As I mentioned in my last post, a television program about the inhumane treatment of Australian export animals in overseas abattoirs has provoked a great deal of public discussion in Australia about the transport of live cattle to other countries. I believe there is no point in being squeamish about the slaughter of livestock if one is a meat-eater. It has to get onto our plate – dead – one way or another. However, I also believe that some respect is due to the beast that has given it’s life and that a civilised society has a responsibility to ensure that life is taken as humanely as possible.
I worked in the domain of animal welfare for many years and know that animal activists frequently take the moral high ground whenever subjects like this arise in the media, but I also know they are not the only ones with a conscience or a stake in the field of animal welfare. Much of the current anguished discourse around the recent situation has come from the very people who send cattle off for live transport. The farmers who breed and raise these beasts are genuinely concerned for the well-being of their livestock and gain no benefit from the diminishing of meat quality which is the inevitable result of inflicting pain and stress on meat animals. Indeed, their knowledge of the negative impact of stress upon the quality of their meat has led one local producer – Savannah Lamb – to a complete overhaul of their farming practices.
Savannah Lamb is the fruit of a collaboration between husband and wife Phil and Michele Lally of the Clare Valley. Phil’s family have farmed their patch of South Australia’s Clare Valley for almost 100 years and Michele is a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who had noticed a difference in the taste and quality of the lamb she cooked which was killed on their property, as distinct from the same lamb that had been commercially processed. It had also been of some concern to them both that the lambs which they cared for so carefully for nine months, often hand rearing the weak or abandoned, were treated so perfunctorily at the stock sale yards. While accepting the inevitability of their fate, Michele felt a responsibility for the circumstances of their ultimate destiny and was uncomfortable with her lack of control over the final stages leading up to the slaughter.
With her conscience nipping at her heels, Michele was convinced that they could produce a superior lamb product by reducing the stress on their stock and altering their feeding program. It took some time to convince Phil’s traditional farming family that the proposed alternative methods were going to be worth it, but Michele is nothing, if not determined and their product, Savannah Lamb was born.
Savannah Lambs are treated differently right from the beginning of their life. The reproduction cycle of their ewes has been slightly tweaked so that they lamb a little earlier than other flocks, given the lambs a better chance of survival in the milder weather. In a large flock of lambing ewes it can be easy for a slightly slow or weak new lamb to become separated from it’s mother – and then it has no chance of survival. In the thick of the lambing season the Lally paddocks are checked three times a day for lost, injured or abandoned lambs which are then taken in for hand feeding. Last year Michele hand reared 80 lambs and has fed more than 30 so far this year. Those that are not hand reared are carefully monitored and each lamb is checked and weighed on a weekly basis.
Their sheep are raised in a natural environment free of preservatives, hormones or chemicals using stress-free handling procedures and, when they are old enough, they are taken in small groups to a local abattoir for slaughter. Here, once again, they are handled efficiently without the use of kicking, electric prods, dogs or raised voices and are dealt with promptly and humanely.
The success of their product has demonstrated to Michele and Phil that their step out of the industrialised food cycle is paying off. While this is a more labour-intensive method of raising lambs Michele is not afraid of hard work. She is justifiably proud of the humane and ethical philosophies which have resulted in a superior meat that is catching the attention of consumers and chefs alike. Their direct mail order sales are growing quickly and their premium product is soon to be on the menu in some of Adelaide’s finest restaurants. While they still have room for expansion they are determined to maintain their status as a sustainable and family run business in order to maintain the strict quality control which has been so vital to their success.[mc4wp_form id="16750"]