Ep. 4: Luke Winder - No Regrets
Host Name: Paul Shaw (PS)
Guest Name: Luke Winder (LW)
(Host Paul Shaw): G’day everybody. Welcome to another episode of Meat: The Ultimate Podcast about protein. I'm Paul Shaw and on behalf of all the team at Vic’s Meat, Victor Churchill and Vic's Meat Market, thanks for being with us.
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Luke Winder: It's good to be here mate.
(PS): Good to be here, off the land.
(LW):Yeah, couple of hours off.
(PS): I normally ask people to start at the beginning and I do want to go there eventually with you, but I want to start with the now with you, because what you're doing is incredibly exciting. So can you just give our listeners a bit of insight into where your farm’s at, what you're raising, how you're raising them, and then we might dive a little bit deeper into what the whole vision and mission and all those exciting things are?
(LW): Not a problem. We're approximately two-and-a-half hours from Sydney in a place called Wombeyan Caves just outside of Taralga in the Southern Tablelands. And I am running a pasture-based, regenerative agricultural system; it closely follows a gentleman called Joel Salatin in the United States. A lot of his principles are some I've had to adapt for Australia and for our climate, but it's essentially mob-grazing, carbon sequestrating, completely chemical-free, animals living as close to the way they would live in the wild as we can possibly, we’re getting as close as we can. There are certain things obviously, hurdles, we can't let them run completely wild, but we go bloody close.
(PW): Yeah. And what are you raising?
(LW): The whole idea of the system is—and Joel often talks about it—there is no monoculture in nature. He talks a lot about nature. Nature is the example that has been set for us. I think we can all admit nature is the neutral. It's always right, it's accurate, it's a great base. So he's viewed what happens in nature, and nowhere in nature is there any sort of ecosystem with one animal or even two. So the idea of what we're doing is that we use a lot of different species of animals. We run them over the same blocks of land to create different forms of disturbance and pathogen initially clashing and stuff like that. So it's a couple of breeds of pigs. It's laying hens, it's broilers (which is an eating chicken for people who don't know what a broiler is). It's the ducks of course, it’s the main part of our company, but the ducks fit into this program just perfectly with what comes out their rear end, is fantastic for the program that we're running. And then some herbivores, herbivores are key to the whole thing. So we run cows, Angus cows.
(PS): And all of it designed ultimately for commercial consumption, or a part of it, just part of having this perfect ecosystem?
(LW): No, definitely not. Nothing's wasted. Nothing's wasted in terms of, everything that we grow there gets consumed, and every part of the animal gets consumed is a big part of what we're doing as well. Not all of those animals essentially are sold via different…
(PS): Amazing. So what's the ultimate vision then?
(LW): The ultimate vision is to be, at the end of the day, you don't want to dwell on this but it is a business and it does need to be profitable. I have three children and a wife, and we all have to eat and go to school and things like that. So it is a business and it does need to be profitable, but I guess my main focus is rebuilding topsoil, without top soil we have nothing, and that's accurate regardless of whether you believe it yet or not, do some research, you'll figure that out. And then making, what I have out there 100 acres, just so efficient, and just wowing people at what you can actually grow and the amount of protein and produce you can take off 100 acres, I think is what drives me at the moment.
(PS): Because we talked about this in the car on the way over here, this whole, we seem to be at a point in time—not just with agriculture but environmentally—where if we don't make some big decisions, then we really do face some dire consequences, and that most people believe that industrialised agriculture is the only way that we can feed the 5 billion or 7 odd billion people that we've got on the planet at the moment, and the forecasted 9.7 billion that we're going to have by 2050. Yet what you are saying to me is that, even with the land we have available here in New South Wales, that we could basically feed the world if we applied these farming principles that you are?
(LW): Yeah mate, I honestly believe that.
(PS): So explain it a bit more because it doesn't make any sense to me.
(LW): So I'll start by, and one of my, I guess, personal rules is that I don't like to put down any other part of the industry. It's all played its role over the years, but I will talk briefly about factory farming. No, factory farming, a lot of people see, let's say, a chicken house, a broiler house, there's 100,000 birds being pumped out a week, and they look at that building and they think, “Wow, what an efficient setup. It's on a acre, it's pumping out all this food.” Whether you're worried about the way the chicken has been raised or the actual quality of the product. What people aren't seeing is the thousands and thousands of acres of grain that has been grown to produce the feed for those chickens. That's one input; the millions of litres of diesel that's being burnt carting that grain to the—we won't name names, but to these growing houses, not to mention, they've got to do something with what's coming out the back end. You and I know chicken fertiliser is probably the most valuable thing in the universe, but a lot of it goes into landfill, and a lot of it just to waste. And again, it goes in a truck, it then gets trucked somewhere else.
So what people need to see is the entire picture of industrial farming. There's millions of acres of grain that obviously anyone that knows anything about growing annual crops, it is incredibly detrimental to the topsoil itself, as well as all the energy that goes into producing the grain for these chickens. Then it gets carted in, it gets fed to these chickens, then something has to happen to it on the way out. The actual sheds themselves use hundreds and hundreds of thousands of kilowatts of power, electrical power. So although they might seem efficient, they're incredibly inefficient. If you put the entirety of the whole system together, the way I'm farming is much more efficient. So we’re a centric system. The chicken runs around on my grass, essentially yes there is a bit of grain that's grown for me to feed them, but they do feed a lot on bugs and grass and tree sap.
(PS): How much as a percentage?
(LW): Depends on the animal.
(PS): The import of grain to your farm versus what's available there?
(LW): We’d be probably 25% lower.
(PS): Than a factory farm?
