Delicious lamb straight from the source is what Big Paddock Farm is all about.
Fifth generation farmer, Tom McConnell, and partner, Leona Chan, are bridging the gap between the dinner table and the paddock.
The name Big Paddock is a nod to the original McConnell farm established 130 years ago.
Establishing an online retail store, the young couple are showcasing the origin and story of their lamb – a story that starts with the farm’s fertile pastures, providing nutrition for the animals’ growth, to the farmer who nurtures the flock – a story often forgotten in the concrete jungles of Australia.
Leona, a self-confessed city girl, had grown up in places like Singapore and Hong Kong that import almost all their food. She described the ability of being able to know where the food comes from as amazing.;
“When I was living in Melbourne, it was always hard to know where your food was coming from.
“I’d been coming to Barham to Tom’s farm for quite a long time and every time I would come up, we would have lamb from the farm butchered by Tom’s dad, Andrew.
“I just thought, this is great, how fantastic to know exactly where your food is coming from.”
Moving back to the farm was a change of direction for Tom, a grain trader, and Leona, working in marketing and advertising.
“Leona and I went travelling for a year and then decided a tree change was the right idea,” said Tom.
“It was supposed to be a few months, then we were supposed to go back travelling,” said Leona with a laugh.
Tom is working with his dad, Andrew, and uncle, David, after coming home four years ago.
“Traditionally, we would send them (the lambs) off to market on the back of a truck,” said Tom.
“You get a cheque at the end of the day, but you never end up knowing whether the person on the other end appreciates them.
“It’s really knowing they end up with the customer and you are able to get the feedback and they enjoy it.”
The first cross lambs, white Suffolk over merino, make up about one third of the McConnell flock joining. The lambs are grown to a targeted weight of 20-24 kilograms, and sold as quarter, half or whole lamb. Keeping it local, the processing of the lambs takes place in Swan Hill and the butchering at the Little Pork Deli, Barham.
“Initially, we had a few friends try it and they raved about the quality of the lamb,” said Leona.
“Mostly, it’s through word of mouth. We have had a few returning customers buying several whole lambs.
“It’s great to show people who the farmer is and where we live, it interests people.”
The farm is a busy place, with winter cropping and organic rice production all complementing the sheep side of the business.
When Tom and Leona catch a breath between work and the demands of newborn daughter, Annie, they both enjoy putting their lamb to the taste test. A love of curries developed in Tom’s childhood, expanded with travel through Asia, has filtered through to the recipes you can find on the Big Paddock Farm website.
“Lamb curry is my favourite,” said Tom when asked about his perfect curry. Lucky it wasn’t chicken.
The couple have been overwhelmed with the engagement by their customers and online followers.
“It seems to have created a lot of interest,” said Leona.
“We have had messages from people who used to live in Barham or would drive through.
“People also share photos of the lamb they’ve cooked.”
With the seasonal nature of production, Tom and Leona are looking forward to a busy spring filled with delicious 2022 lamb. You can find out more about the Big Paddock Farm on Facebook and Instagram or check out bigpaddockfarm.com.au
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 17 February 2022.