Herb and Lucy Mackenzie are partners and the inspiring, hardworking owners of U Goose … a one of a kind business that not only breeds its own birds, but monitors their production and manufacturing processes from egg to the final destination – the consumer!
It’s no surprise that U Goose won both the Excellence in Small Business and Excellence in Innovation categories at this year’s Armidale Regional Business Awards. This is the Mackenzies’ story…
Please introduce yourself and your family. What brought you to the New England area to work and live?
Herb Mackenzie is the fourth generation on the family property Seaforth, located on the outskirts of Guyra, in a small town called Llangothlin in the New England.
Lucy Mackenzie is originally from VIC, and the couple initially met at school some 20 years ago.
Together we have son George (nine years) and twin daughters, Maggie and Molly (six years). We also run an Angus Stud here on the property and have our annual sale in late July/early August – called Seaforth Angus, as well as running trade steer and second cross lamb operations.
We are now the largest and only completely integrated commercial goose meat operators in Australia.
How/when was your business, U Goose, established?
The drought of 2014 nearly brought us to our knees and breaking point – it was one of the hardest times in our young professional lives. Looking back, it was a good thing, because it forced us to look harder at our business, our business model, how we were doing things, why we were running the enterprises we were, and if there was something else that would be more beneficial for our business – that would complement our biological mindset and already existent operations for our soils and land, and improve cash flow gaps in months where we needed them. Most of all, the “new idea” had to work in this cold New England climate!
It was then that the goose idea seed was born … and it was then that everyone officially thought we’d lost the plot! Yes, we were laughed at by many people, family included. But this only made us more determined to try and succeed.
I suppose this is an area where we are both so well suited and such a great team – and stubborn at times! When someone says to either one of us that we cannot do something, we will nearly do anything in our power to do it!
We wanted something different from anyone else that we had complete control of, from conception to the customer/to the plate.
We then established a unique goose incubation facility here on site and in 2015 established an Aussie first in our very own goose processing facility, also here on farm – which allows us to process when we want to process, when the animals are ready. It also has a commercial kitchen in the facility, where every part of the goose is value added – so nothing is wasted.
We truly love our goose! No one else in Australia does what we do, on the scale we do it, and has the products we have.
Of all the animals you could have chosen to work with, why choose geese?
Why geese – why not? We do not want to give away all of our secrets! But in all honesty, if we knew what we know now about how tough the goose game is and how much it costs on a commercial scale, we are not so sure we would have gone into it. Do not get us wrong; we love it more than anything, and all the geese are truly part of our family … but many people say breeding geese is easy! These comments normally come from hobby farmers who have a handful of geese and think they know everything. Commercially breeding geese is a completely different ball game. It is a hard gig!
We basically are the test guinea pigs for the entire industry, as there is no commercial knowledge or support for this industry here in Australia. For the past four – five years we have had to do all of the trials, research, and have copped all of the failures, financial burdens, etc., all off our own bat.
We accept this is part our business … but we feel as though we are very close to the secret recipe. We are so very excited about what the next five years is going to bring to our gaggles of geese here and the future employment opportunities this will then bring to locals.
How many birds do you currently run on your property? What breeds are they?
We have many different breeds here at
U Goose and have our very own cross breeding operation also happening to improve the size of our meat birds (geese). Currently we have approximately 2,500 breeding geese, so it’s testosterone central here at the moment!
We run our geese just like our cattle and sheep operations; they are all free range, with each gaggle having large irrigation dams to swim and play in daily. We allow each and every goose to be a goose, as nature intended. They are grazing animals and are at their best when they are able to do this, so this is what we let them do 24/7, 365 days a year.
What’s your property in Llangothlin like?
Our property here is 1,012 ha of gently undulating land, reasonably well timbered in the high country, with creeks and streams running through it – and it is at the head waters of George’s Creek.
What are the most popular products your business sells?
We currently have 96 different products available for purchase on the books, so there are many different options – whether you are into Free Range Goose, Free Range Mammoth Muscovy Duck or our very popular (only Australian made available) Goose Charcuterie Range or New England Farm Fresh Chickens.
Sometimes many people are unable to afford a whole goose, and this is why we have created so many other goose products, so that everyone from every walk of life is able to afford and enjoy a U Goose experience – without it breaking the bank.
It could be a container of pate, or our award winning rillettes with the girls and a few drinks on the weekend, or our famous
U Goose Rendered Fat (which has massive health benefits) for the best roast potatoes ever for the Sunday evening roast – we have something for everyone!
How does the manufacturing side of your business work?
We are very proud to say that each and every product is processed, made, cooked, packaged and dispatched from our facility here at U Goose. This helps our community too, with many locals employed here in our facility – we are a great team!
You’ve had some amazing recognition, within the food sector and through local business awards. What achievements are you most proud of?
We have been very humbled by all of the recognition that we have had over the past few years for our business, and most of all we could not do it without our great team of staff behind us and our family and friends.
We honestly cannot pick one over the other; it is too difficult, and all awards have their individual merits and stand for different things.
Our most recent awards at the Armidale Business Awards we felt really proud of, mainly due to the team of staff we have here now. They are just brilliant; they are reliable, have an amazing work ethic and share our vision and love for where we are going and what we are doing. We are so proud of them and love having them on our team – so well done, guys!
We are thrilled to be associated regularly with the menus of Matt Moran at ARIA, SYD; Shannon Bennet, Vue De Monde, VIC; Wasabi Noosa, QLD; Donna Chang, QLD, to name a few.
I urge others with this drought now to think outside the box; these are such exciting times in the food industry, and people are caring more and more about food culture and how and where their food comes from. This is not only in the cities; it is here in regional towns too!
Get on the wagon – it is great ride!
How can we purchase your products or contact you?
We are about to launch our online shop; however, you are able to contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0419 397 820.
Please note: if locals want to have their poultry processed, we offer a registered processing facility here too.
Thanks Herb and Lucy.
Interview: Jo Robinson.