(LW): That's correct. Yeah. But then the other part of it is, there's no B-double trailers coming down my driveway every week dropping off chickens or dropping off grain or anything like that. It's such a smaller scale and the energy input is so much lower. Not to mention that whatever comes out the back end falls on the ground and then four days later I move the chickens and it just gets soaked into the earth and it becomes a part of the topsoil. So if you look at everything that goes into producing a chicken the way I produce a chicken, and everything that goes into producing a chicken at Ingham’s or Red Lea or whoever’s still going, I think you'd find that the way I'm doing it is actually much more efficient, better for the animal, better for the consumer, and much better for the topsoil.
(PS): Yep. What about, and you mentioned this before, but antibiotics and herbicides and pesticides?
(LW): Exactly. So that's the other side of it. Like I was saying, if you could somehow draw a map of the entirety of a factory farm animal regardless of what it is, you've then got to look at, well what does it cost Medicare on the back end, when everyone's completely resilient to antibiotics, and there's hormones going in, and the medical effects? I don't think anyone's ever looked at that in its entirety. I'd love to see it.
(PS): They’re definitely starting. So I actually do, and I heard some stuff on it the other day that currently—and these are US numbers—10,000 people die every year from antibiotic resistance. They forecast that if we continue the way we're going, that by 2050 it will be 10 million people a year. And that it will be the biggest killer of people on the population on the planet.
(LW): Well, I don't even know what to say to that.
(PS): It's a known fact, and yet we continue down this pathway here, and this is the other thing that we were chatting about, the responsibility of the consumer. Because it's all well and good for people to sit around a dinner table, and talk about, well, “industrialised farming is bad” or” factory farming is bad” or “the use of antibiotics is bad”. But even the most educated consumer, the ones that I know and some of ours, we're not immune to providing product that is factory farmed, because there's a demand out there. And we supply them, we like to think that as a percentage of what we do—provided is very small but—it's still there. But the consumer, until they stop eating it, demanding it, then nothing will ever change.
(LW): 100% mate, I have people come to me every week at my market store and say, “We need more farmers like you.” And I say, “No, we need more consumers like you. And if there were more consumers like you there would be a lot more farmers like me.” And just traditional farmers that are out there, these are brilliant people, generational farmers. We’re spoilt in this country. We're on the forefront of all agricultural development. We’ve got brilliant farmers, but at the moment they're being pushed into feedlots and whatever it is. Whereas if there was a shift through the consumer and they could focus on running animals the way I run animals, and there was more of a market share, we would lead the world.
(PS): And this is this is another thing that, I know we've talked about before Luke, but the whole consumer focus on quantity as opposed to quality. That as a society and not just with meat, but with everything, that whether it's what we eat, or what we wear, or what we drive, or any other type of consumption until we realise, until we consume less but better quality, then nothing's ever going to change. And you talked about the example of the pork that you grow, that the nutrient quality that you will get out of 100 grams of that is probably the equivalent of three kilograms that you get from buying pork from Woolworths or ALDI or Coles.
(LW): Definitely. That's a known fact. The flavour’s better, the nutrient value of it is better. You can eat it with a clear conscience. And my customers do appreciate all that. We need there to be more people that can make that connection.
(PS): There is a movement, without doubt, but it's a very small movement. Again, talking statistically, you look at the percentage of household income that people spend on food. It's dropped from 45% to 15%.
(LW): Exactly. And sorry to stop you mate, you just stumbled on, I talked about what happens to me at the markets. And the second most common thing that happens to me at the markets is, someone that will look at my fresh meat and look me in the eyes and tell me that it's just ridiculously expensive and they can't afford it. It might be a little bit rude but I suppose when you get asked the same question 100 times in a row at some stage you going to start biting back. And I love having the conversation with these people. I say, ”Look, I understand that it is a bit more expensive, but do you go home and watch Foxtel? Does your kid have an iPhone, an iPad, a PlayStation 4 and a computer in his room? Do you subscribe to Netflix and Stan?” There’s all these ridiculous things that we have that just clutter our lives and then we whinge that we can't afford decent food to feed our children.
(PS): But it's far more systemic than that for me, Luke. If you look at it, and you alluded to it before that, it's a classic old maxim of “pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later”, that as a society, let alone as individuals, with obesity rates going through the roof. This crazy society we live in where we've got morbidly obese people that are malnourished, because the food they eat is so devoid of nutrients, that it is just an ignorant argument to say it's too expensive. Like it's just a timing difference.
(LW): Big time. And I know we spoke about it before, and I know it's been said a lot. Present company—this is probably not the right thing to say—but we need a little bit less meat.
(PS): No, I think this audience needs to hear that. We as a business, we're preaching it.
(PS): But better quality.
(LW): Yeah. Oh exactly right. Exactly what you just said about my pork, if it's three times as nutrient as the garbage you're eating anyway, you don't eat need to eat as much, do you?
(PS): Yep. Absolutely. How long you been farming?
(LW): Been farming for the grand total, I like to tell people I'm a first generation farmer, grand total of two and a half years.
(PS): Yeah. So talk us through your story. Because it's very rare that you get someone that was an electrician in Cronulla riding around in Lycra pretending to be a triathlete!
(LW): You didn't have to bring that up!
(PS): Which is a little embarrassing as a farmer, I've got to say! But why, what happened? What did you and your wife decide or what caused the decision, because it had to be really ground-breaking?
(LW): There was a catalyst, it was like you said earlier. My story is that I had a great upbringing and I was very lucky. I had a single mum who did the best and never went without anything. So that's the start of the story.
(LW): I have one older brother. But the farming story begins when my father got ill. He got a brain tumour and he got to the point very quickly that he needed a full-time carer, and my brother just really wasn't an option for him with his family dynamic. So I said, “Oh, I can stop working.” Luckily I had that opportunity because my wife worked.
(PS): How old were you?
(LW): This is only four years ago. So I stopped working and I was caring for Dad, and that very quickly turned into, more or less, sitting next to him, he was in palliative care very quickly. And the first thing that went was his speech. So it was just like sitting in the same room, holding his hand, couldn't talk.
