Lamb with a (gender) difference

By Francesca Emms

Featured in Capital #53
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A collaboration between farmers and butchers has Francesca Emms salivating as she finds out what’s so special about Grass Fed Girls.

No two days are the same for farmers Dion Kilmister and Ali Scott. “Although there is one common theme and it’s always go go go,” says Ali.

The couple have blocks in the Wairarapa and also lease the farm at Belmont Regional Park. “Our farm business is made up of 25,000 stock units over three main farms and four smaller finishing farms from Lower Hutt to Dannevirke,” says Ali. They’ve also recently purchased a beef finishing farm on the Pahiatua Track “which we now call home.” Managers on each farm execute day-to-day plans and move and care for the stock.  Ali calls these employees “key drivers” in the running of the business.

Dion comes from a long line of farmers and has always lived the farm life. Ali’s background is marketing and sales. They met six years ago and Ali moved from Wellington to join Dion on the farm, quite a change for the self-confessed city-slicker. “The only thing that is horrible about our job is working in driving rain. It’s the only time I wish I was somewhere else,” says Ali, “but other than that little grumble we are very, very lucky to have such a wonderful lifestyle on the farm.”

Since early 2017, the couple have been working with Ken Wilson Meats (the procurement arm of Preston’s), to create something special for lamb lovers – Grass Fed Girls. The product was launched early this year and has already received a gold medal at the Outstanding New Zealand Food Producers Awards. Grass Fed Girls are, as the label implies, all female. “I believe we are the only company offering a gender-difference lamb,” says communications manager Tania Thomas.

Male sheep get testosterone at a certain age, same as people, and this makes the males stronger. Their muscle fibres become a little leaner and thicker, so the meat is a little tougher. Females have a more mellow and balanced flavour due to their oestrogen levels.  Their muscles are a little softer and less lean, so their meat’s more tender. The breed is important too. The girls’ mothers are a Texel-Romney cross breed, bred for the marbling quality of the meat, and their fathers are Charollais, originating from the same French region as Charollais cattle and bred for their muscle size. “Grass Fed Girls can be likened to the (female) lamb version of Wagyu Beef,” says Tania.

The lambs enjoy picturesque views, the shelter of the Belmont bunkers and natural vegetation in their early life. After they reach a certain age or weight they’re transferred to finishing fields in the Wairarapa. Here they fatten up on a chicory-clover mix. Once they’re “finished”, Dion hand-selects the best girls, every week, to be sent to the Preston’s processing plant in Ngauranga.

The carcasses are transferred to Preston’s Master Butchers who chop the lamb into various cuts for chefs and meat connoisseurs alike. It’s a true farm-to-fork process, something the whole Grass Fed Girls team is proud of. Hamish Preston, the general manager, says, “We are not just passionate about the farm to fork process, but in top quality meat in general. We have specifically targeted these lambs because they are local AND the best quality around.”

Farming to a target number each week is a big challenge, and many variables can very quickly change outcomes. “Foreseeing these changes is critical,” says Ali, “Dion is very good at trusting his gut instinct and making changes quickly to accommodate.” They’ve had to restructure their growing and finishing policy in order to deliver the right numbers of animals at the right times. Dion says to deliver contracted numbers, they have to manage grass curves and chicory supply carefully.

Ali and Dion are involved in every aspect of the girls’ lives, from scanning, shearing and pregnancy testing to paperwork, protocols and general compliance. Ali is a bit tied to the office. “In farming now, there is a lot of paperwork,” but otherwise “we are in the paddock at Bideford or Masterton draughting stock for the coming week.” Or they are fixing fences, coordinating fertiliser plans or meeting suppliers. “We love working this way.  It is a lot of extra work, but it’s worthwhile to know that our award-winning lamb we are so proud of producing gets to be in New Zealand restaurants and New Zealand family homes,” says Ali. “They know exactly where it’s come from and who has produced it. It’s important to us that as much of our lamb as possible goes into New Zealand mouths.” 


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