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Photo by Ted O'Donnell

Interview with – Will Onus of Woodside Farm

Woodside is a 1,200 hectare family farm, owned and run by the Onus Family at Adjungbilly in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. Based on the highly respected Bongongo Angus bloodlines, Woodside Farm specialises in breeding premium Black Angus cattle. Complemented by a 1,200 strong Dorper ewe breeding flock, all livestock are run on high-grade pastures that follow the principles of long-term sustainability.

“Our main purpose here is to breed as many quality cattle as possible.”

Black Angus is the premium product that our market demands and is the only breed we farm here alongside our Dorper sheep. Purely a breeding farm, we run our cows on large tracts of leased state government owned pine forest. The relationship with the government is really harmonious, we need the land and the state highway needs the grazing as it reduces fire risk.

“In the old days you just put the bulls with the cows, but there’s quite a bit of science to it now.”

Gone are the days of simply hoping for the best, we now have the benefit of science. This includes which genetics to use, what feeds to give, the weights to bring the young females back from grazing at Condobolin and when to join them with the bulls here. There are fairly detailed criteria and there’s very little guess work left to it.

“We purchase a bull around every two years, it’s all about perfecting genetics.”

It’s about constantly improving our commercial herd. We actually have a little stud here, but purchase bulls when we need them or use artificial insemination, there are a lot of cows here. Fertility is the key factor when looking at genetics, also the ability to have and raise a calf. Then you start to look at growth rates, size and structure. If a cow isn’t able to get pregnant, then we cull from the herd and send them to the livestock markets.

“Building a family owned business is paramount.”

The idea that you are working for something that the rest of the family can benefit from, brings real purpose. The direct, tangible things like fixing that fence or mustering that mob of cattle, you know you’re connected, it’s for your family and the next generation coming through. It would be a completely different feeling working for a large corporate. I also think that you retain control over what’s going on and when things happen. Although this can be hard, you still have your say in a privately owned business. Here, we’re all involved. My mother is an excellent book-keeper and avid gardener, she looks after both the accounting and making everything look nice. The rest of the family chip in with work around the farm and the heavier load goes to myself and our staff. We have one full-time employee and bring on casual workers when we need them.

“Asking questions around where your food is from makes for a better consumer.”

I think it’s really important that people take an interest in what they’re eating and where it comes from. The more knowledge that people have, the better they are as consumers, it forces everyone out there to be accountable. We’re lucky to be able to grow our own good food here, actually we’re real foodies.

“The number of hours in the week is our biggest challenge at the moment.”

There’s never enough time, I guess that would be true of all small businesses. That together with the ever changing seasons. Typically, you have everything lined up and then it doesn’t rain or it rains too much!

“Our dream for the future is to expand a little, produce our own brand.”

There are plenty of brands out there at the moment, but in line with the food provenance discussion, it would be great to showcase our quality produce. Our cattle are all grass-fed here and to be able to create a brand and be in a position to capitalise on our sustainability story would be fantastic. As far as succession, we would never pressure our children to take over the business. Although it would be incredible if they chose to, of course. It’s a beautiful lifestyle here, I guess I am biased, but I think it’s pretty great really. Well, you never know.