(PS): Stroking his hand.
(LW): Yeah exactly. We couldn't even communicate. So I, like a lot of people, just to kill time, I just used to let YouTube just go. Just let it go.
(PS): You just watch.
(LW): Let it do its thing.
(PS):For you or watch, or for your dad to watch?
(LW): For me, just sitting in there, because he'd be sleeping a lot and whatever, so I just watch YouTube. When you let YouTube go it can really take you to some funky places and I stumbled across this guy that I mentioned before, this Joel Salatin. And this guy, I'm telling you, it doesn't matter what walk of life you're in or what profession or in, just Google Joel Salatin, this guy is just incredible.
(PS): How do you spell his surname?
(PS): And what's his story?
(LW): Well his story is that he's a second generation farmer but from a very conventional farming family, who just one day decided that, “No this is all garbage”. This is back in the year where, this is in the States. So they were taken out essentially for steak dinners and explained how to feed dead cows to cows, and he had this epiphany and just decided that this is all absolute garbage, you don't need all these chemicals and all this industry rubbish to raise animals. He started doing everything naturally and essentially viewed animals in nature, and developed this template so that he could farm commercially, ethically and just turn out tons and tons and tons and tons. He turns over well over $2 million a year off 100 acres.
(PS): Farming what?
(LW): He's in a climate where it's under snow for four months, five months a year.
(PS): What's he farming?
(LW): Same as me. So he doesn't do ducks, so broilers. No one will believe me when I say this, that's why I ask people to look him up, but he'll carry 500 head of cattle on a hundred acres. So because this building of the topsoil and this regeneration, he has got a 50-year headstart on me. He can grow pasture like you've never seen in your life, because the organic material that's in his topsoil is just stupid. He never plants a seed. He never fertilises other than obviously animals doing their thing on the surface.
(PS): All natural.
(LW): No chemical fertilisers, and it's just ridiculous what he’s achieved.
(PS): Where’s he based?
(LW): Swoope, Virginia.
(PS): Sounds like a farming territory.
(LW): He’s at the point now where he could easily make a living just talking, he's always on doing Ted Talks, or he was on the cover of Time magazine not long ago. He's a celebrity now, but what he's done is amazing. And if I can somehow be an Australian version of what he's done, I think there are plenty of people that are trying to have taken facets of his business and his farming and are attempting to copy that, but no one's trying to do it in its entirety. I don't, I can't, I shouldn't say that. To my knowledge, I don't think that anyone's taken it on to the level that I have. I mean yeah, I've gone in holus-bolus I suppose.
(PS): And here in Australia.
(LW): Here in Australia. Yeah. So I'm only two and a half years into it and I can't believe, I mean yesterday I did a video on Facebook. I let 20 calves into a duck paddock that had pasture, not a crop, pasture, proper perennial pasture, over a metre high and that place essentially was just covered with blackberry when I got there, covered in blackberry, that's all it was. So I've already seen in two and a half years, I mean I can't imagine 30 years. I can't wait!
(PS): But you're sitting there with your dear dad that’s sick watching YouTube, you've jumped about four generations, being a commercial farmer. What was the thing that that made you go home to your wife and say, “We’re out of Cronulla, and we’re going to go buy a farm”?
(LW): Yeah sorry, I got a bit off track there! So my father really inspired me in a lot of ways, but not maybe the conventional ways.
(PS): What did your dad do?
(LW): My old man was a police officer for 36 years, hated every second of it, and had aspirations of doing some pretty cool stuff but never really had the, aggots, I suppose—are we allowed to use that?
(PS): You can say whatever you want, man.
(LW): Didn't have the nuts to really go for it. And that's something that he always appreciated in me, that I did have the balls to have a crack at something. And he died with a lot of regret, unfortunately, my father. So sitting there watching him die, while he had his speech, just explain to me, more or less, everything that he’d wish he’d done in his life, and all the things he felt he'd done wrong and whatever else. So I walked away from that just thinking, he was 67, I’ve got the 35 odd years left. And there's nothing wrong with being an electrician, I actually really enjoyed it and would go back to it in a heartbeat.
(PS): There’s nothing wrong with being anything if it’s what like you doing.
(LW): That's exactly right. But it definitely wasn't my passion.. Now that I'm doing what I'm doing, and I'm kind of over that two-and-a-half-year, three-year hurdle, and it's kind of a real business now.
(PS): It's making money?
(LW): Yeah. My wife—this will show you how much I prioritise anything financial—my wife came to me the other day and said, “Oh, we started paying you, we'd been paying you for three months.” And I said, “Oh righto, what account is that going to?” Like I don't care, that's not why I'm like, if there's money for when I go to the shops and need to buy fencing gear then I’m happy. So money is definitely not a driver of mine. But that's, unfortunate what happened with my father, and at least I suppose he's passed that onto me. Yeah mate, I jumped in and I took my wife into it which was hard. She had a very accomplished career.
(PS): Macquarie banker.
(LW): Incredibly good at her job. Again, probably not her passion either. But still had worked very hard. Any woman in the workforce that's had two children would appreciate it's quite hard to get up the ladder.
(PS): So you had two kids at this stage.
(LW): Yeah. Moved out, there were two kids. Well that was part of the part of the agreement, getting her to move out there, so that we would have another child. Ah look, when you have children in the country it just seems so much more achievable—not even achievable, it's just a simple life.
(PS): Just organic.
(LW): And it's not like you’re having to look after your kids, my kids just run around and sort themselves out. Very happy to have three children, put it that way, but that was part of the deal.
(PS): Before I ask you how you, again, go from being a city slicker to running a commercial farm and how you taught yourself. With your dad, was it an inspiration of the words he said to you, or was it a fear of you dying with the regret that your dad had?
