HIGHLY productive, placid in nature and good eating quality were the three main reasons behind free range pork producers Aaron and Meg Dickson's decision to breed lesser-known Wessex Saddleback pigs at Currency Creek.
The Dicksons moved from Melbourne back to SA in 2010, keen to set-up a self-sustaining, free range farm to produce and sell ethical animal products.
The couple had previous experience with cattle and sheep, but decided on breeding pigs as they saw a niche in the market.
"At the time there was a shift in the pig industry, a preference for more free range pork products," Mr DIckson said.
"Our property wasn't that big either, so we wanted something that was highly productive that could be run on a smaller property so pigs were an obvious choice."
The Dicksons did some research and chose Wessex Saddlebacks as the breed was unique in SA, another niche.
"The British heritage breed came to Australia in the 1930s but was not overly popular as the breed was more suited to foraging, than intensive production," Mrs Dickson said.
"They put too much fat on in an intensive situation, so they are ideal for free range because they work off some of that fat when roaming.
"It then gives the meat a special flavour - another niche - because of the free range, but also the mixed diet from foraging.
"The breed is also very placid in nature, which we thought was important for handling, we are very close with all our breeders."
The couple bought three sows and two boars from Fernleigh Free-Range Farms in Bullarto, Vic, to breed from.
"Fiona Chambers from Fernleigh is a geneticist and she was able to teach us about pig handling and genetics to minimise inbreeding and avoid the loss of productivity," Mrs Dickson said.
"That's why we bought two boars, to ensure we could increase our breeding stock without crossing the genetics."
Pigs can produce up to three litters a year, averaging 6-8 piglets at a time, but Mrs Dickson said she's had a 14-head litter.
"We only do two litters a year to give the sows a bit of a rest," she said.
They have since built numbers up to 13 sows and three boars.
To be free range, the Dicksons must ensure max stocking rates of 20-25 sows/ha, hence the true free range status of the farm with 16 sows/adult pigs on their 32ha property.
Mr Dickson said it was a steep learning curve in the beginning, in breeding and feeding, and getting numbers up to be able to start processing for sale.
"But we finally got there and started selling 81 Acres preservative and nitrate-free bacon, sausages and fresh pork cuts at the Willunga Farmers Market in June," he said.
The business is named after the size of their property at Currency Creek.
The couple now process 3-5 pigs a fortnight.
We have approached and managed to make some Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale restaurant connections, which is an avenue we want to pursue further.
The products are sold at the Willunga Farmers Markets on the first and third Saturday of the month and in November, they also started selling at the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market.
"We have approached and managed to make some Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale restaurant connections, which is an avenue we want to pursue further - the restaurant trade," Mr Dickson said.
Today, there are about nine registered pedigree herds in Australia, including the Dicksons.
Two years ago, the couple bought five Angus females to mate with an Angus bull from Greg Nash, Glen Fern, Yundi.
They also bought a few Murray Greys to increase their herd to eight females.
The couple said "Harley" the bull had a 100 per cent strike rate and the first calves dropped in April/May.
"We may keep a few heifers but most will go to market - we need the income to help manage the pigs and feed costs," Mr Dickson said.
To try and keep feed costs down, the Dicksons source spent grain from Mismatch Brewering Co. and sometimes, through connections made at the markets, whey from a local cheesemaker Second Valley Cheese and eggs from Falkai Farm in Finniss.
"We also try to strip graze the property and rotate the pigs to give our pastures a rest, but it is hard at the moment because it's so dry," Mrs Dickson said.