For those of you who still enjoy a mindful meaty treat when celebrating the festive season we’ve developed a handy little list of ethical pork producers as well as some info on the truth behind free range labeling. Pigs are unfortunately one of the most poorly treated animals here in Australia, with 90% of pork products coming from factory farms where pregnant sows are often confined to stalls they cannot even turn around in. if you’re going to indulge this Christmas do it with a conscience.
In a timely coincidence The Epicure just published a Ham Jam Christmas Taste Test, so check that out too (although not all are free range).
Note: This list is by no means definitive, a quick internet search of your local area or farmers’ market producers will deliver the goods as well, or check out our Ethical Meat Suppliers Guide for butchers who specialise in free range produce.
What is free range?
Truly free range pigs at Greenvale Farm in Victoria
It can be tricky to navigate all the different food labeling in Australia, especially when it comes to the ‘free-range’ label, which has no universal definition and is thrown around far too freely. In fact the ACCC have recently cracked down on pork brands for misusing the labels and misleading consumers.
When it comes to pork, free-range means the pigs are free to roam outdoors in paddocks with access to huts and shelter, from the day they are born until slaughter. There can be no sow stalls or farrowing crates. In other words, free-range pigs are happy pigs.
The sad facts about factory farming:
- A whopping 90% of our pork products in Australia are from factory farms.
- 65% of smallgoods (pork products) sold in Australia are imported from places such as Denmark and the US.
- In factory farming, pregnant sows are confined to individual metal sow stalls, which are so small they can’t even turn around. Some farms are converting to sow stall free farming, however the sows are still housed indoors in confined ‘group housing’ stalls and farrowing crates are still used.
- Once piglets are born, the sow and the piglets are transferred to a farrowing crate, which restricts the sow’s movement to the point she is unable to interact with her young.
- Once the piglets have matured, the sow is impregnated again, and the sad cycle continues.
What to look for in labelling
- The pink label advertising Australian pork does not mean it is free range.
- Certified organic means the pigs are raised following free range practices and there are no nasty chemicals or antibiotics.
- Bred free-range means that although the pigs were conceived and born outside, they are raised inside in large sheds with straw bedding or in pens with concrete floors.
- Free-range means pigs are able to move freely outdoors in grassy paddocks with the sun on their backs and access to shelter.
- Rare-breed refers to heritage pigs that are no longer bred commercially and are in danger of becoming extinct.
- RSPCA approved could mean either the pigs are raised free-range, or indoors with no access to outside, but with higher living standards than conventional factory farming.
- If there is no label then you can almost guarantee the pig was factory farmed.
Still not sure?
Do some online research about your favourite pork brand. You may notice that ethical free-range farms are very open and transparent about how their pigs are raised, where they live and how they’re slaughtered. They’re also normally more than happy to answer your questions.
And lets talk about colour, bet you thought ham was naturally pink? Think again. When exposed to air, meat actually discolours to a grey/brown colour. Preservatives are then used to make it that appealing rosy-pink colour. If you want your Christmas lunch preservative free, ask for nitrate and nitrite-free ham.
Now you have the facts, here’s a list of some of the places you can buy your genuine free range pork this Christmas:
Greenvale Farm is dedicated to a future of sustainable agriculture. They raise free-range rare-breed pigs and offer a large range of ethical Christmas hams and fresh pork products. Their leg ham on the bone is $32 per kg. Get in quick as they have almost sold out!
Bundarra Berkshires is a bio-dynamic free-range farm located in northern Victoria on the Murray River. Order their triple smoked naturally cured free-range Christmas ham ($39 per kg), cured on the bone using local grapefruit juices and spices. (Rated best chemical-free ham by the Epicure’s Ham Jam Christmas taste test.)
Jonai farms is a family run farm located just outside Daylesford where they raise happy rare breed heritage pigs. When ordering, they offer a 2kg ($55), 3kg ($85) or 5kg ($140) box. They believe in using the whole animal with no waste and have a nose to tail approach.
Gypsy Pig is a free-range rare breed farm in West Gippsland. They sell their lovingly raised pork at Southbank Farmers’ Market, Gasworks Farmers’ Market in Albert Park and the Slow Food Farmers’ market in Abbotsford.
Salt Kitchen Charcuterie Made from free-range pork in Ballarat, their hams were given ‘best new entry’ by the Epicure.
Happy Valley Free Range Farm grow some very happy pigs. Their Christmas ham is $30 per kilo. They also do nitrate free bacon. Their products are sold at a long list of farmers markets listed here.
Cannings Free Range Butcher This is a butcher who really cares. Everything they sell is 100% free-range and sourced from some of Australia’s best producers. You can shop online or visit one of their stores in Kew, Hawthorn or Malvern. For a 10% discount on Cannings Online Store, enter the word: CRINKLE
Country Meats Direct supports Aussie farmers and sources meat straight from the farm including free-range farms such as Ajani Pork. They hope to expand to be able to service all of Sydney.
Looking for Extraordinary Pork this Christmas? They claim that their heritage breed Berkshire free-range pigs along with their slow old-fashioned cure (takes them 10 months) makes for the best ham in Dubbo! It’s $30 a kilo – sounds good to us!
Crack Willow Farm genuine free-range pork is featured on menus of restaurants around Sydney and the Blue Mountains. It’s also available for you to buy from Orange Region Farmers’ Market and Tarana Farmers’ Market.
Pre-order your pasture fed free-range Christmas ham from The Free Range Butcher now. Half a leg ham is $79.95.
Feather and Bone is an ethical butcher located in Merrickville. They are all about promoting quality over quantity when it comes to eating meat.
At Dawson Valley Free Range Pork they know that happy healthy pigs make for the tastiest pork. They raise pasture fed heritage pigs . They currently deliver to Rockhampton and Gladstone areas. Order online 2 weeks prior to delivery.
Rhodevale Pork raise their free-range pigs on a farm based on the Sunshine Coast. Their pork products are available at a range of butchers.
Mayfield Farm Produce have a range of free range pork products available direct from the farm or from other outlets listed here.
Barossa Heritage Pork free-range pork is available every Saturday from Barossa Farmers’ Market.
Wakefield Grange is located on the Fleurieu Peninsula and have a unique facility allowing them to butcher their own meat and locally sourced meat on site. All of their animals are pasture raised. Their farm gate shop is open Mon- Fri 9am -5pm and Sat 10am – 4pm.
Merri Bee produces the only organic pork in WA
Keep your eye out for Jindong’s website. they are an up and coming free-range pork producer just south Busselton Western Australia
The Farm House in Margaret River cure their ham and bacon are flavoured with tea and cured with South West honey and salt.
Black Ridge Farm is located in the North West of Tassie. They raise Wessel Saddlebacks. Their hams are smoked and cured by Wynyard Butchers. You can order online.
It’s not just your Christmas ham that you need to consider sourcing ethically. Remember many small goods like bacon, sausages, salami, prosciutto and speck are either pork, or contain pork products, so the same ‘happy ham’ rules apply.
So this Christmas consider how happy your ham was before it made it to your plate. You will taste the difference, impress your guests, support a farmer and be ethical in your decisions!