(LW): I think probably the fear. I mean what a horrible, I shouldn't say this about my own father but what a horrible thing to—
(PS): But that's most people, my dad was a palliative care doctor and he tells me this all the time. Like literally 4,000 plus patients that died with him. There's three things that people regret in their life: pursuing something that fills them with purpose, not ending relationships that they should end, and not mending relationships they should mend. And if you get those three things right then you're going to live a happy life. And yet most people, to your point about your dad and, God bless you Dad. Not having the courage to do is just dooming yourself to a life of misery.
(LW): Exactly. I guess, in that, not only did he motivate me in his death, luckily he financially put me in a position where I could afford to do it too. So he left me some money, wasn't a ridiculous amount of money, but land out there at the time wasn't expensive. So that's the other thing he did for us I suppose. Definitely. He gave me the motivation and then the funds.
(PS): The inheritance to buy a farm. Which is great, you've got the money, buy the farm, you got the motivation. It sounds like a motivated full of right at the moment. How do you actually tell—no disrespect, buddy!
(LW): Mate, you're on the money, I'm only smiling because, there's Vic's employees—I mean Connor’s sitting here now—they've been out there, and there's a certain part of my place I don't take them to, I all it ‘the walk of shame’.
(LW): And it's essentially all the things I've just cocked up, and it's quite impressive. The amount of stuff that's down there now, it's really impressive. But how did I learn? Look, I had the base of, I was an electrician. I'd worked on really big construction sites my whole apprenticeship. I'd worked with welders and gyprockers and concrete and steel fixers and all sorts of stuff. Practically. I was, I'd suggest. probably ahead of most farmers. But there were many, many mistakes as far as working with livestock.
(PS): I can only imagine. Back to Joel. How do you pronounce his surname?
(PS): Did you literally take his teachings and, from the very get go, apply them to what you were doing?
(LW): I tried to. So this is a gentleman who’s written 12 books. I'd read all his books. Unfortunately a lot of his methodology doesn't work with either our climate or our soil types, or even the breeds of animals we can get here and stuff like that. They're pretty lucky in the States. Everything's a lot cheaper, their feed’s a lot cheaper, all the numbers that he gives in his books and stuff, that you can throw out the window in Australia, we pay a lot more for feed and stuff like that.
(PS): Why is that?
(LW): We're smaller. Well, we’re not. Part of the issue is we're huge.
(PS): We're a big country.
(LW): We’re huge with a small population. This is one example, he’d pay about $190 a ton of chicken food, while I’ll pay about $550 a ton.
(LW): But that's not even the start of it. You buy chickens over there. You buy a point of lay hen, it’s like $12; it’s $20 here. Cattle is ridiculously expensive. And they can get rare breeds of stuff and breeds that just aren't even available to us.
(PS): So what's your view then? It sounds like it's such a simple solution, not just for farming, but for the environment, for health, for the whole shooting match. Why aren’t more farmers, why aren't the government supporting it, providing grants for it? Is there massive big corporations and lobby groups that are just conflicted, that are driving industrialised agriculture?
(LW): I think definitely yes. I don't have any evidence of that.
(PS): I think evidence is all around us.
(LW): And again it's that's not either here nor there, I don't need government help. I am very, ery anti-government subsidies. I think if companies can't stand on their own two feet then they shouldn't survive. There is a lot of money that’s gets thrown around rurally, just wasted money, to my eyes.
(PS): From government?
(LW): Yeah. Like subsidies, there’s a whole heap of fencing subsidies and you can get money for putting tree lines in and all this other stuff which is, if you want a tree line, put it in. Why the hell should the government pay for a tree line? Look, that's only my opinion but if your enterprise can't stand on its own two feet then it's got no longevity anyway, does it?
So that's the first part of it but, why don't more people farm the way I do? Because, there's probably two parts to that. There's the generational component where—you're my old man, right? I come home and say, “Dad I've just learned about this incredible mob-grazing system where we can move the cows around and we won't have to fertilise, and we can run chickens behind them, and then we can run pigs behind that, and they can create disturbance and regenerate the topsoil and bla bla bla.”
And you’ll say, “What are you talking about, boy? That's not how we farm. That’s not how we do things. This is how we do things. We bring our cattle in twice a year. We medicate them. We send them back out to the back paddock which is 3,000 acres. We leave them be. We check that they've got water. We bring them in, we put them on a truck and we get our cheque from the saleyards. That's how we farm. And then we can go to the Bahamas for three months because there's nothing to do.”
That's an enormous generalisation and again, like I said before, we’ve got the best farmers in the world here, so I'm not having a go at anyone, but unfortunately what I do is, I have a rule on my farm. Every animal has to have human eyes laid on it twice a day.
(LW): That's because a lot of the animals I run are bloody stupid! Ducks and chickens and stuff, you've got to be watching them. They're very good at getting themselves killed and tangled up and whatever else. But there's a lot more hours of hands on the ground. Human beings. For example, we've got four staff members on 100 acres. That's ridiculous. Most farms in my area that have 10,000 acres wouldn't have that. So it's not a lot of tractor time. It's not a lot of spraying. It’s not a lot of ploughing, sowing and all the conventional sort of energy, really energy-sucking kind of time.
It's just human being time, walking around. We walk around a lot of the time, walking around, just checking that things are alright. Physically picking things up and moving them. We feed out our pigs with buckets every morning. There's no giant feeder truck that blows it out or anything like that, because I want the boys to check my pigs, and what better way of doing that is to take the food out there every day, have every pig run up, you get to have a good look at it, you can see where it's limping or whatever. That's the way to farm. Be present. Be there. Don't think you can farm from Cairns or on the Gold Coast.
(PS): And when you say before, 100% of the animal gets used, you being literal with that?
(LW): I'm close. The problem is, in Australia, I won't mention the abattoir, I use a very, very good abattoir, but they don't get the government inspectors that they require. So a lot of the time your carcass will get condemned just because he's in a hurry.
