Contracting all hours

4 Aug , 2015  

For 45 years now David John McKay and Sons Agri Contractors have been leading the way when it comes to agricultural farming up north. Irish Tractor spoke to James McKay to find out more about the family business which gained some national exposure recently when they were featured on UTV’s Rare Breed TV series.

It’s not easy covering all the aspects of the agricultural industry, but at DJ McKay and Sons they’ve made it works for almost half a century now.

Business has been good, according to James McKay, son of CEO David, and there’s a bright future ahead for the Antrim-based family outfit going by his tone.

Established in 1969, the McKays’ headquarters can be found at 7 McKeestown Lane, Shankbridge, Ballymena and their work brings them all over Co Antrim and outside its borders.

James has been driving tractors around the family farm since he was a kid, helping out in whatever way he can, and explained that is still very much a family run business. His father still makes the decisions and, thus far, they’ve been the right ones as they’ve been extremely busy as of late.

“I do what my dad tells me,” James laughed. “We are established 45 years now and we have six employed here full-time, including my brother William.

“You could say that we all share in the business equally, including my mother Sarah. My end would most be the slurry part of the business.”

Originally, it was James’ grandfather John James McKay whom started off the business in what now see like a lifetime ago and still thrives to this day.

He did so in modest fashion with one square baler before going on to buy one of the first reverse drive harvesters ever seen in Ireland back in 1975.
It was 2009, when his son David purchased the company’s first John Deere harvester and since then they have stuck with the trusted and reliable brand for their work.

Apart from slurry spreading, James outlined exactly what DJ and Sons has to offer its customers and when their busy periods on the calendar are.
“Our peak season starts from the end of February right through until October. The slurry spreading starts in the spring time and it is a very busy period for us,” he explained.

“We cut silage. We sow barley. We sow grass seeds. We clean hen houses and spread slurry from the hen houses.

“We have a digger here, a dump trailer, hedge cutters and we also do a bit of work for the DOE. Maybe we don’t have as many tractors as other companies in the industry, but the tractors we have here are always in use.”

That’s a healthy sign indeed. As were the past 12 months for DJ and Sons as they experienced a good year’s business which looks set to roll into 2015.
As ever, one of the toughest obstacles to negotiate will be fuel costs, which continue to rise and leave agricultural contractors with top of the range fleets having to work that bit harder for the fine margins.

James is one of many in the industry whom hopes to see the cost of fuel stay at a steady rate for the next few years, rather than soar in the way it has over the last few years.

He said: “Around 90 per cent of the customers we work for supply the fuel when we’re harvesting for them but the rise in fuel costs always affects the farmer. I wouldn’t like to see it go up any more, but what can you do?

“I’ve been in this all my life and I will be for the rest of it. I’m 32 now and I left school when I was 16. When I was nine years old I was helping around the farm in whatever way I could and even driving a bit even though I shouldn’t have been.”

Either way John Deere will be the trusted brand which DJ and Sons choose for their harvesting fleet; even if it does cost them a bit more.

“John Deere is the brand we choose because of its reliability and its comfort. There’s no huge difference in prices anymore; all new tractors you buy are close to the same price. John Deere is worth the little bit extra that you pay,” said James.

The company’s fleet could be seen operating on the UTV Series ‘Rare Breed TV’, which followed 16 local farming families across an entire year. It shows the highs and lows farmers experience in what is one of Northern Ireland’s most important industries.

The series reflected the working lives of a range of local farms working hand in hand with nature and the weather, showing how young and old share in this seasonal rhythm that brings food from the soil to the kitchen table.

“We were on the first series of Rare Breed TV,” said James. “It was a nervous experience with the cameras always being there and the whole thing was filmed throughout the season. It was out last year and it really got our name out there. A lot more people realised who we were and what we do after it came out.”

A few years before that the family were featured in ‘Contracting All Hours’ (available on DVD), demonstrating their work throughout the year in all weather conditions and all hours. Battling against time and weather, hedges are cut, dung and slurry are spread with ploughing and planting completed. With the grass now ready, silage, whole crop and maize are all harvested and round baling finished. It’s a real family farm and business where work does mean ‘contracting all hours’.

So, after two television appearances and a much welcomed busy year, what’s the next step for James and co?

“We’ve had a good year overall. I know a lot of people thought we had a great summer this year but we’d be hoping for even better weather next year,” he said. “May and June was a bit wetter than people thought but we can’t complain about the last few months. September, October and November were first class for sowing crops and we’d be very happy if 2015 was the same again.”

“We bought a new John Deere harvester 8400 series, which is worth about £240,000,” he added.

“What else would you do? It’s a big roundabout where you have to go round and round and it’s hard to know where to get off. It’s getting to the point now where the price of machinery is getting out of hand. If it keeps on going like this I don’t know what people in this industry are going to do.”

One thing is for sure, when it comes to the agricultural industry DJ and Sons will definitely find a way to keep going.

David John McKay & Sons
7 McKeestown Lane,
Shankbridge, Ballymena,
Co. Antrim, BT42 2LU

Tel: 028 25891387

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 2 No 7, December 2014