A Wunderbar choice for Heinrichs

A Wunderbar choice for Heinrichs

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FREE RANGE: Wunderbar Lamb’s Ben Heinrich is producing the only Humane Choice-accredited lamb in Australia.

FREE RANGE: Wunderbar Lamb’s Ben Heinrich is producing the only Humane Choice-accredited lamb in Australia.

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DRIVE past one of Wunderbar Lamb's paddocks in the rolling hills of Black Springs, and you will probably do a double take.

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DRIVE past one of Wunderbar Lamb's paddocks in the rolling hills of Black Springs, and you will probably do a double take.

As Humane Choice-accredited lambs (in Australia and New Zealand), Wunderbar sheep retain their tails - a sight that owner Ben Heinrich is still getting used to.

He started producing Australia's first "true free-range" sheep about 12 months ago.

He is a fifth-generation farmer in a family which had been producing lamb for more than 25 years, but Mr Heinrich decided he had finished with wool and wanted to try something a bit different.

He was the first in Australia to contact Humane Choice with a view to gaining accreditation for sheep.

"They were really surprised and they said to me 'you know you have got to keep the tails on'," Mr Heinrich said.

"The process took about four months and they audit us every year."

Key standards of Humane Choice include animals having protection from the elements by way of shelter, no mulesing or tail docking, and castration no later than 10 weeks after birth.

"We use a local anesthetic when we mark wethers. We inject it before we put the ring on," Mr Heinrich said.

"What we are doing is not that dissimilar to how a lot of people are doing it. The main differences are the shedding of sheep, not cutting tails and not feedlotting."

Mr Heinrich, 30, who farms alongside his father Ken, is one of four children.

He and his wife Kerry have four of their own - Emmison, 4, Archer, 3, Fred, 2, and George, two months.

Mrs Heinrich (nee Allen) comes from a cropping and livestock farm near Warooka and worked as an agronomist before having children.

"Our main income is cropping,'' Mr Heinrich said.

"We have about 800 hectares at Black Springs, between Manoora and Burra, and then about 260ha at World's End.

"We have mainly vetch pastures and the sheep also graze on barley during winter.

"On the hills the grazing is on natural vegetation and then in the summer they get lucerne and graze on stubbles, particularly beans."

Mr Heinrich said in hindsight he started marketing his lamb 12 months too early - he had not built up his stock to numbers capable of fulfilling orders year round.

"At the moment I have about 700 ewes but I'd like to get it up to about 1000 as we work towards being able to supply lamb 12 months of the year," he said.

"We need three lambings in two years, which can be done."

With the lambing requirements, Mr Heinrich has had to consider which breed would be most suitable.

"In 2006 Wiltipoll ewes and Dorper ewes were costing about $300 each so we started back-crossing through Merinos," he said.

"We sourced some older - around 5.5 years - Wiltipolls for a good price and built up our numbers.

"However, they only have one lambing a year so I've started looking at Australian Whites which are supposed to be like a Dorper but better. Dorpers can be hard to control.

"Wiltipolls are better-behaved and stay in their paddocks but they aren't going to cut the mustard for us.

"Meat-wise, the Wiltipoll is really good, so we might take an Australian White ewe and throw a Wiltipoll ram over it."

Initially, Mr Heinrich took some of his lamb to a chef at a local hotel to see what he thought of his produce.

"I got some really good feedback from there which gave me the confidence to pursue it," he said.

"Terroir Auburn use it and they love it.

"The lambs are slaughtered at Menzel's at Kapunda and Cooper's Butchers at Burra cut them up.

"I'm hoping to get it stocked in local IGA supermarkets in the next few months."

Mr Heinrich said the main aim was to be no worse off without traditional Merinos.

"We had a self-replacing Merino and crossbred mob, so we want to be no worse off without wool," he said.

"I'm spending less time doing jobs like shearing and crutching but there are different demands like administration and marketing.

"So far as premiums go, I can set the price but it is capped really, as lamb is always a premium product.

"But there is a real push for humane and ethical produce and people might say that's what they are producing but they have no third party overseeing it. With us, consumers can know for sure where the lamb has come from.

"We are targeting a niche market, wanting humane, local and good tasting lamb."

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