Lamb brand built on hard work

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

The Tomeo brothers might have youth on their side, but they say it is hard work, timing and quality that have made them successful.

Together Peter, 29, Marty, 27, and Rob, 25, run Karradale Meats – a quality lamb brand already making its mark on the WA restaurant and catering scene.

The trio process 1500 lambs per week that are marketed under the Karradale label and destined for the domestic market. But it was just a couple of prime lambs taken into Rob’s work that started the whole venture.

At the tender age of 20 Rob had finished his butchering apprenticeship, while Peter and Marty had taken over their parents’ Westdale farm and were feedlotting lambs.

Realising they had the potential to stitch up a large part of the supply chain, the brothers took a gamble.

“We started on a small scale, doing 30–40 lambs a week and selling them to the butcher I was working for in Perth and a couple of other butchers around,” Rob said.

“They were getting sold as ‘From Karradale farms,’ and everyone was pretty happy with the product.

“The numbers kept picking up, so we thought it was time to actually start a business.”

Karradale Meats was born and during the first week of operation at their Osborne Park premises the brothers processed almost 60 lambs.

Built on whole lambs, the brand has progressed to a variety of cuts and packaged product and the Tomeo’s now employ 25 staff.

Quality and freshness are paramount, but Rob said it still took consistency and time to build a reputation.

“There’s a pretty big range of cheap stuff out there, but a lot of people are quite happy to pay for the good stuff and they’ll come back for it,” he said.

“In the first couple of years we just had to be in the market with everybody else just to get our name out there, but now we’ve got a good, consistent client base.”

Part of the business’ success is its structure. Each brother has control over a section of the supply chain, meaning they can specialise at their own task.

Marty runs the farm and feedlot, turning off 300 lambs a week from the feedlot and managing the family’s 2000 ewes.

Store lambs are brought and spend a minimum of 30 days on pellets before being sent to slaughter at Bunbury to process under the Karradale Meats label.

Peter focuses on the transport side of the business, overseeing daily trucking of sheep to the abattoir and carcases to the processing plant.

With prime lambs also sourced on-farm and a full-time stock buyer on the road, trucks are sent across the state.

After slaughter Rob takes over, running the processing plant and developing the meat product.

“Part of it is work ethic, but probably the only reason that we’ve been successful is because there are three of us and we all know what we’re doing,” Peter said.

“We each have a piece in the puzzle and it’s all working well.”

But taking control of the supply chain isn’t for the faint hearted – Peter admits it is an enormous undertaking.

“Having the whole chain has made a massive difference, but it’s a lot of work,” he said.

“Once the sheep leave your farm gate you can’t forget about them. There’s a massive process involved from buying them before they get to the feedlot, to coordinating trucks, getting them to an abattoir and processing.”

And testament to their hard work, the business has grown 50–fold during the past five years.

However, the importance of timing can’t be underestimated and Rob readily admits starting a label would have been almost impossible in today’s sheep market.

“If someone wants to do what we’re doing in the next four or five years it will be tough,” he said.

“We were lucky that we started in 2006 when we still had two or three years of plenty of stock around.

“It’s really only been the last two years that have been tough.

“But for anyone to come in now with the price where it is and try and get the money they need for everything, it will be pretty difficult.

“We don’t think we’d be able to do it now, so we had luck on our side when we entered.”

Rob said the family would like to expand the business further, perhaps processing up to 500 lambs per day, but like most of the livestock sector it was constrained by a depleted WA flock and high prices.

When Karradale Meats started the farmgate price was about $3kg. Five years later it is now nearly $6kg.

“Supply is the limiting factor, not the demand for the product,” Rob said.

“Eventually we want to try and integrate the full chain.

“We’ve got nearly everything ourselves but we just don’t have an abattoir in between.

“There’s not enough livestock around to warrant one.”

Nevertheless, the brothers admit things are going well and being spring lambs themselves, they say they’re in the meat business for the long haul.

“There’s room for the next generation to come in,” Peter said.

“And that’s where our future is.”

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