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Farming family turns to food waste and 'reindeer poo' to feed the animals and make ends meet

Penny Travers, Sunday December 8, 2019 - 08:15 EDT
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Sonny Willett helps feed the cattle food scraps each day. - ABC

Sonny Willett loves living on the farm. He loves the view, the animals and riding his bike around the paddocks.

But as the worst drought on record tightens its grip, his family has been struggling to make ends meet.

"It's very sad because we have to go out of the area every day [to collect feed] because we have no food for the animals," Sonny said.

The 11-year-old lives with his parents, Tania and Johnny, and older brother John on a 40-hectare grazing property near Goulburn on the New South Wales southern tablelands.

"It's been pretty stressful," Tania said.

"The hardest thing is not having the finances you normally would to pay for things.

"Feed is really, really expensive and it's just out of the question now."

The Willetts have had to halve their stock to 32 head of cattle and 70 merino sheep because they could not afford to feed them.

"It impacts your mental state more than anything," Johnny said.

"It gets pretty lonely out here … when you're in the paddock and see everything dead, see the animals getting skinny."

With no grass left on the ground, Tania and Johnny are travelling 1,800 kilometres each week to collect food waste to feed the animals.

They have been handfeeding them for two years now.

"I travel into town every morning to pick up food deemed no longer fit for human consumption — day-old bread and fruit and veg that is past its shelf life," Tania said.

"Johnny heads to Sydney two days a week — he leaves at 1am — to collect food scraps like the outside of lettuces and cabbages."

They collect 100 to 500 kilograms of food waste each day.

"At the moment we're just feeding them to keep them alive until the drought breaks and the grass grows, and they go back to being grass-fed," Tania said.

Injury adds pressure to mounting bills

During the winter months, the Willetts collect and sell firewood to bring in money.

But in June, Johnny fell and broke his ankle while out cutting timber.

"That broke my heart a bit," he said.

Thirteen-year-old John had to step in, taking two weeks off school to cut the firewood.

"He did all the cutting for me … and I couldn't believe the way he was working the chainsaw," Johnny said.

"If we didn't have him, I don't know what we'd have done."

With Johnny's injury coming on top of low beef and wool prices, and high feed costs, the Willetts' household bills soon piled up.

Sonny's 'reindeer poo' pays the bills

Seeing his parents going the extra mile to keep the family on the farm, Sonny came up with this own novel way to contribute — selling 'reindeer poo'.

The year five student — with the help of mum — set up Sonny's Reindeer Barn Facebook page to sell an assortment of lollies with quirky Christmas labels.

Among the items are reindeer feed (rabbit mix), reindeer poo (sultanas), reindeer noses (malt choc balls) and Santa's beard (fairy floss).

"You put the reindeer feed out on Christmas eve, then when Santa comes it's all gone, and you're left with reindeer poo," Sonny explained.

The community response has been overwhelming — with more than 800 items ordered within the first two weeks.

For the Willetts, it has made all the difference.

"Now we can pay bills and stuff. It's helping to pay the home loan," Sonny said.

The rugby league and tennis player has also been able to replace his falling-apart sports shoes and pay for fuel so his parents can continue to collect food scraps.

"He's lifted morale a bit," Johnny said.

"The bills were starting to pile up a bit, especially with my broken leg, and we fell behind a bit, so it's good that we can pay some bills now."

Although Sonny's initiative means extra work for Tania — when it comes to the posting and bookkeeping — she has a smile on her face.

"People will tell you that I haven't smiled for a little while, but I'm smiling at the moment," she said.

And with Christmas just around the corner, the Willetts have just one wish: rain.



© ABC 2019

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