yarra VALLEY GAME MEATS
On sixty beautiful acres in Chum Creek, Ken Lang, one of this region’s real characters, operates Yarra Valley Game Meats. When he started back in 1978, Ken ran cattle until an opportunity arose to buy some deer. Balancing his trade as a bricklayer at the time, the farm quickly became his full-time role. Fast track to today and Ken is farming three breeds of deer – Red, Samba and Fallow – with over one hundred gracefully roaming the property at any given time.
Ken manages the farm with his trusty Maremma Sheepdog, Rex. The Maremma, or Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese, is an Italian breed cultivated to protect all kinds of livestock. Ken tells about Rex’s feud with a local wedge-tailed eagle who preys on his newly born deer. “He’s cornered it before and they’ve been head-to-head, with Rex barking his head off and the eagle screeching with its wings spread six feet wide. Though it’s mostly the bloody foxes that keep Rex occupied.”
Ken’s farm gate operates as an onsite butcher and sales point. Both Stones and Meletos have worked with Ken for many years, and his reliably excellent quality produce makes it easy for the kitchen team to order supplies each week. While Ken specialises in venison, he also sources a diverse range of meat from suppliers around Australia, from pheasant, emu and rabbit to kangaroo, wild boar and crocodile. Species that used to be unpopular are now very much in demand, Ken tells us. Along with growing general awareness, “increased interest in Indigenous cooking has seen a spike in crocodile orders, and it can be hard to keep up.” As for Ken’s deer, no part is wasted. From slow roasts to sausages and cured meats, every cut is utilised. Some of the more unusual parts are popular with Asian consumers, in whose cultures the tail and scrotum are sought after as aphrodisiacs.
We loved Ken’s rural hospitality, having a ball as he took us around in the trailer of his quad bike, opening and closing gates for him
and spreading feed for the herds. As we entered one paddock the graceful creatures bounded elegantly alongside the bike. To Ken it
was a standard procedure; to us, a majestic experience. On our tour, Ken also proved his storytelling chops, keeping us on the edge
of our seats with tales of abalone diving as a young man, encounters with horse-eating crocodiles, and anecdotes of colourful customers.
Ken also told us about an unforgettable day, 7th of February 2009, of how fires rolled in over the surrounding hills of Chum Creek.
It was, of course, Black Saturday. Ken did all he could to save the farm and his animals, but the damage to the property and loss of livestock was devastating. After the distressing ordeal and weeks of fencing repairs, Ken was looking out over his decimated property when a fateful visit up the driveway by a local biodynamic farmer changed the farms pastures forever. He was offered a biodynamic formula and advised to spray it on his paddocks on an afternoon before rain was due. Though sceptical to begin with, he had nothing
to lose. What we saw on our visit could best be described as pristine. “Some people called it voodoo crap but it really worked!”
Ken rejoices. Along with paddock rotation, he has continued to apply the formula and the property is a sight to behold. Call in advance and you can visit the farm gate, purchase some venison cuts and admire the view for yourself.
Alarmingly, just a few weeks before our visit, we nearly lost Ken. In over thirty years of rearing deer, Ken had his first run-in with
a stag. Male Red deer are known to be territorial and aggressive and on one morning feed, a large stag caught him by surprise, appearing right next to the bike. Ken accelerated out of the way just as it went for his leg; its sharp antlers narrowly missed him but tore up his back mudguard. Spinning around “to get the hell out of there”, the beast was facing him and blocking his exit. “You know when
a stag is gearing up to have a go, ‘cause their eyes roll back and their tongue flops to the side.” As it charged him, he had no choice but
to accelerate the bike to match the stag’s aggression. The beast lifted the front of the bike right up off its wheels and Ken said he would have surely tipped if it wasn’t for the trailer on the back. As the stag was composing itself for a second hit, Ken caught it off guard, knocking him away to race through the gates to safety. “It definitely would have killed me if I’d come off,” Ken soberly reflected.
As with every farm visit we make for Seasoned, there is a great sense of fulfilment as we drive away with a better understanding of what’s behind the food we purchase, cook, eat and share. Producers all around the valley are working hard every day and in the case of Ken, by himself for over 30 years. He, and others like him, deserve the recognition and support of the local community and its venues. This is real honest production. Ken mills tonnes of grain a week, feeds by hand, butchers in the shop, answers the phones and opens his arms to visitors like us to proudly show what he does – and this should be celebrated.