(PS): So what does that mean? Can you elaborate?
(LW): So, my pig will get killed. It'll be hanging. It will be processed in its entirety so it'll be completely gutted with its head on, and that needs to be signed off by a government official. Also, the innards and a lot of the offal and stuff, it needs to be signed off, but instead of him going through all that and checking the liver and checking it's not discoloured, and checking the kidneys and whatever else, it's easier for him just to condemn it and move on to the next carcass. And I'm not having a go at that particular person because I've seen it in action and I've seen how busy they are. This particular abattoir should at least have two or three of these people, and they only ever get one. So this poor bugger’s running around like a headless chook, so he condemns most of my, well, most of everyone's.
(PS): And it gets thrown out?
(PS): Yeah wow.
(LW): But in saying that, you always get your kidney. We get the head, we get the trotters. Everything that we get, we use.
(PS): Yeah. And what about, back to the farm, you don't use antibiotics, you don't use herbicides, pesticides and things. Are there situations where the animals get sick that you need to medicate them?
(LW): There's two parts to answer that. I haven't really explained the way I farm which would explain that a little bit.
(PS): Walk us through it then, from start to finish.
(LW): This isn't, throw your chickens and ducks in a paddock and cross your fingers. My place is essentially fenced into eight-acre cells and then there's 24 cells that are about an acre and a half. And I call them duck paddocks, but I use them for everything. But they're the duck paddocks. So the way the system works is, everything follows through the herbivore. So chickens and ducks and whatever else you've got, whether it’ll be quail, in my case, it's chicken or ducks. They hate long grass so you need to run a herbivore through first, just to mow the grass. So the cow goes in first. 50 pounds of excrement falls out the back end of a cow every single day.
(PS): 50 pounds!
(LW): In most cases, that gets evaporated and goes back up into the atmosphere. It's essentially the size of a giant dinner plate if you haven't seen it. What happens is then, I move the cows on, and in come the chickens, the laying hens, and they're ruthless. This is just as the flies have laid all their maggots and all the fly larvae are hatching. And of course, what does a chicken do? It goes through and it spreads out all the cow manure to eat all the protein that is the maggots. Which is the greatest thing in the world you could feed a chicken. That’s why my eggs are so good.
(PS): In terms of the nutrient quality?
(LW): Oh, mate, amazing.
(LW): Yeah. And you don't get a lot of flyblow issues, because there’s no flies around the joint, because the chickens eat all the maggots. So instead of having a dinner plate sized bit of crap on the ground, the chickens will spread that over five or six square metres.
(PS): Which is helping the soil.
(LW): They'll fertilise the whole paddock.
(PS): Yeah, get it.
(LW): That's just on top. Then the chickens go out and the broilers are run though, now there are ducks. Now the significance of the duck excrement is it's a different makeup. It's not so nitrogen rich, but it's very liquid. So where a lot of the chicken crap probably does dry up and dissipate, the duck manure doesn't. It goes in, it's very liquid, and that's where I found the greatest results. If I was taking an on animal purely to fertilise a paddock, I’d definitely use a duck over a chicken. But of course, like I explained, they've both got their benefits with the chickens doing the scratching and the whatever else, see, the ducks won't do that. The other thing I'll do is, if I see a paddock is worn out or it's still got a lot of weed in it—I’ve finished most of my weeding now, but—if there's still a lot of weed, that's where the pigs come in.
(PS): So how would you get rid of all the weed without?
(LW): The pigs. And then manually digging, pulling stuff out. There's not been one skerrick of glyphosate on my piece of land for 17 years, and I know that because I know the old owner. What happened before that, I can't speak for. But that's amazing. So the pigs could potentially come in and, especially with blackberry, because what they do is, pigs root. Anyone that hasn't seen pigs in nature or pigs in a paddock, is they root. So they're essentially like a four-legged plough. They're incredibly strong animals.
(PS): They root?
(LW): So they're trying to dig with their nose.
(PS): With their snout, okay.
(LW): They don't actually eat the blackberry, but they'll actually get underneath and eat the roots. So it's just a dead bit of dirt, sticks above the ground. And then we just pile them up and burn them. They're incredible for removing blackberry. Essentially, I don't need a plough. When I want to sow and we do sow perennial, we do sow perennials on my property, but I plough with pigs. I've got 23 sows at the moment ploughing a paddock, and they are doing a way better job than a plough would do anyway.
(PS): What were you planting there?
(LW): Perennials. Our way, it's a combination of—I don't think will understand this but it's like—cocksfoot and phalaris and a lot of different clovers and stuff. The results with it, with the duck fertiliser, it’s just unbelievable.
(PS): And have you done any testing in so far as the nutrient quality of the meat vis-à-vis?
(LW): I haven't. I have with the eggs.
(PS): You’ve got to, man.
(LW): You’ve got to remember it's been two and a half years. You know what I mean?
(PS): I know, I get it, but it's just, intuitively, you've got to think that the nutrient quality is so much higher.
(LW): Do you know what, if I served you up a piece of landrace, which is modified pork, stuff you would get in any sort of butcher or supermarket, and a piece of, even my Saddleback, just a piece of my Saddleback, which is a heritage breed, we only run heritage breeds. You don't need nutrient testings. Your body will tell you. 100% you won't be able to eat as much of it, you'll be full. You'll feel a million bucks, it sits so much better in your gut. You're right, I probably should do that, but we shouldn't need to.
(PS): No, I get it. And what brands in the marketplace, what brands are your products?
(LW): Our property's called Tathra Place Free Range. And our company for the duck is called Maremma Free Range Duck. Essentially with the pork and the beef and the broilers, the chickens, and whatever comes out of our garden, because we do take some stuff out of our garden as well, we do the market at Ramsgate Farmers Market.
