Meat from Macka’s – a father & sons team

Meat from Macka’s – a father & sons team

Macka’s is a fourth-generation family business with its roots dating back to 1884 when Archie Mackenzie – who was raised by his two aunts – ran cattle around Port Stephens. The growing enterprise that prides itself on a fresh, clean and green farm-to-plate operation, now involves eight properties located in the Gloucester and Port Stephens regions.

The dedication is hereditary – Archie’s son, Bruce, now 83, rarely misses a day in his buggy checking the black angus cattle, and even Covid-19 didn’t slow him down.

Bruce, who was involved in local government for 50 years, knows the family business is in good hands with his son, Robert and grandsons, James and Jack, so he can now enjoy his other passion: horses. Bruce has a thoroughbred racing stable at the family property Oakfield Park in Salt Ash (near Port Stephens) and his horses have had some impressive wins over the years.

A herd of Macka’s Australian Black Angus cattle. The farm runs 3,500 commercial cows.

Learning from past generations

Robert Mackenzie, who lives at Oakfield Park, says his biggest dream was seeing sons, James and Jack return to the family business and he hopes his daughter Danielle, a hairdresser, will also return one day. 

“It’s why I’ve poured so much of myself into our ventures,” he says. “It motivated me to continually add facets to the business so that it would always be exciting to James and Jack, and motivate us to keep growing and provide for all of our families. It’s very satisfying to see the next generation involved.”

Being an only child can be lonely for some, but Robert grew up busy on the farm with mates around him who are still close friends.

The family property – Oakfield Park in Salt Ash (near Port Stephens).

“I have fond memories of growing up on our property and feeling free in the wide-open spaces, playing cops and robbers with my mates and home rodeos in the paddocks for a bit of fun,” he recalls.

“Also, there was always the fun in finding new ways to make a buck. Whether it was buying a hundred chooks so I could sell the eggs, or buying a couple of dairy cows so I could milk them and sell the milk – I used to sell it for 50 cents a litre – it was exciting.

“Although I once planted a 100-metre-long row of zucchinis it was horrific,” he says. “Have you ever seen how quick a zucchini grows? I couldn’t pick them fast enough.”

Robert is involved in every aspect of the business and he has always felt a responsibility to his forebears and is grateful for their effort and hard work. He admits there are challenges at times, but says it’s always important for each generation to understand the others and to appreciate their input.

“My grandfather and father built a perfect foundation and instilled the work ethic that I needed to be able to grow the business to where it is today.”

Robert Mackenzie.

“It’s a very complex business with so many moving parts. I am heavily involved in the day-to-day activities across the eight properties of 6474 hectares, running 4500 commercial Angus cows.”

From left to right: Jack, Robert and James Mackenzie.

As well as developing a successful Angus stud, the family has a large pasture improvement program. “We are very passionate about presentation, sustainable farming, best farming practices for animal welfare and we are focused on becoming carbon neutral,” Robert explains. “The biggest challenge for me is not having enough hours in the day.”

Robert says that more than ever before, people are looking for a quality product that comes with a great story. “The people who can deliver that are reaping the rewards,” he says.

“What also helps Australian farmers to succeed is that our product is renowned around the world for being fresh, green, clean and now sustainable. This puts us ahead of the rest.”

Robert Mackenzie.

Back to the family farm

Robert’s eldest son, James says he always knew he would return to the family business but was just unsure of the timing.

“Due to the fact university was reasonably flexible, I was able to continue working for the family business on some weekends and university holidays so the transition from university to working back in the family was relatively easy as I was always involved to some extent,” he says.

James lives on one of the family properties in Williamtown Flats, and he says his role includes the development of various projects.

Left to right: Jack and James Mackenzie.

“I have a great team I am able to work with to complete a wide variety of tasks, from farm irrigation installations to road building, dam cleaning, cattle yard building, fencing, machine manufacturing and there’s a large number of day-to-day jobs which vary significantly,” he says.

