These little piggies no longer go to market
WITH fences to fix, a farm to run, and more than 150 animals to care for, as well as 17 hungry piglets needing nurtured, Whitsunday Beefalo and Berkshire Gold owner Christina della Valle has her feet - and her sights - set firmly on the ground.
Last month, Ms della Valle (right) stopped selling meat to local butchers, after five years of providing businesses with rare breeds of pork because "butchers don't want to cut up carcasses any more”.
She said she would now focus on breeding cattle and pigs to sell "whole”.
"I can't find a butcher to do the job. Full stop. If I found a butcher who was willing to cut up the carcass, I would have to check whether he was trustworthy and did a good job. In the old days, that went without saying,” she said.
"Now, they get the meat already cut up from the wholesalers, so you don't get local meat in any butcher because it doesn't exist.”
Her farm has also been well known for selling ham and pork at local markets and Ms della Valle said she was "sad” to end this part of her business.
"But, I have quite a lot of demand from people wanting the animals fully grown.
"People can still buy a pig for their own consumption. I sell the animal, and it's up to the person who buys it to home slaughter it if they have land or, if they live in Airlie Beach or Canonnvale, they can go to a slaughter house.”
Ms della Valle, who sailed from Switzerland to Australia with her husband Peter Deicke in 1991, said the couple were now North Queensland "landlubbers” devoted to their pigs, cows and rare and quality meats.
From her property in the hills between Proserpine and Airlie Beach, Ms della Valle, with a keen interest in genetics, also writes for a rural Swiss newspaper.
"I'm a once-a-month journalist who does a column, and I write about my life here and the problems facing the farmers here.
"In my former life, I used to be a biologist - I'm a city girl - and I taught biology and anatomy in Switzerland. But now, I couldn't live in the city any more.”
Ms della Valle works her property with the help of a neighbour three-and-a-half days a week while her husband takes care of any necessary repairs in the shed.
She prides herself on providing "a happy pig's life not spent on cement floors” for her animals, and is currently playing the role of mother to 17 babies who were born in two batches.
"During the heat wave in January, we had two sows who got bitten by a snake they probably met by the waterhole. One was a mother, so I had nine week-old piglets to raise.”
Last Sunday another mother pig, a Berkshire Gold - a heritage breed from England - gave birth in a part of the yard that was in the full sun.
"Pigs can't sweat and she got up and left. The tiny pigs can't go without that first milk or they die of dehydration. I knew that and saw that she left. It was too hot ... I can't blame her. So I went and collected the little ones who were hiding behind clumps of grass.”
Ms della Valle said her day starts at 5.15am, feeding the piglets before giving the cattle "a lick of molasses”.
"It's like offering kids a lolly. They love the molasses so they come straight over and you can also count and check them.”
She then feeds the rest of her pigs - grain in the morning and fruit and vegetables in the afternoon because they have the same food requirements as humans - and spends time on her book work, "which I hate”.
Depending on market prices, her cows sell for between $1000-$1500, and pigs weighing between 50kg-60kg, sell for about $300. She said the industry will never make her rich, but it is a way of life she loves and always wanted to follow.
As a woman working on the land in rural Australia, she has also found she had to earn her place.
"When we came 27 years ago, I was amazed as it was very much a man's world. When we met people, they talked to Peter and his English was very basic, so I answered.
"I think I am accepted now.”
Ms della Valle said she regularly travelled to Switzerland where she visited her children and grandchildren, and compared the way people in different countries ran their farms, and sold their food.
"Over there, in labelling, by law they have to note where their meat and poultry comes from on menus, including if it's free range and where it comes from.
"The labelling laws are very strict in most of Europe, and here they are extremely soft. Here, some ingredients you don't even have to put on the label and sometimes they tell you it's free range and it's not.”
From sailor to farmer and world adventurer to cattle and pig breeder, Ms della Valle said she was happy she followed her dreams, crossed the oceans, and put her roots down in Australia.
"I love being a woman of the land and I wouldn't have it any other way.”