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Mandagery Creek

Photo by Ted O'Donnell


Interview with – Sophie Hansen of Mandagery Creek Australian Farmed Venison

Located near Orange on the central west tablelands of NSW, Mandagery Creek Australian Farmed Venison was established in July 2002 by Andrew and Tim Hansen. This family owned business is run by Tim and Sophie Hansen who live on the farm with their children Alice and Tom. The Hansen’s are passionately committed to sustainable farming and all Mandagery Creek venison is free-ranged and pasture-fed. As a result, the farm delivers a lean, subtle flavoured product that’s loved both locally and internationally.

“It started with a small herd on a small property, then just grew and grew.”

Tim was a meat trader in the city and his father Andrew, was a country vet. They both had a love for deer and decided to pool their expertise and start a family business with the view to building a strong brand. Tim began selling at the farmers markets and it grew steadily from there. Fourteen years on and we’ve expanded both locally and into major international markets. With Tim’s knowledge of trading and Andrew’s knowledge and love of the deer, their respective skills have greatly influenced the success of the brand.

“We’re completely vertically integrated.”

We control nearly every element of the business. Tim breeds the animals, works on the processing at the abattoir, then sells most of the meat himself. We’re pretty much farm to plate, the only wholesaler we use in the domestic market is into restaurants, but internationally, we manage the entire journey. We export all over the world and because we are fully Halal certified, major export markets are open to us like Malaysia and the Middle East.

“The whole family is involved in the business.”

We’ve had a lot of help from family over the years and we’re all hands on. I’m very much involved with marketing and my sister-in-law, Penny, became involved in a very unique way. A couple of years ago, she started her own homewares business ‘1803 Artisan Deer Design’, using byproducts of the farming process here. She works with the bone to create beautiful tableware and uses the deer hides to craft bags and various home products. It’s an incredible idea that follows the principles of ‘nose to tail’, a philosophy that aligns with our values to be as sustainable as we can.

“It’s about showcasing the importance of small farmers.”

I bring quite a different skill set to the team. With a background in food journalism and writing, my focus is with the marketing side of the business. I’m also a really keen home cook, so we host monthly lunches where guests are invited for a farm tour, I cook lunch and run a cooking demonstration, we call it the Mandagery Creek Farm Kitchen. I also write the newsletters and have a blog ‘Local is Lovely’, which I started to provide another way to talk to people about what we do. This offers recipe inspiration and education on not only our venison, but on what other farmers are doing as well. It’s all about showcasing local produce and demonstrating the importance of small farmers.

“Once they try the venison, they become customers for life.”

People who try the product are really enthusiastic about it and in fact, some of the best chefs in Australia use it. We’re on the menu at Bennelong and Marque along with a selection of other really great restaurants around the country, we are really proud about this. With venison, education and trial is key, especially with people who have only experienced wild shot venison and comment that it’s too gamey or too tough. We encourage them to try ours because it is farmed. This makes it a really beautiful tender meat, it cuts like butter, is high in iron and really low in fat, it’s very good for you. It’s a beautiful product, easy to cook and for us, it’s just a matter of sharing this knowledge with our customers. When we were working the farmers markets, we’d gain so many customers with a tasting, they’d become customers for life.

“We farm holistically.”

We employ a rotational grazing system here, whereby the animals move through paddocks for a short period of time and then those paddocks are rested for a long period of time. The idea is that the animals fertilise the paddocks themselves and really intensively graze. For most of the year, we don’t have to fertilise or feed, although we do supplement feed in freezing conditions so the animals maintain their condition. We actually employ a self grazing system based on a theory by author Allan Savory, who believes that this system is the best way forward for sustainable agriculture. We’ve seen a huge difference and now have lots of natural native grasses for the animals. We really look after our farm, it is so important for us to be ecologically sustainable.

“It’s vital that we all support our farmers as directly as possible.”

It is so easy just to buy nameless produce and not think about the season, but asking about where your food is from and shopping seasonally is so important for both the consumer and the farmer. If you buy in season then you are generally going to buy locally and it will be fresh. It is just so vital because it supports people like ourselves and it encourages other farmers to get involved, perhaps even brand their products too and take a little bit more ownership of what they are doing. It’s also so great to have that contact with your customers, positive feedback is incredibly encouraging.

“Our next step is to become readily available on the domestic market.”

We have just developed some beautiful new packaging for domestic retail and are talking with major retailers about getting ranged. At the moment, if you don’t live in Orange or if you don’t go through our wholesaler, it is quite hard to find the product. Our next step is about getting out there and making ourselves more accessible. Going forward, I think Tim would really love it if one of our children decided to get involved in some way, but they’re so young yet. They are at a great age now and are helping around the farm, opening gates for us and so on, it’s lovely to see and a great upbringing for them I think, to be actively part of our livelihood, I really like that.