Doing His Best for the Environment

posted on February 15, 2012 9:26am

See the full article from Michigan Farm News

An environmental complaint from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development led Eddie Mackay to become a conservation district board member and to have his farm Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verified.

“It wasn’t in my background, my interest in conservation was started by a complaint,” said Mackay.

Mackay’s background includes growing up on a dairy farm near Dundonald, Scotland, a career as an engineer in the United States, and a return to farming in St. Joseph County.

The Prairie River runs across his 58-acre farm and a complaint was made about his highland cattle being in the river. People like to canoe and kayak on the river and that’s probably where the complaint came from, said Mackay.

“People like to blame livestock for everything.”

The complaint was made in 2003, and Mackay was instructed to work with his local conservation district and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office.

Mackay spent a lot of time cleaning up the neglected farm he bought in 1977, but he had never worked with NRCS before. He ended up finding it to be a positive experience.

“John could tackle anything, he promoted my real interests,” Mackay said of NRCS District Conservationist John Barclay.

Mackay was not receptive to fencing off his property from the river and was skeptical that a controlled access for watering his livestock could withstand regular flooding. He worked with the NRCS staff in Centreville to find a solution he was more comfortable with.It eventually included a combination of fencing and a natural barrier of fallen trees to keep his cattle out of the river and a watering pond on an area that was less prone to flooding. The solution is working.

Mackay raises highland cattle and Cheviot sheep, both breeds originated in his native Scotland. He grazes 40 to 45 head of registered highlands and about 25 Cheviot ewes. Highland cattle are Mackay’s passion which he raises for breeding purposes while the sheep are raised for slaughter. Highland cattle have bushy coats they developed to withstand the harsh conditions in Scotland’s mountainous northern region. With long bangs that hang in their eyes they’re an unusual site in Michigan.

Highland cattle are very efficient grazers, have a good temperament and durable feet, said Mackay. The greatest value of highlands is crossing them with other breeds like angus, he said.

Mackay’s early good experience with NRCS and some environmental concerns on nearby farms led him to become active in conservation efforts. He served on the St. Joseph Conservation Board from 2005 until May 2011 to represent the interests of livestock producers. He also had his farm verified through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assessment Program (MAEAP) in the farmstead and livestock systems. His operation was re-verified in both systems during 2011.

Mackay likes that MAEAP is a voluntary program. Farmers work with a MAEAP verifier to identify and address environmental concerns on their land. Most of the process involved housekeeping and keeping good records. Mackay tracks where he spreads sheep manure on his land and has it analyzed to determine its nutrient content for example.

Although Mackay is no longer serving on the conservation district board he is still active in conservation. He works with Michigan State University Extension and local 4-H Members to promote and keep up on the latest technologies and farming methods.

“I try to do my best as far as the environment,” he said.