Angus and Kimberley McKay are modestly building a cattle dynasty in the desert, making bold purchases and adopting a conservative cattle management strategy to look after their land.

Key points:

  • The McKay family settled on Umbearra station in 1962
  • They have one of the largest herds of Red Angus cattle in Australia
  • Red Angus originated in Scotland and were imported to Australia in 1990

Mr McKay was just 24 years old when his father handed Umbearra Station to him and his young wife Kimberley.

The property is in spectacular desert country on the border of South Australia and the Northern Territory.

It was initially part of Crown Point Station owned by Sir Sidney Kidman, who ran cattle and bred remount horses for World War I soldiers.

The McKay family settled on Umbearra in 1962. Angus and Kimberley are the third generation to raise the family in a backyard of spiky spinifex and red dust.

Photo of the desert with people sitting on sand

When the property came up for sale, the McKay family from Adelaide spotted an opportunity and took a leap of faith. (Landline)

“We couldn’t have done what we’ve done since then without him setting us up like that.”

But it hasn’t been easy. It meant hard work and withstanding the worst drought on record.

“We went through some tough times last year, and we had the most amazing crew to back us up even though it wasn’t nice for them to do it they really backed us up all the way through,” Ms McKay said.

Photo of a cattle station in the desert

Angus and Kimberley are the third generations of McKays running Umbearra station.(ABC: Landline)

Red Angus cattle

The McKays have around 4,500 Red Angus cattle, one of the biggest herds of its kind in Australia. The breed originated in Scotland and was introduced domestically in 1990. They are thriving on the desert property.

Photo of cattle yards

Daily life on the station is busy and contact with the outside world is rare.(ABC: Landline)

Despite the ongoing dry, the McKays have always been very cautious with the numbers they manage.

They are also organic operators, making them part of a growing trend across central Australia.

Photo of cattle

Red Angus originated in Scotland selected from Aberdeen Angus cattle. (Landline: Kristy O’Brien)

“It was a financial decision.” Mr McKay said.

“We knew the other guys around operating organic and we all operate organically anyway, so it was just a paper trail that we had to sort of follow.

“So, it suited our organisation pretty well and just gave us a premium to do what we do out here clean healthy beef producers.”

As if running 3,600 square kilometres wasn’t enough of a challenge, just as they welcomed their third baby two years ago, the McKays decided to buy the neighbouring 462,000-hectare Idrawora Station which had been in the hands of Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan since 2007.

Opportunity during a drought

Mr McKay said he and his wife knew theirs had been a brave call during a crippling drought but had to balance that against the rare opportunity to buy a property in the region.

Photo of cattle in the desert

The McKay family run Australia’s largest Red Angus herd on the Southern border of the Northern Territory.(ABC: Landline)

Ultimately the McKays want to run up to 13,000 head of cattle across both stations while remaining cautious and not overstocking and “flogging” the country.

The McKays completely destocked their new property and removed hundreds of feral camels and donkeys.

Photo of Red Centre desert

Locals say if you can play the long game and endure the seasonal vagaries, this land will give back in spades.(ABC: Landline)

“We basically started from scratch. There’s a lot of work there. So, we’ve been pulled out of our comfort zone now. And we’re back to the drawing board again, developing another big block,” Mr McKay said.

Their goal is to eventually pass the properties on in the way it was to them.

Photo of child

Even on a cold day it’s hard to keep these little station workers away from the cattle yards when something is happening. (Landline: Kristy O’Brien)

“We want to give these kids the same opportunities we had when we were younger. So, you know, we’ve got an obligation to try and pass that on to them,” Mr McKay said

Photo of cattle yards with young family

The McKays are motivated by the eventual passing of the baton to their young children. (Landline: Kristy O’Brien)

It is a calling their young children will be only too happy to take up if their enthusiasm in the cattle yards is anything to go by.

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.

Meet the family building a desert dynasty in the Red Centre
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