“There are many highs and lows of working in any business, but I think the highs of working with the family is the ability we have to make decisions in a timely manner. We’re able to work as a team to analyse what we want to achieve and make changes or decisions quickly.”

James Mackenzie.

“The lows at times can be a result of not seeing eye to eye on something, but I believe this is no different to any other workplace.”

James is extremely proud of his farming heritage.

“I think it’s interesting to think that our ancestors decided to settle here in Port Stephens. Out of all the regions to choose from in Australia, I’m glad they chose this area,” he says. “I think it’s great to know we are involved in something that has been important for so many generations continually adapting to changes in farming practices and technology.

“I’m proud to work in a family environment knowing that our ancestors worked in the same area with the same goals, but just on a smaller scale to what we are achieving now. I hope that I can continue to be proud of the next generation and beyond to see where the family can be when I am Bruce’s age.”

A cut of Macka’s beef on the barbecue.

Raised on the family’s Salt Ash property, with holidays and weekends spent on another farm at Gloucester, James loved his farm experiences doing everything from cattle work to fencing, concreting and welding.

“I wasn’t confined to a backyard like some of my school mates were. I believe this helped me forge the skills I have today and helped me to be more independent in things I try to achieve.”

James Mackenzie.

James attended Armidale University before returning to the family business and still enjoys doing different things to broaden his skills.

“Throughout the labour shortage of Covid-19 and lockdowns I took some time away from the family farm to help farmers with harvest,” he says. “For this I was driving trucks, tractors and harvesters as well as welding and fixing machines where it was needed.”

Brothers in arms

Robert’s youngest son Jack lives with his fiancée Alex and their 4-month-old son Harry, in Williamtown.

Robert Mackenzie with the team from 6Head Sydney.

“My role in the business is difficult to define. Our management structure is quite unique, so my role is quite hands-on whilst still overseeing multiple aspects of the operation,” he says.

“I like the variety of the work and no two consecutive days are the same. I love the fact that I get to see Alex and Harry throughout the day, and being able to involve them in my work life is something we all enjoy.”

Like his brother James, Jack always knew he would be involved the family business to some degree, but didn’t realise the potential for growth in the business, and he wasn’t sure if it would be a lifelong career for him.

So he did an apprenticeship at Diesel Pro as a diesel mechanic, and also gained his commercial helicopter license at Townsville Helicopters which he may use in future developments within the family business.

Recalling his childhood, Jack says growing up on the land laid different foundations to learn and grow from a very young age.

“It gave us the opportunity to spend lots of time with our parents and grandparents and I always loved riding the quads and motorbikes and building things,” he says. “I still have toys I built with dad that Harry will play with one day.”

Jack says he’s excited about carrying on the family business and believes that what sets them apart is aspiring to be industry leaders in not only cattle operations, but agriculture.

“We are always developing and evolving, and we have a team that loves what they do and see how much their role in the company is valued,” he says. “Our business is extremely focused on creating good relationships within the local community, with our neighbours and within our team. Without this our business wouldn’t exist and we are extremely grateful for everyone being on the journey with us.”   

Looking at the family and the business, Jack considers Macka’s to be unique.

“Seeing where my grandfather has come from to building what we have today is inspiring,” he says. “The challenges and sacrifice he made to better the life for his family is something I’ll never take for granted. I’ll forever pass down the story of hard work and sacrifice to the following generations,” he says.

Jack finds the hardest thing about working with family is dividing work and family time.

“Being able to switch off from work and enjoy each other’s company without the discussion of work always being the hot topic isn’t always easy,” he says.

He hopes one day little Harry may also join the family business, but that’s a long way off.

“I would like him to, but I wouldn’t pressure my children into doing something they didn’t want to do, so time will tell. But I’m hopeful he will grow up loving it like I did,” he says.

If you enjoyed this feature, you might like our story on the farmers of Lord Howe Island.

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