We were en route to see Earhardt Vinkmann, the grower of heirloom breed lambs and piglets we serve at the restaurant. The German born Earhardt has lived on his 164-acre property on the northern end of Bruny Island since 1991. A site that once housed large cattle herds and camels now produces rare breed lambs, goats and pigs for the table.
We met Earhardt on the long driveway amidst marsh land and followed him towards paddocks surrounded by 8-foot fences (presumably once used to contain camels). The team were thrilled to get to feed the animals; rare breed and black headed Dorper as well as all black Wiltshire Horn-Dorper cross lambs, caramel brown Toggenberg, brown and white Boer, rusty coloured Kalahari Red goats and a couple of inquisitive emu.
We hand fed the menagerie fresh leafy vegetables that Earhardt collects from the Hmong market gardeners after each Sunday Farmers’ Market just up the road form Ethos (of a quality that we would happily serve in the restaurant – lucky sheep!).
These particular breeds of sheep are self-sheering which means they shed their fleece every spring, (much like a dog or cat molts its winter coat) revealing a clean and shiny new fleece underneath. We were able to see the remnants of last year’s fleece on the backs of some of the animals that they hadn’t managed to dislodge by rubbing up and down the fences.
Both the Dorper and Wiltshire sheep were originally bred for meat. The Dorper, from South Africa, was developed in the early 20th century whereas the Wiltshire is a native English bred, dating back hundreds of years. Wilshire sheep were nearly extinct until an effort was made to and save the breed in the 1920s. Both breeds are gaining popularity world-wide due to the supreme quality of their meat and the fact that they do not require an annual clipping each spring.
It was then on to give a share of the vegies to the neighboring pigs. Earhardt has a system of rotating pens for the pigs in which the native bracken and grasses are allowed to grow before the pigs are allowed access to turn over the soil and feast on the vegetation. Earhardt keeps black Birkshires, red Tamworths and normal white pigs. None of us have had much to do with live pigs before and we were amazed to see how playful and interactive they were with Earhardt when he was in the pens with them. Each with its own quirks and personality.
In addition to the market vegies the pigs are also fed a slurpy mix of grain barley and the whey by-product from nearby Bruny Island Cheese company. They live the perfect piggy life, dirt to dig, plants to forage, and best quality feed… plus Earhardt who plainly loves each and every one of them.
We headed back to the ferry chattering with excitement about what we had seen. We have been butchering and cooking these lambs and pigs for a few months now at Ethos. The privilege of observing and playing with them in their paddocks, to see them so happy and healthy, really enhances our appreciation of a truly specialized, sustainable and premium Tasmanian product.