News Article

MEET THE FINALISTS - DIVERSIFYING WOOL WORKS FOR FORGE CREEK LAMB


   Wednesday 7th October, 2020

Family businesses are quite common across Gippsland, and as each generation steps into the position of continuing the name and tradition, new ideas surface to challenge the ways of the past, but in doing so, change the profitability model for the future.

When Neil and Angela Stringer took over Forge Creek Lamb from Neil’s late father in 2017, they knew they wanted to do things a little differently, particularly when faced with the ongoing drought in the region.

Over the last three years, their measured approach to diversification and learning new skills whilst continuing to assess progress and refine plans, has delivered good results for their sheep and wool farming business.

The Stringer’s sustainable farming approach and innovative business model got the judges‘ attention in the 2020 Food & Fibre Gippsland Excellence in Agribusiness Awards, with Forge Creek Lamb and its sister brand, Our Wool Naturally, named as finalists in the Excellence in Fibre Award, a category supported by East Gippsland Shire Council.

At the time of taking over the business, both Neil and Angela were employed off farm. And they knew they wanted to shift from being price takers to price makers for their premium quality meat and wool products.

They also recognised the need to diversify their inherited business model.

Enter the ever-popular Lamb Shack, a mobile kitchen set up to promote Gippsland Lamb that, outside of a Covid restriction driven environment, regularly operates within a one-hour radius of the farm near Paynesville in East Gippsland.

The Lamb Shack has been a prominent feature at regional food festivals and activities, whilst also being available for private catering and small private events. It is hoped that once Victoria returns to a “Covid normal” way of life, they can re-connect to communities that, in the extraordinary events of 2020, have become even more passionate about supporting local farmers and producers.

The Stringers breed their own stock, and with three lambings throughout the year, they currently process a portion of the flock twice a month. Known for its tenderness and flavour, their ethically raised lamb retails via an online platform and specific East Gippsland butchers, as well as from their mobile Primesafe licensed vehicle at farmers markets in Bairnsdale, Paynesville and Metung.

The go-to popular cuts of meat may vary throughout the seasons, but one item that never fails to impress is Angela’s signature lamb pies – with a batch of 60 selling out at every market.

Meat is an important part of the business, but it was the wool production that rewarded Forge Creek Lamb with their finalist status in the 2020 Awards program.

With income from selling wool as raw fleeces down approximately 40% from two years ago, the next stage of their diversification journey has been to design a boutique range of quilts, underlays and pillows from their home grown wool, under the label Our Wool Naturally.

Collaborating with another Gippsland business, Aussie Wool Comfort in Warragul, Neil and Angela have enabled their wool bedding range to be manufactured in Australia; importantly, contributing directly to the Gippsland economy.

A 100% Australian product, the wool used to create the range is shorn on farm, transported to Melbourne for scouring and carding before making the journey back to Gippsland, to the factory in Warragul.

Online sales are steady, with one item in particular, the king size summer doona, regularly selling out within two weeks of being stocked!

Buying patterns indicate many people start their relationship with the producer by becoming meat buying customers. Then, potentially coinciding with a change of season, and an established trust in the quality and integrity of the brand, they purchase a wool quilt, underlay or pillows.

Registered with Woolmark, the popular range will go into production at the Warragul factory again this summer.

The next project on the list for Forge Creek Lamb is an accommodation venture, with a small, carefully planned farm stay cottage to be built on the waterfront edge of the farm boundary.

With 15 percent of the property stock excluded for nature reserve, the family has put years of hard work into planting native trees, creating a spectacular environment for visitors to enjoy as part of their stay, along with being immersed in an on-farm experience.

With 15 percent of the property stock excluded for nature reserve, the family has put years of hard work into planting native trees, creating a spectacular environment for visitors to enjoy as part of their stay, along with being immersed in an on-farm experience.

Naturally, part of that experience will include the cottage bedrooms being kitted out with all of the bedding products created from wool grown by the Forge Creek flock.

A business with multiple streams, Forge Creek Lamb has a passion for the provenance of East Gippsland, something that is easily traceable in both their meat and wool products.

Whether you are sleeping on it or eating it, the dedication to quality is already award-winning stuff from this 4th generation East Gippsland family business.

Winners of the 2020 Food & Fibre Gippsland Excellence in Agribusiness Awards will be announced online on November 20.