McKays Find Room to Develop and Grow

McKays Find Room to Develop and Grow

by Madeline Schultz,

Lisa and Willy McKay traveled around the world before starting Lindsand-V dairy farm in Irrewillipe, Victoria, Australia. “I traveled overseas to follow the dairy cattle shows,” explained Lisa. She grew up on Linsand Farm in Tasmania, Australia and enjoyed showing Holstein cattle with her family. Willy grew up in Ohio, United States where he enjoyed helping with his grandfather’s Jersey cows. As a young man, Willy became a dairy herd manager for Butlerview Farm in Illinois. While working as part of a showing and fitting crew in 2008, Lisa landed at Butlerview Farm to help prepare cattle for a sale. It wasn’t long before the two young dairy enthusiasts were flying to Australia together.

WIlly McKay of Lindsand-V Farm in Australia.Lisa McKay of Lindsand-V Farm in Australia.After spending some time working with Lisa’s family, the couple set their sights on beginning a new dairy farm business in Victoria. Very little farmland was for sale in the state, so the McKays looked to the neighboring state. Four years ago, they began farming at Mount Gambier, South Australia, located about halfway between the large cities of Adelaide and Melbourne. To their dismay, that meant they were a 5-hour drive either way from the airports that could bring their families to visit them. The value of farmland in the area rose quickly as irrigation and water licenses became sought after. There was no land available for expansion. At the same time, milk prices were crashing in Victoria and more dairy farms were coming up for sale.

Lisa and Willy made the decision to move the cows to the farm in Irrewillipe two years ago. The topography was great and they really liked the layout of the farm. The couple is happier living closer to Melbourne because family members can visit more easily. Lisa’s family invested in the farmland, while Lisa and Willy invested in the cows and machinery. They have a long-term succession plan with the family to gradually earn ownership of the land.

The McKays have a strategic plan to focus on developing the farm while growing the business slowly. With 121 hectares (300 acres) of owned land and a long-term lease on 36 hectares (89 acres), the McKay’s have a solid land base on which to build. They plan to add another 40 hectares (100 acres) and increase cow numbers from 180 to 200.   

“This farm needs a lot of development,” shared Lisa, “We are working to improve pastures, fencing, cattle lanes, and general tidiness.” For Willy, the hardest thing about making the transition to Australian dairy farming was learning how to grow grass. He discovered it is also the most important production factor. With the help of an agronomist, the couple is transitioning the pastures to new perennial species for greater productivity.  

Lisa McKay and Fairvale Morty Lady 51 (Holstein) of Lindsand-V Farm in Australia.Lisa and Willy are also striving to improve the quality of their Holstein and Jersey cattle herd. They have a good start. While living in Tasmania, Lisa discovered a young two-year old cow and purchased her from a neighbor. Fairvale Morty Lady 51 went on to win the International Dairy Week championship over all breeds in 2011 and again in 2014. Held each January in northern Victoria, the show is Australia’s largest agricultural exposition. That wasn’t the end of Lady’s fame. In 2017, at the age of 11, Lady became Australia’s highest classified cow at 97 points. Holstein Australia uses the internationally recognized Linear Evaluation System of classification to provide a consistent conformation assessment. As we walked through the pastures to visit the cows, Lisa proudly pointed Lady out, telling us she is enjoying retirement now. With eight progeny in the herd, Lady’s genetics are foundational. 

The greatest challenge for Lisa and Willy on their Linsand-V Farm is being reliant on the weather. Milk production is down and that is frustrating. “A dryland farm with very dry pastures and high grain prices makes it hard to get consistency,” stated Lisa. Last autumn was one of the driest ever and grain prices were near record highs. “If we could get a couple years of near normal rainfall, that would be great,” stated Lisa.

Lisa is a University of Melbourne graduate in agribusiness. She enjoyed her experiences working in agricultural banking and other professions in support of the dairy industry. “I’m glad I went off-farm,” shared Lisa, “It helped me realize that farming is something other young women strive to do.” Lisa also feels travel was one of the best things she ever did. Not only did she learn so much, she found her husband and partner in life, too. Lisa and Willy share strong agricultural values. “Farming is our way of life. If we didn’t love our cows we wouldn’t be doing this,” they both agreed.   


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