(PS): So that all goes via the market?
(LW): It all goes through the market. It's an incredible market. We can sell a lot of amazing, massive shout out to my market customers, just quietly, incredible women, and I say women because most of them are, it's not having a go at anyone, but, amazing people. Week in week out, amazing people.
(PS): And what sort of volumes, Luke? Not the farmer's market, but in total.
(LW): Our weekly will be, let's say, about a thousand ducks? 20 to 25 brawlers which is the double-breasted bird. You're talking about three to four, or two to three, sometimes four pigs. And then you've got a cow, that's every fortnight, so half a cow. So it works out just about three tons, because we also run a lot of laying hens, so there'd be about 200 kilos of eggs in that as well.
(PS): Yeah wow. And the capacity on your current land?
(LW): Capacity on the current land would probably be, conservatively, double what I'm doing now.
(PS): Yeah wow. And is that the end game?
(LW): No, that's not the end game. Definitely not.
(PS): No? What’s the end game?
(LW): Once these places are set up, so, I am surrounded by incredible people.
(LW): Nope. First and foremost is my wife. And I know that's a throwaway comment but, in my case, it is on the money. Very, very lucky. I have a manager out there, Kevin, who's a part of our family.
(LW): Yeah literally, lives with us.
(PS): No, by blood?
(LW): Sorry, no. He's not part of our family but he lives with us. He loves my kids, he’s just one of those people that you don't meet very often in life, and he runs the place essentially anyway. So there's definitely scope for me to do this again somewhere else, and again and again and again. It's a lot of hard work. but it's amazing. I mean, imagine waking up—admittedly you've got a pretty beautiful place here—and just being surrounded by the abundance of life. Baby chickens hatching. Piglets hatched this morning. Just walking up the shed, these baby piglets had been born. I've got calves, ducks. Admittedly it's not for everyone. But for me, that's just Nirvana.
(PS): It's a wonderland.
(PS): What's your wife doing on the farm?
(LW): She's in charge of the garden, but I said very early on, essentially all this, what I'm doing is fantastic, but it needs to be a business, and that's where she comes in. She's an incredibly accomplished businesswoman.
(PS): Yeah, get it. And if you were going to do it again, is it contingent on having the same kind of topography or could you take it anywhere?
(LW): Nah. The best thing about what we're doing is that, if you had a property that was full of shrubs and bush and just seem useless for grazing, that to me, straight away, I just think, that could be the biggest pig stud in the world, because that's where you should grow pigs and ducks. The ducks love that silver pasture, the heavily wooded pasture areas. That's good for protection out of the wind, out of the sun, out of the whatever else. So every property has potential as far as I’m concerned.
(PS): Yeah. Amazing. I want to go back a little bit. You said before, talking about the old-school way of farming, and people just doing it because that's the way they've always done it. And I don't mean to put you on the spot with this, but the there's a lot of noise at the moment around plant-based meat and clean meat. The jump from where we are right now, and you're probably right in the middle, you know, industrialised factory farming, sustainable farming, and then this whole new world that we're going down, really quickly, to clean meat or IVF for food if you want to look at it in a different light. What's your take on that, and is it part of the solution of reducing the number of factory farms we require, or do you believe a better solution is to get everyone to go back to the farming methods that you're adopting?
(LW): Definitely. Again, it's going to be consumer driven. I'm not against any of the stuff they're attempting. But I just don't think it's needed. I said to you in the car, I mean, if I can turn out, I mean, do the maths for yourself. If I can turn out three tonnes of produce of 100 acres, and I'm an electrician that's got no idea what he's doing, what could we produce in this country? What can we produce? Not only that, but I feel we need to move back to a system where everything’s more localised. You know your farmer, you know your producer, you know your candlestick maker. That might sound a little bit archaic. But I think there's value in it.
(PS): No, I think there's value in it too. What about—playing devil's advocate though—the view that there's not a worker in a slaughterhouse or an abattoir in the world that actually enjoys their job killing animals?
(LW): Well, I can't speak on their behalf.
(PS): Because it's an interesting thought, isn’t it?
(LW): Definitely. I’ll counter what you're saying. If we weren't so heavily, if the laws in Australia weren't so ridiculous—I didn't want to get into this, but I have pretty strong feelings on this. So essentially, for me to kill a chicken, I need to have a chicken abattoir that’s the same as Mr. Ingham. That's a slight exaggeration but it ain't far off. Now, I've even had customers come to my property and help me kill chickens. So if you're self-certifying something, who, as a third party is to tell you, Paul, that you can't buy a chicken that I've killed on your behalf on my farm? Who is any government authority to stand here between us and say, “You, as a consenting adult, cannot buy a chicken off this young man even though you've been there, you've done it with him, you're happy with the process, you're happy that it's clean, you're happy with the bird, that it was healthy”, and whatever else. I'd be a lot more happy killing my animals knowing the life that I've given them, and the fact that if I could do it in the paddock, can you imagine? There’s no stress there. I always say that all my animals have one bad day, that's it. And I can promise you that, because if you’ve been out and you see the way I run animals, you'd appreciate why I can confidently say that to you.
(PS): No, I get it.
(LW): But if they would take the red tape away from a lot of the processing laws, then maybe a lot of it would be done onsite and we wouldn't need as many abattoirs. And then farmers would be killing their own stuff. I appreciate it seems very small scale and that could never work on a larger scale. But I keep going back to, you know, eat less meat, know your farmer, appreciate the produce you're eating.
