Mandalong Lamb came about as a response to low sheep prices and, while the size of the operation has waxed and waned, the quality of the produce never has.
Story By Kirsty McKenzie
Mandalong Lamb began with a drought and almost ended with the recent drought but, with that curious brand of optimism that keeps farmers going through hail, flood, fire and drought, Mark Taylor says, “it will probably come good in the end”.
A brand that was for the best part of a decade synonymous with exceptional quality grain-fed lamb, and known to foodies up and down the east coast of Australia, Mandalong was the brainchild of Mark, a Walcha farmer and thoroughbred breeder, and his father Geoff, a retired stock and station agent.
“I guess you could say the idea was born of desperation,” Mark says. “It was 1994 and the middle of a drought and a buyer came out to the farm and offered me $5-$6 less per lamb than Dad and I knew they were worth.
So I thought ‘bugger that’, I’ll stick them on a feedlot for a few weeks and see if the market improves. So we made a few feeders from troughs and corrugated iron and fed them up, just like they do with cattle. At the end of that time, the market had dropped again, the lambs were worth even less and I was in an even worse position, having just spent six weeks’ worth of feed.”
Determined not to give in, Mark picked six of his best lambs, took them to the local butcher and asked him to dress them. He then packed the meat in Eskies and headed for Sydney, where he knocked on doors, told his story and eventually sold all his lamb. The next week he went back, knocked on the same doors and was greeted with universal enthusiasm.
“I established a rapport with the customers, found out what cuts they wanted and what they liked about the meat,” Mark says. “As city people, I guess they felt good about being able to do something practical to help someone from a drought-stricken farm. After a couple of months, however, it was obvious that I couldn’t hold the drought at bay with my door-knocking clients alone, so I made a tentative foray into the restaurant trade by offering our lamb to a Tamworth chef. He said he couldn’t believe the flavour and things just rolled from there.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #58
Outback Magazine: April/May 2008