Heinrich Family - Black Springs | Rabobank Australia Client
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Heinrich Family

 

His forefathers built on the prosperity enjoyed by the wool industry in the first half of last century, but fifth generation grain and sheep farmer Ben Heinrich is taking his family’s long affinity with the woolly animal in a new direction.

Price inconsistency along with the substantial labour and carrying costs associated with producing high quality merino wool led Ben and his father Ken to look at opportunities that could be more sustainable and profitable in the long term.

The Heinrichs’ 800-hectare property ‘Manofield’ currently comprises around 500 hectares of cropping with the remainder used for sheep grazing pastures.

Ben said while they wanted to remain in sheep the decision was made to move to a low maintenance sheep meat breed.

“We were running around 300 merino ewes and a combination of poor wool price at that time, contract labour becoming harder to find and increasing pressure from outside lobby groups started us looking at other options,”
“I also probably lacked interest in shearing and wool production but had a passion for producing prime lamb that contributed greatly to us heading down this path.”

 

The naked sheep

The sheep currently roaming the pastures at Manofield are self-shedding, long tailed and definitely more numerous, with approximately 1000 ewes turning off at least 1000 lambs a year.

“Currently we’ve got quite a composite flock,” Ben said.

“We started out with Wiltipolls but they are seasonal breeders, so over the past few years we have introduced other breeds and have had a lot of success with the Australian Whites.”

“They breed well, have a good attitude and their meat has been described as the wagyu of lamb.”

The introduction of these ‘moulting’ sheep has been a game changer for the Heinrichs as it meant that they no longer need to mules, crutch or dock their sheep and has opened the door for them to gain ethical accreditation.

Branding their meat as Wunderbar Lamb, the Heinrichs are Australia’s first and only Humane Choice Accredited lamb producer.

Ben said they sought out the accreditation to ensure that people buying and eating their lamb had the highest level of confidence that their sheep were raised using minimal intervention practices and true free-range conditions.

“The shedding variety of sheep has really enabled us to go down this route, but there is quite a lot to the accreditation,” he said.

“Along with limiting human intervention, our sheep are free range and hormone and antibiotic free, we also ensure that they endure minimal transportation times to local processors.”

Wunderbar Lamb

While a delicious, local and ethically produced lamb chop sounds like it would sell itself Ben said it was definitely challenging to get the brand up and running.

“When I launched the brand back in 2015 and gained the humane choice accreditation, I think I naively thought that butchers, restaurateurs, and consumers would be knocking down my door to purchase our lamb,” Ben said.

“In many ways I think we’re a bit ahead of the curve as while there are a lot of consumers expressing a desire for meat produced in this ethical way, there are still only a minority who are willing to pay the premium for it.”

“I was fortunate that an old friend, Casey Cooper who owns Coopers Butcher in Burra was looking for a paddock-to-plate producer to partner with.”

“Casey has continued to be a great supporter of ours and has always provided us with transparent feedback on the end product so that we can continue to hone our selection, breeding and feeding programs.”

Through word of mouth Ben said they have been fortunate to pick up several other partners along the way and people wishing to taste Wunderbar Lamb can now purchase through Coopers Butcher in Burra as well as Freeling Butchers in Freeling or Glenunga Gourmet Meats in Adelaide.

“The head chef, Dan Moss at Terroir in Auburn has been featuring our lamb on his menu for several years and with a focus on delicious, local and humane produce I’d highly recommend dropping into his restaurant if you get a chance.”

 

A sixth generation

As the lamb business continues to grow Ben and his family are beginning to explore options to expand their operations.

“My wife Kerry and I have five children and in an ideal situation I’ll hopefully be able to offer all of them a future in our family business if they wanted it,” he said.

“Cropping currently makes up about 70 per cent of our operation and will continue to do so but there are a number of directions we can look at going."

“Currently we’re consolidating and making sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row but we’re talking with our financial partner Rabobank about next steps and that will be through intensifying, expanding and potentially diversifying."

 

“We’ve banked with Rabobank for over 17 years and we’ve always found they’ve been willing to support us in whichever direction we’ve wanted to take the business.”
“It’s great to have a close relationship with a rural manager who knows our business and who we can call any time even if it’s just to thrash some ideas out.”

With the tourism hot spot of the Clare Valley in close proximity there has been interest from tourists wanting to embrace the farming experience, with such a great story to tell about Australian lamb production it hopefully won’t be long until the Heinrichs are introducing the world to their curious breed of sheep.

 

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