We started our adventure at the end of 2011, though we'd been looking for a tree-change for a full 6 years previously. Our aim was to achieve a self-sufficient lifestyle where we grew all of our own vegetables, fruit, and meat, or as much as was practical, and do so in a way that was both environmentally sound and met our own ethical/moral requirements.
I've always had a veggie patch and fruit trees, and I did them pretty well if I do say so myself. My suburban house block was at critical mass for veggies, fruit, chooks, and ducks, and I figured it'd be relatively easy to just expand that to a few acres in the country. Oh how naïve I was.
At the same time, we wanted to expand into growing our own meat. The state of intensively farmed animals, particularly pigs and chickens, is abhorrent, and we wanted to try and do things properly. Much like the permaculture philosophy/model we used in our gardening, which follows an ethos of thinking globally but acting locally, we wanted to effect change in our lives with the aim of having a broader impact. Initially, we'd assumed that growing the meat would be the hard part, but again were naïve. Don't get me wrong - raising pigs is far from easy. However, if faced with playing with a dozen piglets or digging a 400 square meter veggie patch, I'll take the piglets every day of the week.
The long-term plan was to raise pigs. They are the ultimate meat animal, and at the same time probably the most ill-treated meat animal in the world. However, they require a whole other level of infrastructure and husbandry, so we figured we'd start slow and work our way up to pigs. Of course, as with most things, we were running before learning to walk, and had our first pigs within 8 months of moving in to our country dream life.
It didn't take long before we'd raised sheep, goats, cows, pigs, ducks, and chickens for meat. That meant that it also didn't take long before we had excess. We are a family with a healthy appetite, but we could never keep up with the quality meat we were producing. That meant we were able to share our lifestyle with our friends, which was amazing. We know a lot of people who feel similarly to us but who don't have the opportunity to raise their own animals. We were able to offer them not only the meat we raised, but also the opportunity to come and see how it was raised and to see the difference that real husbandry can make, not only to the animal's life but also to the quality of the meat.
Eating meat is a choice. We need to eat, but we don't need to eat meat. The fact is that an animal dies when we choose to eat meat, and more and more people are facing the fact that many of those animals are treated terribly. The result is a greater demand for ethically raised meat. This realization led to the evolution of our dream to a commercial venture, and it will evolve further.
Right now we are able to raise our beasts, take them to a registered abattoir, and then deliver the meat. The property is registered for that purpose, the animals are marked appropriately, there are rules/documentation covering the transport of the live animals, and the refrigerated trailer carrying the meat is accredited. However, right now all we can do is pick up the meat and deliver it - we can't value-add nor can we even repackage it.
Our next evolution will be twofold. Firstly, we're looking at expanding to an additional, larger property. We were close to doing just that only a couple of months ago, but it didn't work out. We're on the lookout now for more land, probably 100+ acres, after which we'll expand to 12 sows and 2 boars, plus cows/sheep to graze. Secondly, we're investigating the legalities/logistics of an industrial kitchen and cold room. Our aim there is to be able to value-add through products like bacon and home-made sausages.
We also want to hold workshops showing people how to process the beasts we raise - butchering, sausage making, bacon making etc. These are things we've done extensively ourselves and have shared with friends, and they are a lot of fun. I think our end-game will be to implement a Community-Supported Agriculture model, which is where the real value will lie for the punters.
In the meantime, we keep doing what we're doing, which is producing healthy, happy animals. Feel free to follow us on Face Book , Twitter, and Instagram, and also check out our blog. Drop us a line if you have any questions.
UPDATE (January, 2016):
We've had some huge changes at The Atherton Farms! We've changed our business model slightly, and started to sell at a local market. It had never really occurred to us to pursue this earlier, but an opportunity presented itself so we thought we'd give it a go. As it turns out, it went amazingly well. :) Selling at market lets us reach a huge number of people, all of whom have to suffer through me banging on about ethically grown meat.
We are in the process of changing markets, and will be at the Adelaide Farmers' Markets at Wayville every Sunday from January 10th, 2016, and their market in Gawler every Saturday from January 30th, 2016. This is THE market in South Australia. We love it as it is a true farmers' market, with everybody being a producer, everything being local to the state, and a strict ban on re-sellers. It fits our ethos perfectly.
At the same time, we managed to find our bigger property, though it took much more effort than I thought it would. Lending on rural properties has apparently become much harder over recent years, and it took us a couple of years to find a bank that would take our money. That battle is done though, and we found a lovely farmlet about 80 km north of us that will allow us to expand the way we want. We have purchased a small proven breeding herd of heritage pigs, and will shortly be settling them into their new home. We will also be expanding our production as quickly as we can, as we expect the markets demand to be much, much higher than our current capacity. We've basically signed up to an incredible amount of work that has to be finished in a very short time, but what's new? :)
We still plan to build our own accredited boning room so we're able to value-add to the amazing meat we grow. That is definitely our next step, but it may be a year or two away. Stay tuned...
UPDATE (December, 2016):
We're expanding our business model to include a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offering. The full details can be found here, but this will allow our loyal customers to purchase CSA shares pre-production by way of a monthly delivery. This is effectively a bulk-buy scheme, without the initial outlay or need to freeze entire beasts.