What 50 years of farming taught a family about succession

What 50 years of farming taught a family about succession

Dairy
FARM AND FAMILY: Henry McKenzie, Calrossie, looks back on 50 years of milking on his own farm with fondness and an eye to the future for the next generations.

FARM AND FAMILY: Henry McKenzie, Calrossie, looks back on 50 years of milking on his own farm with fondness and an eye to the future for the next generations.

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Succession planning was something Henry McKenzie have only have dreamed of when he bought his first plot of land but half a century later, it's front and centre.

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Succession planning was something Henry McKenzie could only have dreamed of when he bought his first plot of land but, half a century later, it's front and centre.

Mr McKenzie was working seven days a week for his parents and the 29-hectare farm next door had come up for sale.

And his wages? The princely sum of a dollar a week plus food.

"I said to Dad, 'We should buy it'," Mr McKenzie said.

"I didn't have any money because I worked for $1 a week and my tucker.

"So he bought it and I had to pay him back, that's how I started."

The next challenge was to buy cows.

"Dad took me into the ANZ bank," he said.

"The bank wouldn't give me any money because I had no money.

"So we went around and saw John Farmer, who was the manager of G&N at the time and he said, 'No worries'."

The 20-year-old Mr McKenzie and his new herd of 43 cows moved onto the little farm on August 24, 1970, and just seven years later, had paid his father back in full.

It's a feat he doesn't think could be repeated in 2020.

"We've got to get more help from governments or other bodies because you've got to have at least 200 to 300 cows now and to a farm like goes for $3 million or more plus dollars and what young person has a million sitting in the bank to pay the deposit?

"Nobody. So it's really impossible for a young person to even get started."

The relative value of milk was also quite different.

"Back then, in 1970, you could get a person to come and work for you casually for about $1 an hour and we were getting $1 a kilogram butterfat," he said.

"Who's going to work for $6.40 an hour now?

"A pot of beer was about 20 cents, so you could get five pots of beer for a kilogram of butterfat. Now you can only get one and a bit."

But Mr McKenzie's own son is fortunate.

Today, Henry McKenzie and family milk just under 200 Friesian, Jersey and crossbred cows on a milking platform of 100 hectares at Calrossie, which sits below Tarra Valley near Yarram.

Deep alluvial flats fed by Macks Creek as it flows down from the Strzelecki Ranges make it an exceptionally pretty place that's home to three generations of McKenzies.

There's Henry and wife, Lola, and a little further down the road, son Michael and wife Ashlee with their young children, Jason and Lilly.

GENERATIONS OF DAIRY: Henry McKenzie, with granddaughter, Lilly.

GENERATIONS OF DAIRY: Henry McKenzie, with granddaughter, Lilly.

Michael is enjoying a very different introduction to dairying than the one Henry experienced.

"I didn't want him to grow up and me to fall off the perch and, like I've seen a few farms over the years, the son knows absolutely nothing because dad's always done it and then, nine times out of 10, the bloody farm's sold in a short time," Mr McKenzie said.

"We try to work together and work out the problems and you can sort things out."

Michael started as an apprentice in 2011 after earning hospitality qualification - just as a back-up - because he had always loved farming.

After the three-year apprenticeship, taking professional advice, the family struck an 18 per cent with some costs sharefarming arrangement for Michael.

He earned a greater share with ownership of the herd a couple of years ago.

Not that Mr McKenzie, who estimates he still spends 80 hours a week out on the farm, including doing the milkings, is ready for retirement.

"I haven't got any more time, what I used to be able to do in one day it takes me bloody three days to do," he laughed.

Mrs McKenzie, though, reckoned her husband loved farming so much, and always had, that there was really no competition for his time. He agreed.

"I've been living the dream," Mr McKenzie said.

Family and farming are so intertwined and the routine of it has been a comfort during life's toughest times for the McKenzies, including the illness and passing of Michael's brother, Jason.

And in August, Mr McKenzie celebrate his 50 years of farm ownership and the continuous supply of a succession of processors: South Eastern Milk Products, Gippsland Amalgamated Milk Products, Murray Goulburn Co-operative and, finally, Saputo Dairy Australia.

How will he celebrate the milestone?

"Hopefully the coronavirus has eased and I will take the family out to the Alberton pub," he said.

Beyond that, Mr McKenzie's looking forward to one simple thing: "Watching our grandkids grow up".

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