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