Selecting the right lamb

Selecting the right lamb

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The small family-run operation which supplies lamb to consumers' doorsteps.

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PASSION: Tim and Katherine Pilkington with their five children run Benview Farms, supplying lamb to consumers direct from the paddock. Photo by von Maedler Photography.

PASSION: Tim and Katherine Pilkington with their five children run Benview Farms, supplying lamb to consumers direct from the paddock. Photo by von Maedler Photography.

When Katherine Pilkington fell pregnant with her second set of twins in 2018, she and her husband Tim knew a move was on the cards.

The couple along with their then-three children packed their bags and relocated from the Western District to the NSW-Victorian border.

While Mrs Pilkington admits the plan was partially due to a more favourable climate with warmer weather, the move to centralise their operation would allow them to tap into markets in Sydney and Canberra.

Together the pair run Benview Farms, a paddock to plate business which produces free range premium composite lambs selected at the farmgate and delivered direct to the consumer.

"When I found out we were having another set of twins, I wasn't totally surprised but it put things into perspective," she said.

"People say double trouble but I say double the fun."

Having a second set of twins, Tom and James, who turn two at the end of the month, meant the Pilkingtons had to adjust their operation and put on hold their plans of running a mixed farming enterprise.

Following the sale of their broadacre properties in the Pyrenees region, the couple were looking at ways to re-enter the industry following increased demand for free range meat about the time the pandemic began to cause food shortages across metropolitan Melbourne.

"We're in the process of getting another property and between moving up here, we downsized and then at the start of COVID when everyone cleared the shelves out in Melbourne, people were begging us for meat," Mrs Pilkington said.

"We were not supplying at that stage and a lot of consumers turned online."

With degrees in agricultural science and their finger firmly on the pulse of what their clientele wanted, the pair went in search of a farmer who shared their same principles.

"Consumers were fearful and we were lucky to be remote anyway so we wanted to help them as much as we could," Mrs Pilkington said.

Eventually they formed a relationship with a farmer at Wagga Wagga and entered into an agreement that he would supply the lambs which would be then suitably selected and sold under the Benview Farms brand.

The small but mighty operation prides itself not only on good customer service, but the quality of meat it produces.

"Each month we're averaging about 10 lambs and there's a couple of factors," Mrs Pilkington said.

"We could do probably double that but working with the local butcher we have to work with them to process the meat to our specifications.

"We've been slowly growing but now things are opening up again we have capacity to go into Sydney and Canberra given we're now on the border."

Previously, Benview Farms would sell a majority of its meat through farmers markets and click and deliver sales, however, the company has shifted its focus to monthly deliveries to make the venture more streamlined for the Pilkingtons and more cost effective for consumers.

"We used to do pieces so you could get smaller amounts but to make it sustainable for everybody, we sell them as a whole lamb or half lamb," she said.

One of the ways Benview Farms is attempting to improve the taste of its lamb is by allowing the lamb to hang for up to five days after slaughter to improve the tenderness of the cuts.

This, along with low-stress techniques such as transporting their animals in smaller groups in a trailer, helps improve the life and wellbeing of the animal.

Mrs Pilkington referred to them as the "one percenters", which helped grow the brand.

"Time is money for butchers and supermarkets but being a small producer like us, we can afford to take our time to offer a premium product," she said.

"The whole process from when we're growing and hand selecting them to go to processing and keeping them quiet is really important to us."

Lambs are processed according on their condition, as opposed to age with an average lamb usually processed by Tallangatta Meat Processors at 40 kilograms dressed weight.

From there, the product is sent to Locky's Countryside Meats where it is butchered to specification, cryovaced and delivered to consumers.

Since taking a backseat from farmers' markets, which helped Benview Farms develop a loyal supporter base, the business has largely relied on the power of social media including Facebook and Instagram to share its story.

The couple complement each other nicely, according to Mrs Pilkington, whose family were in the restaurant trade while Tim is a generational farmer.

"He loves the producing and I love the eating so it's the perfect marriage for the paddock to plate," Mrs Pilkington said.

"It's also about being able to teach our kids how to grow food and give them the appreciation of what farmers do."

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