Growing up on a dairy farm just outside Kyabram, Mark Mullins always knew he wanted to pursue a career in real estate over dairy farming.
After five years as a successful real estate agent in Melbourne, he returned to Kyabram to help his dad sell the farm – and ended up taking it over instead.
How did you start your career?
Even though my parents wanted me to return to the farm eventually, they thought it was important that I get a trade behind me first. While I loved growing up on the farm, I always wanted to get into real estate, so after I finished boarding school in Melbourne I did a degree in marketing and started my first real estate role as an agent at 21 in 2004. I was in real estate for five years and while the hours were long and the competition was fierce, I really loved the challenge and enjoyed living in the city.
What made you get back into dairy?
In 2009 I was hit by a car off my bicycle which resulted in needing a shoulder reconstruction and around eight months off work. At the same time, after around 50 years in dairy, my dad had decided to retire.
With a son and five daughters not interested in taking over the farm, he had already sold the herd and asked me to come and help him get the farm ready for sale. Since I needed so much time off work, I quit my job and headed to Kyabram to help him out.
I soon realised that I loved the farm life – being outdoors, working with my hands, and not being stuck in a 12-hour work-day grind.
My now wife Carly wasn’t initially thrilled about getting into farming, I was able to convince to her leave our home in Melbourne, and rather than helping dad sell the farm – we leased it instead.
What kind of farm were you running?
With Dad having sold the herd before we took it over, we were lucky to secure 156 milking cows in addition to the 20 heifers that Dad had held on to. So, in no time we were leasing 310 acres in Northern Victoria and milking 176 cows. We bought the farm 12 months after returning to the family farm, and over the years we’ve grown it to around 380-400 cows this year with over 700 acres.
What do you love most about getting back into dairy?
Definitely the lifestyle. With three kids – Nate aged 8 months, Bodhi, 2 years and Finn, 4 years –it’s great for raising a family and having more time to do what you love.
I used to work at least 12 hours a day and now, while the 5am starts in dairy can be tough, I’ve got a lot more time to spend with Carly and the kids. My parent are nearby, I love playing golf and have a shed full of toys.
Even though you grew up on a farm, you went straight into leasing and then farm ownership. How did you find getting back into dairy?
It certainly was a steep learning curve. I started out doing everything the old school way – just like my dad did. For example, this meant I was running a pasture-based business during the drought after we had sold off our water. Things were getting pretty tough.
How did you turn it around?
I knew I had to ask for help, so I found a local consultant who had nutritional and finance knowledge. He helped to bring a greater focus on margins and running a flexible business. We make decisions around grain vs buying water and the number to milk. We grew the land twice to include two out paddocks. Our focus on margins, and flex in business meant last year with the dry weather and high water prices, we bought in 70% of feed consumed, predominately as grain. This year I’m aiming to grow 70 per cent of feed on farm, including 3,700 bales of silage.
What would be your advice to farmers getting into the industry?
Ask for help if you need it and outsource to experts who can help you improve margins and profit. I’m really fortunate I’ve been able to build my business into one that's responsive and flexible. Because of this, I’ve been able to hire three staff, which means I’m able to enjoy more time off and the lifestyle that farming can provide.
Is there anything you miss about your old life?
I love good food, and that’s one thing they do better in the city!