(PS): Yeah. No I get it. I suppose my view is—and again we chatted a little bit about this on the way here today—that the consumption of meat despite the high-profile trends around veganism and vegetarianism and flexitarians and all these other fads of people not eating meat five days a week or whatever you want to call it, that despite all of that, the consumption of meat per capita continues to go up in all industrialised countries, particularly in Australia and the US. And if we continue to go that route, then to feed the 9.7 billion people that we're going to have on the planet by 2050, it just seems like an outrageous number of animals that we need to raise ,to feed, to slaughter, to transport to sell, etc. And for me, looking at it from a pragmatist, from a businessman, that a combination of sustainable farming and ethical, clean meat production seems like a far better combination than 90% industrialised farming and 10%—and it's probably way less than 10%—of sustainable farmers, probably less than 1% to be honest.
And that's the way I know, Anthony with the business, when we talk about this stuff, of the aligning ourselves with farmers like you, the opportunity for people to start adopting kangaroo and the stuff that Paroo were doing. But then the option of backing this clean meat movement which we honestly believe is here, it is here as much as people doubted a computer back in the 1970s, that in due course it's going to be ubiquitous and it's going to be part of the way we consume protein. So we may as well be part of it. Particularly because it aligns with our value system that, ultimately we want to look after the environment, we want to look after people's health, we want to leave this place for our children and our grandchildren etc. and we need to be part of the solution. I'd like to think that when we're sitting here in five years’ time, I'm not saying that we do provide, we do sell produce that is raised and killed in factory or industrialised farming practices, where at the moment we can't do that even though it's only a small part of what we do.
(LW): Look you're right, it’s here. And if it wasn't, I wouldn't have a company. I think we're lucky in that in this country some of the top chefs are leading the way.
(LW): And it filters down. 99.9% of my ducks go into the higher-end restaurants in Sydney.
(PS): Who have been your biggest supporters on that front? Chef-wise and venues wise, like in terms of, not just buying, but being outwardly spoken about the way you're doing it and why it's such a good product?
(LW): Well, number one is Vic’s Meat, have done 99.9% of the work. Matt Moran, and—oh God, the list now is phenomenal. We’re at Quay, Peter Gilmore—massive one, and that's his whole mantra. He's sent all his chefs out and they all come out and say g’day. We've been absolutely blessed with the people that have taken us on, because they get it, They're willing to make the effort and come and meet some pleb out in the middle of Wombeyan Caves and they've all been out there. That means a lot. That's huge.
Victor Churchill buys a lot of the pork and just, not only did they buy the pork, but they do it justice. They're doing some incredible stuff in there. Incredible stuff. So I've been lucky, very lucky. I guess there's a little bit of luck for everyone, I suppose.
(PS): So where’d the luck come from then?
(LW): The luck, I honestly feel, was meeting Anthony when I did.
(PS): Did you approach him, or was this completely fortuitous?
(LW): I organised a meeting with him via a third party, and then we hit it off. I didn't realise at the time his mantra. You hear what you hear about him and whatever else, and when he came out and he looked me in the eyes, he's a very genuine person, when he told me what he really thought of what I was doing and what he really thought about the whole industry and meat in general, I was surprised that a lot of our ideals really did line up, which is amazing. And then essentially he just backs me. If I ring him and ask him for something, he doesn't even flinch. It's just been a good relationship.
So that was fantastic, and then just loyalty, people's loyalty. Like I said, the customers that I have got are just incredibly loyal. Rain, hail and shine, mate, they're there. In saying that, this is good gear. I've got women that come and hug me every week, because their daughter can't eat chicken but they can eat my chicken.
(PS): Of course, because it’s got no antibiotics in it.
(LW): Or they can't eat eggs. I've always got duck eggs at the market and I'll reserve some duck eggs for them, so they can have some eggs. You just form great relationships with people. I mean, how many people listening to this right now can honestly say they're going to eat something this week from someone who they know personally, they know their name, they know their kids, they know what they're about? Not many of us can do that.
(PS): No. And it is powerful, and it's a really interesting point you raise with the mum coming and talking about her children, because we were out this morning at Kids Gourmet, which is a big customer of ours that provide food to day-care centres, and the awesome young woman that does all their QA who's a food scientist, nutritional scientist, and she was talking about just this never-ending battle against allergies that children have. And I don't think for one minute that it's an allergy to food. It's absolutely an allergy to what those animals have been fed and what they've consumed. And the solution isn’t not giving them the foods that they're supposedly allergic to, it's actually giving them foods that are completely natural, because no one's allergic to that stuff.
(LW): No. And the number one question I get is, “How the hell can you raise animals without any chemicals?” I say, “Well it's easy.” It's almost less effort in that, yes, you do have to rotate them around so they're not lying in their own crap all the time, so they don't pick up worms and whatever other garbage. I don't want people also to think that I never get sick animals, because I do. But it's very rare. And you'd be shocked how rare it is, and you'd be shocked how easy it is to do. It blows my mind why they spend all that money on pharmaceuticals. If the animal is managed correctly, there's no reason for it at all. And I've proven it for years now. I've raised thousands of pigs off my place without a drop of anything. My chickens get apple cider vinegar. It's about the harshest thing that they get for a bit of gut health.
(PS): But it comes back to that conflict thing that we alluded to before, without doubt. No different to our GPs that are incentivised to give patients, incentivised because they're time poor, incentivised also by pharmaceutical companies. It must be the same in farming, big farms, big farmers are, without doubt, incentivised to use antibiotics and other herbicides and pesticides.
(LW): Yeah. I think you're right. Again, I'm not an expert in confinement animal operations, but normally there is a Big Brother. The people that are actually doing the growing are only just the growers. So they are essentially just doing what they're told. It'd be the same in feedlots. I spoke before about Joel Salatin and him viewing animals in nature. The number one rule with animals—and this is any animal in nature—is that they move. The first thing that humans do is stick them in a situation where they can't move. So as soon as you do that, you are going to have to lean on some sort of pharmaceutical crutch. It's a fact. If you're going to stick him in a feedlot, they're going to get sick. But yeah you're right. I think there's a whole Big Brother thing there, the people generally on the ground who own the properties, who have the animals there, are just the growers.
