fam­ily tra­di­tions

FAM­ILY COMES FIRST FOR THIRD-GEN­ER­A­TION CAT­TLE FARMER, JAMES BJORK­STEN, WHO RUNS HERE­FORD RED BEEF IN CEN­TRAL NSW.

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JAMES BJORK­STEN, FOUNDER of Here­ford Red Beef is a third-gen­er­a­tion cat­tle farmer, and a thor­oughly mod­ern man. Fresh from drop­ping daugh­ters Grace and Lola at school and day care, we meet out­side the Yeo­val vil­lage pub in cen­tral NSW — 20 kilo­me­tres down the road from Wan­doo Wan­dong, his fam­ily’s cat­tle farm. It’s a hot day, push­ing 41 de­grees, but James, 36, a qual­i­fi­fied agron­o­mist and an­i­mal nu­tri­tion­ist, is as cool as a cu­cum­ber. Red dirt bil­lows after his ute as we head down the long drive­way to his fam­ily prop­erty. Hand­some Here­ford bulls with their sig­na­ture white faces, and rust coloured bod­ies as big as small cars, lie lan­guidly un­der tall gums, es­cap­ing the heat. Re­cent rains have brought rich pas­ture and the Bjork­stens’ herd of 3500 pure­breds, in­clud­ing 1200 cows and calves, looks fat and happy. Wan­doo Wan­dong is a 3000-hectare prop­erty in a rich al­lu­vial val­ley, about an hour and a half north-west of Orange. The fam­ily has an­other 1750 hectares at nearby Cum­nock but it was here, hemmed by the ranges of the Goobang Na­tional Park, that James’ grand­par­ents, Ruby and Nor­man, moved their pure­bred herd from Sey­mour, Vic­to­ria, in the 1970s. Nor­man be­gan his af­fif­fil­i­a­tion with Here­fords as a drover in the 1940s, and be­gan breed­ing in the 1950s. The Bjork­sten herd to­day is di­rectly de­scended from this stock. The prop­erty is joined by a series of laneways with a cen­tral route from the huge rolling pad­docks to the stock­yards, where James and his fa­ther, Ian, keep a close eye on their cat­tle. There is enough land here for one foot­ball fifield per beast, and while the Bjork­stens em­ploy ro­ta­tional graz­ing and crop­ping, the cat­tle are as near to free-range as pos­si­ble. “We in­tro­duce a few new bulls each year but we haven’t added any new cows for 55 years,” says James. “What that means is we know our herd com­pletely, and we op­er­ate pretty much as sus­tain­ably as pos­si­ble.” The fam­ily also grows all their own for­age and hay, and their cat­tle are com­pletely home­grown, grass-fed and hor­mone-free. Here­ford Red Beef — the pre­mium whole­sale brand James and his wife, Sarah, started six years ago when he came to work with his fa­ther on the farm — se­lects only the very best bul­locks from the herd. “Here­ford Red Beef is highly mar­bled for a grass-fed prod­uct but is also ten­der and juicy with a beau­ti­ful strong flflavour,” says James. “It is also com­pletely trace­able from pad­dock to plate, and is graded in the top 5 per cent for eat­ing qual­ity by Meat Stan­dards Aus­tralia.” James stores and dis­trib­utes his prod­ucts from a premises in Orange. Here he ages, and hand­marks his meat be­fore sup­pling top lo­cal and city res­tau­rants. These in­clude Lolli Re­dini and Byng Street Café in

“We in­tro­duce a few new bulls each year but we haven’t added any new cows for 55 years.”

Orange; Syd­ney’s Wool­pack Ho­tel and Dar­ley’s Restau­rant at the Lil­ian­fels Blue Moun­tains Re­sort and Spa. James’s con­nec­tion to his cat­tle, and this land runs deep. Born less than two hours’ away at Dubbo Base Hos­pi­tal, and ed­u­cated lo­cally at Yeo­val and Kin­ross Wo­laroi School, James can re­mem­ber many af­ter­noons spent on the farm with his grand­par­ents. “My grand­dad sadly passed away fi­five years ago, and my grandma is now 86, and I grew up very close to them,” he says. “My grandpa used the sta­bles ev­ery day, feed­ing the horses and rid­ing out to muster cat­tle. I of­ten went with him. Ev­ery af­ter­noon, my younger sis­ter and brother and I would get offff the school bus, and go straight to Grandma’s for af­ter­noon tea. For me, be­ing away from this place is akin to be­ing over­seas.” James and Sarah, who works in child pro­tec­tion, do not live on Wan­doo Wan­dong, where James’ par­ents Ian and Jen­nifer live. They chose in­stead to make a life in Orange near the girls’ schools and Here­ford Red Beef’s stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. There, Sarah is also com­plet­ing her stud­ies in in­te­rior de­sign and start­ing her own busi­ness, Salted Grace In­te­ri­ors. Per­haps sym­bolic of a newer breed of Aus­tralian farmer and pro­ducer, James who is in­tent on carv­ing his own path on the fam­ily farm, is also a prag­ma­tist. “It can be chal­leng­ing not liv­ing on the farm with the work­load, in terms of help­ing Dad, al­though I am here or at Cum­nock fi­five days a week,” he says. “But with a young fam­ily, you have to pri­ori­tise. At the heart of Here­ford Red Beef, it is a busi­ness, and one I couldn’t have started with­out Sarah’s sup­port, and she and our kids come fi­first. I think that’s a mis­take a lot of farm­ers make; putting the land fi­first.” Ian has never doubted his son’s com­mit­ment to his dream. “James has pas­sion­ate ideas about things, and he’s done ex­cep­tion­ally well in a tough mar­ket to carve this niche for him­self... his ex­per­tise in an­i­mal nutrition, the con­sis­tency of our per­for­mance herd and what we think is ex­cel­lent tast­ing Here­ford beef have helped him make his own way.” Achiev­ing that bal­ance be­tween work and home life is para­mount, says James. “With Here­ford Red Beef, I can utilise my skills pro­duc­ing a high-qual­ity prod­uct… and with Dad’s ex­pert help, I can still be around at home to be a good fa­ther and hus­band.” For more in­for­ma­tion about Here­ford Red Beef, tele­phone 0428 333 161 or visit here­for­dred­beef.com.au

WORDS ALEX SPEED PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MARK ROPER

One of the Bjork­stens’ Here­ford cows in a pad­dock. FAC­ING PAGE James and Sarah’s daugh­ters, three-year-old, Lola, and Grace, six, play­ing in the wool­shed.

The fam­ily has a herd of 3500 Here­ford cattt­tle. FAC­ING PAGE James keeps a watch­ful eye on the herd.

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