Local supply puts Wiltipoll lamb in the shop front
By Patrick Francis
Amongst the many challenges faced by emerging livestock breeds, market acceptance stands out. It occurs at two levels, acceptance by processors and by consumers. One of Victoria’s few remaining multi-animal boutique livestock processors Gunbower Abattoirs has no qualms when buying, processing and selling lamb from an emerging Cleanskin breed – Wiltipolls.
In fact, abattoir owner Gary McGillivray has a direct supply arrangement with one of the founding Wiltipoll breeders Greg and John Toll. Each week, for eight months of the year, the Tolls supply Gunbower Abattoirs with its prime lamb requirements from their 600 ewes Wiltipoll and Wiltshire horn commercial flock. (They also breed stud Wiltipolls in their Gee Tee stud.) In-turn Gary wholesales lamb (as well as beef and pork) to his own shop in Gunbower run by cousin Tom McGillivray, and to butcher shops in surrounding towns, like Barham, Kerang and Pyramid Hill.
It’s an ideal arrangement for both parties. The Tolls’ farm stretches to the Gunbower township boundary, delivery to the abattoirs involves a short trip of 3 km, so stock stress is minimised and is a bonus for meat quality, particularly pH and colour. It also means constant and quick feedback on carcase attributes for a breed that has little recorded genetic trait history. Breeders like the Tolls rely on their skill to visually select rams and ewes for carcase, growth and fertility traits.
The Gunbower Abattoir and its retail butcher shop in town is a rare combination. It was once common for town butchers to slaughter their own stock, but an onerous burden of health and safety regulations have seen most disappear. While Gary has been able to keep processing despite the regulations, his butcher shop’s continuation is even more remarkable. Tom has been an employee in the shop since he was 15. That’s 43 years ago and he still enjoys the work and company of customers. And that’s the other remarkable feature of Gunbower’s butcher shop, it’s the only shop in town of about 200 residents, so passing customers are few and far between.
Tom says the shop has developed a unique group of customers, district farmers and residents who buy whole or part carcases, cut to specifications and chilled or frozen. They are volume buyers so numbers of customers are not so important. Their loyalty stems from the quality of the meat sold and customer service. Direct feedback from customers is guaranteed so Wiltipoll lamb has so far proven itself for the 10 years the Tolls have been supplying Gunbower Abattoir.
The Tolls can supply lambs for eight months of the year because pasture quality is guaranteed with irrigated lucerne. As well, the breeding pattern of Wiltipolls is seasonal so rams can be left with ewes year round, but lambing will be confined to three months (September to November). Turnoff can be spread over eight months to accommodate the range of growth rates and carcase weight targets.
The Tolls aim to supply 20 – 22 kg carcases which is the McGillivray’s target domestic market range. However, they are finding more lambs are reaching 23 – 24 kg carcase weight by 7 – 8 months of age. With exceptional pasture growth over the 2011-12 summer some lambs were reaching around 30 kg, which is too heavy for the McGillivray’s trade. The Tolls deliver these to Bendigo livestock exchange for the export lamb trade.
Tom says the Wiltipoll lamb carcases yield “about the same” as second cross lambs sired by Poll Dorsets.
“Fat cover is good without being excessive, meat colour is good which is associated with low stress handling, and tenderness is good,” he says.
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