pig to slaughter.

“It’s a year plus for Taggart’s Paddock Pork, and this is a result of fine tuning the diet and ensuring we don’t overfeed and then taking ageing into consideration.

“When we first started rearing pigs, we had some with too much fat, some with too little, and we now have a really good balance.

“At a year old, we’ve got the fat content right and it produces better bacon, better cuts in general, and the overall size of the beast is the right size for our subscriptions so that people get a good variety of cuts in their packs,” Angelo said.

The pigs are usually sent to slaughter when they weigh between 85 and 90kgs.

Any larger and older and the pigs eat more exponentially and the land itself begins to suffer.

“We have the perfect amount of pigs on the property at the moment,” Angelo said.

“We are opening up another three acres of paddocks at the back of the property specifically to rest the land better and rotate the pigs onto new pasture.

“The paddocks are looking okay at the moment as we weren’t so heavily stocked over winter, but with our current situation and the three litters we won’t get to rest the land unless we open up the new paddocks, and this is a priority.”

With the health of the land also comes the health of the pig, with Angelo supplementing their feed with seasonal fruit from local orchards when it is available, and Catherine planting numerous hazelnut trees to become future feed.

“The pigs’ main diet consists of mash from the Mansfield Brewery or the Kinglake Whiskey Distillery combined with commercial grains, lupins, vitamins and minerals,” Angelo said.

“The mash could be a combination of hops, corn, grain or barley, which has been cooked with water and is discarded from the distilling process.

“We are quite vigilant and restrict scraps to ensure the health of the pigs.”

This is their main consideration when it comes to biosecurity.

The possibility of swine fever reaching Australian shores has Taggart’s Paddock Pork moderately worried.

“Australia is pretty good at stopping things at borders though,” Angelo said.

“And if it means we have to be more vigilant, lock gates and stop the occasional school group or TAFE group that wants to tour our property, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”

However, with healthy pigs ethically grown out in glorious surrounds, swine fever should hopefully not represent a threat.

And for all those who eagerly sign up for their annual CSA subscription to Taggart’s Paddock Pork, their yearly supply of pork is assured.

More farming news and stories can be read in the December, 2019 print edition of The Southern Farmer or click here to access digital editions.