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Meet your farming neighbours: Craig and Woody Oliver

Craig and Woody Oliver and their sons farm in Victoria, Australia

Every farm has its own story. No two farms (or farmers) are exactly alike. Everyone got started in a different way, and every farm has a different combination of family and hired staff who make the decisions and keep things running. But, in general, even after you consider all of the details, farmers are more alike than different, even when they’re on the other side of the globe.

This is the story of Craig and Woody Oliver and their boys Lee and Lachlan on Wandobah, a beautiful, thriving grazing property in the South Western District of the state of Victoria, Australia.

Where do you farm?

Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia

Craig and Woody’s 3,000-acre Wandobah property, just a few kilometres south of the small town of Dunkeld, is in the southwest region of the state of Victoria, in the southeast corner of Australia not far from the Southern Ocean. They farm with the help of sons Lee and Lachlan. Lee is studying engineering at the Monash University in Melbourne and Lachlan is in his final year of high school.

Craig and Woody took over the Wandobah family farm gradually, early on purchasing land from Woody’s dad in her high school years and since then taking on gradual ownership of Wandobah. As opportunity arose they expanded when additional adjacent land became available.

Craig worked previously for Phizer and Woody for the Department of Agriculture in applied research. Wan­dobah dates to 1914 when the first block of land was purchased by Woody’s grandfather.

This is the view from the Oliver’s front step, at their farm in the South Western District of the state of Victoria, Australia.
photo: Courtesy of the Oliver family

Who do you farm with?

“We farm with Lee and Lachlan and seasonal contracted help with seeding and shearing.”

What do you grow?

“We run about 7,000 ewes and roughly 4,000 lambs at any given time”

Wandohbah is all grazing. Located on the Victorian volcanic plains, the area was originally open grassy woodland and well suited to grazing. Large red gums are still scattered across the farm along with several areas of original native grassland. Both are ecologically and historically significant. Preservation and regeneration of these very old and majestic eucalyptus trees and native grassland areas has been a lifelong goal of the Olivers, whose involvement with the local Landcare Group has brought many visitors to the farm. Wandobah has also been a forerunner for the Bush Broker and Bush Tender Programs, selling off environmental credits.

Besides management of perennial pasture species, Craig has been a pioneer in cover cropping with forage brassicas, millet, grazing oats and other drought-resilient species providing great feed options during the hot dry summer for young ewes or fattening lambs.

How long have you been farming?

Woody: “I grew up here. Farmed all my life but gradually became full time 10 plus years ago. Both of us worked off-farm earlier on.”

What is your favourite farming season?

“All year! We have a great passion for what we do, so it is difficult to have one season stand out as the best. Perhaps shearing. We split the shearing — early spring (September) for the wethers and mature ewes and then early summer (December) for the first cross ewes and lambs. The genetics on Wandobah range from pure Merino sheep to crosses with Border Leicester rams giving a sought-after first cross ewe. These ewe lambs are very popular, giving great wool fibre specifications with softness, but not stretchy, and very suitable for suits. No pun intended.”

The Olivers run about 7,000 ewes and 4,000 lambs at any given time. They shear in early spring and early summer.
photo: Courtesy of the Oliver family

What is the farm implement you can’t live without?

Craig: “Direct seed drill.” Direct seeding has always been a strategy of Wandobah’s cover cropping and as of late from tine/hoe drill to disc drill with improved trash clearance and limited disturbance of the all-important soil cover in an agricultural region with very dry and hot summers. Most cropping and seeding new pastures is done by contractors, which is the norm here. Craig looks after any required in-season spraying or pre-seed burn-off.

You could have done anything. Why did you decide to farm?

Both Craig and Woody have an agriculture science background, but the lifestyle, walking the talk, and carrying on the 100-plus year Wandobah history made it quite an easy decision.

Tell me about a good decision you’ve made on the farm?

Woody: “To set up our partnership.”

Craig and Woody have clearly defined roles to match their strengths. Woody enjoys working with the stock and environmental stewardship initiatives. Craig likes agronomy and the financial side of the business.

What opportunities do you see ahead?

Woody: “It’s hard to define. So much is evolving, but perhaps private woodlots.”

Wandobah has dabbled in woodlots with blue gums, a eucalyptus grown for its fibre and used in products such as newsprint. Good quality pine logs are also sought after for timber.

What challenges do you see ahead?

Woody: “Clearly, climate change.”

The Olivers have always had drought-proofing on their minds. Key strategies have been cover cropping to reduce the feed gap in summer, and capital investments in building stock dams, water pipelines and grain storage — to allow them to buy grain when prices are low to supplement feed rations when necessary.

What do you like to do for fun?

Woody: “Skiing.”

Many Canadians are surprised to learn that skiing is a favourite pastime for a lot of Aussies with the snow region of the high country north of Melbourne a popular destination during winter. Summer activity is heading for the coast to spend quality time in a summer cottage with the boys and their friends.

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