Australia’s largest rabbit farm is poised to capitalise on the transformation of rabbit meat from ‘poor man’s chicken’ into gourmet fare.
Story By Sheridan Rogers
You can tell from his beaming face that Allan Clarke loves rabbits. It’s not just the way he fondles the kittens and talks to the does (female rabbits), it’s also the pride he takes in having 12,000 healthy white specimens in his care. “They’re the happiest rabbits you’ll see,” he says as he picks a couple of week-old fluffy white kittens up out of their nest. “And they just love listening to classical music. There can be up to 17 in one litter, but we try to keep them to eight per nest and foster the others out.”
The personable thirtysomething is manager of the Border Range rabbit farm, the biggest branded rabbit farm in Australia. Situated just north of Kyogle in northern New South Wales and surrounded by the spectacular Border Range National Park, Clarke’s enthusiasm for his rabbits is infectious. “It’s a brilliant industry to be in,” he says. “A sunrise industry – and we’re right at the forefront.”
Founded six years ago by three enterprising Queensland businessmen, the company is headed up by chairman Paul Bardwell and managing director Paul McVerry. Both have an impressive track record: Paul McVerry was previously General Manager of American Breeders Services, which specialised in improved animal breeding and farming techniques, a history which is invaluable to ensuring the Border Range product is of first-class standard. He was also general managere and director of the Great Pie Company and was responsible for its domestic and international expansion, ensuring well-focused and visionary plans for Border Range. As Chairman of Lenard’s Poultry, Paul Bardwell has a wealth of food-retailing management and experience and with 20 years in the industry under his belt, he is widely known and respected as a food-retailing expert.
“We identified an opportunity in the market during the mid 1990s when most of the wild rabbits were wiped out by the calicivirus,” says Paul McVerry. “A lot of European migrants were crying out for rabbit meat and it was also becoming fashionable with foodies. Rabbit meat has long been in high demand in Europe for its flavour and versatility and the idyllic countryside around here is perfect for farming the New Zealand white, noted the world over the premier table rabbit with pale tender flesh and a delightfully mild taste. We have developed a fully vertically integrated system from artificial insemination through to the final product and are now finding it difficult to keep up with the demand.” To date, over $4 million has been invested in the farm and it is under quarantine at all times.
While plenty of Australians grew up eating rabbit as an economic necessity (during the Depression it was dubbed “poor man’s chicken”), its elevation to gourmet circles is a new phenomenon. One of the keys to the success of Border Range rabbits is Allan’s husbandry.
This story excerpt is from Issue #54
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2007