(PS): No, I get it. I may be wrong with this, but it was either Pfizer or one of the big pharmaceutical companies that a couple of years ago bought Monsanto, like there's a reason that pharmaceutical companies are aligning themselves with agricultural companies.
(LW): 100%. But again, there are alternatives. Find people that aren't doing it. We're lucky in Australia, there are people who are doing things right; find them. God, I'd love you to come and buy some of my stuff. The better that my little business does, the more of this food that will be in circulation, because I'm not, oh, God, my wife took me up to Brisbane a couple of weeks ago from a from a birthday and I've just about had a sense of humour failure. I mean, I love what I do and I love reinvesting in it, so if we can patronise the right people, it's only going to mean we're going to get more and more of this beautiful food.
(PS): The analogy for me is the fat office worker that I equate to the pig that's in a industrialised farm, and you take that person out and get them running around in nature, and feed them good food, and give them oxygen, and give them love, and communities, sunshine—the most massive one of all probably—and all of a sudden, within a relatively short period of time, you go from a person that's knocking on death's door to a vibrantly healthy person.
(LW): 100%. Unfortunately, there's some more underlying things especially in pork where there's been some genetic modification, and we need to move back more towards heritage breeds. That's the only thing I'd add to that though. You’re right though, 100%. To see a pig—people have an image of pigs exactly what you just said, fat and just lay around. Mate, my pigs, I'd love to put a GPS tracker on one. I'll tell you right now, they must do about 10, 11 kilometres a day. They're running around like lunatics all day, they’re always playing. They're vibrant, healthy animals, they're highly intelligent. Essentially it's all over my website, and it's something that I try and vocalise as much as I can.
(PS): What’s your website?
(LW) Website is just tathraplacefreerange.com.
(PS): We'll put it all up in the show notes.
(LW): Thanks mate. Essentially, with any purchase of my food on any level, that comes with a 365-day-a-year, 24-hour-a-day invitation to come and certify your own food. I'm very much anti, any public or even privately owned certification, including organic certification. I know, what a horrible thing to say, but it's as corruptible as anything else. If you want, wholeheartedly, to certify what's going in your mouth, get in your car and drive to the farm.
(PS): Yep. What about the Food Trust platform that we're working on with PwC that, in due course, that you'll be able to put a film—and I’m in trouble for using this all the time, but—put a film when the animal’s slaughtered on that meat, and the consumer, whether that's a venue or the ultimate person that's eating that product, will know that it was grown on your farm, what it was fed, what its heart rate was when it was slaughtered, whether it ever broke cold chain, what's the nutrient quantity of it?
(LW): Mate I went cross-eyed when I was listening to that, seriously, I'd do well to fire my smartphone up, but it is an amazing idea. There's going to be critics, there always are.
(PS): Critics don't do things properly.
(LW): The first thing is, I like to think that the security, well not even the security, food knowledge is something, it should be a personal thing. Especially with restaurants, most restaurants are very forward about where they're getting most of their food anyway.
(LW): I'd like to think you can find this stuff out yourself or have that knowledge yourself, but in saying that.
(PS): There’s misinterpretation, though.
(LW): If you can scan a bit of ribeye and it comes up and tells you exactly what paddock, I mean that's just phenomenal. Even from a farmer who knows, I know the system, I know how it works, but it still blows my mind. I'd love to trialled it. I'd love to give it a go. I actually think I'm probably the perfect person to get on board because I'm small scale. Anyway, that's another conversation.
(PS): Next year, man. It's coming to Victor Churchill next year.
(LW): It's a crazy idea. The thing is about it, say what you want about it, it can only be positive. It could only be positive. If you've got more knowledge then that’s another tool in your toolbox isn't it?
(PS): Yeah, if you care, which, conscious consumption, which is what we're all about, what you're all about, what most of our customers are all about, that the more knowledge that they have, the more at peace they can be, the trust that they have in us. I don't think you'll ever find it on Kentucky Fried Chicken.
(LW): I was going to say. Well, for someone like me.
(LW): Awesome. Because it's the people that are doing stuff wrong and that are being dodgy, are the ones that are going to be trying to hide from this. Like I said, I could be no more transparent. I’ve got videos up every single week showing the way I grow my animals, and the way I move my animals, and the way the way we farm. This would just be another level of transparency for me. I would jump on board, because if it can give the consumer the right information and they can then source the right protein, play on.
(PS): I want to wrap soon, but your products are obviously in a bunch of restaurants that we supply, they can buy it from Victor Churchill at our flagship store in Woollahra. They can buy it from your farmers’ markets. Is there anywhere else they can get it at the moment?
(LW): Not at the moment. I’m in quite a few cafés and stuff in and around the Shire, just for eggs normally.
(PS): The Cronulla Shire?
(LW): Yeah. Primo Joe’s. We’re at the organic store at Gymea, and a few others in and around the joint. Peter does those drop-offs, I must admit, I'm not fully aware what's going on there. Yeah, we're lucky. People, essentially, once they've got the knowledge of what we're doing and they find out about the product, they love it. They jump on board.
(PS): Your dad would be proud of you, buddy.
(LW): Nah! Well, he’d think I’ve gone completely mad.
(PS): He’d be proud and he'd be jealous, you know, because it really is, it's no doubt the start of a remarkable journey that what you've done in two and a half years versus where we're all going to be collectively. We're super excited about being part of your journey for the next seven-and-a-half or 70-and-a-half, or whatever it is! But I don't think I've ever heard a story of someone going from something so obscure into something that typically requires generational knowledge and making such a success of it.
(LW): Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
(PS): It's awesome. Thanks for coming on the show.
(LW): No worries. Thanks for having me.
(PS): That's a wrap, people. I hope you enjoyed it. And a gentle reminder, please rate and write us a review. Your feedback really is our oxygen. And until next week, please eat consciously.