On this farm there are veggies, chickens and happy pigs in mud — you won’t find electricity or running water
On the Head family’s fledgling farm near Canberra you will find a thriving vegetable patch, clucky chickens and happy pigs in mud.
What you won’t find is a house with running water or electricity.
Dan, Jillian and four-year-old Madison have given up many conveniences they enjoyed while living in Brisbane to pursue a simple life as pig farmers outside Queanbeyan in southern New South Wales.
“I knew nothing about pigs, I knew nothing about farming,” Dan Head said.
A far cry from agriculture, Dan’s background was as a pilot first in the Australian Air Force and then for a regional airline.
But when Jillian suffered post-natal depression after Madison’s birth, Dan’s perspective on life changed.
“Jillian got really sick and was hospitalised,” he said.
“It sort of shook things up for me dramatically; brought things into contrast.
“It made me realise I wasn’t particularly happy with what I was doing, I wanted to do something I felt was a bit more real.”
That “something” turned out to be pig farming.
Without any prior farming experience, the family packed up and moved closer to Jillian’s family to embark on a simpler way of living.
“It’s been a real journey of discovery, of learning what is important to us,” Dan said.
“As a pilot, I had a pretty decent income, we had a very expensive car, boat, lived in the city doing all sorts of things and didn’t really think anything about it.
“All that has to be given up. It’s a progression, it’s not something that you just wake up one day and do it all.”
Household conveniences sacrificed for time together
The family now live mostly off-grid in a caravan on land leased from friends, with no water or electricity connections.
They use auxiliary batteries charged by their neighbour’s solar panels to power phones and lights, and an esky with ice-bricks (also frozen at their neighbour’s house) to keep their food cool.
“We live a very simple life, which allows us to spend time together,” Dan said.
“The advantage is connection. It’s also connection with the things that sustain us, like food and water.”
It’s that connection to food sources that Jillian particularly enjoys, even though her “hodgepodge” kitchen featuring a BBQ and camp stove is open to the elements.
“When we had Madison, we really started to think about what we put in our bodies, we wanted to know where our food came from,” Jillian said.
“Living on the farm we know where it comes from. We like to eat everything that is fresh and organic.”
The pigs on the Head’s property are no exception. The rare heritage breeds are raised to sell as “ethical” pork products.
The animals are “humanely raised” and are free to roam, enjoying muddy wallows and sunshine.
“They’re really docile, they love spending time with us,” Dan said.
“They follow us around. It’s not a push model, it’s really a pull. We can walk them around the farm, we don’t need to corral them, they’ll follow us with a bucket.”
The family are also already building community connections, having donated a pig to a fire-affected farmer on the NSW South Coast and given excess pork to Foodbank.
Steep learning curve from pilot to pig farmer
Apart from the caravan, all of the sheds, pig pens and out-buildings on the property have been hand-built from reclaimed timber and recycled materials.
“It’s full-on. Everything is hard until you know how,” he said.
“Twenty years ago, when I started flying a plane it was really, really hard, then it became easy. It’s no different to that.
“You just muddle your way through. It’s a steep learning curve but it’s incredibly rewarding.”
While Jillian acknowledged the move hadn’t been smooth sailing, she said she liked the simplistic lifestyle.
“I jumped in with both feet and my eyes open, and we adjusted to make it work,” she said.
“It takes some meditation to get me through it sometimes, but I do like it.”