By Chris McCullough

SPOTTING the need for an agricultural contractor on a small Scottish island was the perfect opportunity for Jonathon Mackay to set up his own business.

Jonathon, 28, hails from Nisabost, on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, where he grew up on the family croft working with cattle, sheep and tourism, as is common amongst the majority of the crofters.

Being so small in size, the crofts are fairly labour intensive and it’s difficult to get big machinery onto the majority of the land due to a lot of rock and steep slopes typical of the region.

Jonathon set up J Mackay Contracting in 2018 after returning to the islands from spending a few years working around the mainland UK and had gathered up a few pounds to buy some machinery.


I always had the ambition to set up a contracting business on my own at home especially after working so long for others.

In the beginning, I was able to use my dad’s three-tonne Takeuchi digger to get me started, cleaning out ditches and digging drains for customers.

There was plenty of work for the business with the digger, but it wasn’t long before the demand was there for a larger excavator. I was being hired in to clear sites and dig foundations for houses and for that I needed a bigger machine.


Sourcing good machinery to purchase on a small island is impossible, so my search took me to Inverness where I bought a 2018 Volvo EC140 excavator, which was just what I needed.

Thanks to grants at the time, some crofters were able to invest in buildings, which was music to my ears as this meant more work. With more digger work came the need for a tractor and dump trailer and that’s when the business really started to expand more rapidly.

The search for a tractor was an important one, as I did not want too much money tied up in a vehicle, especially as I was only starting off.

As my father, Angus and I had been used to the Massey Ferguson brand, it was the obvious choice to make but choosing the right model was a little bit more difficult.

In the end, I managed to pick up a 2013 Massey Ferguson 7620 Dyno VT, in Elgin. It's rated at 180hp. It was in very good condition and had plenty of power, which was just as well because I also bought a 30-tonne low loader to transport machinery around and a dump trailer.


You won’t find many swanky self-propelled forage harvesters working around the small isles, but round baling is certainly popular among the crofters.

We ran an older 1995 Welgar RP12 round baler that my father purchased around 15 years ago. Between my father and I we cut 45 acres of our own silage for round baling and this year completed the first cut on June 15. We also bale for quite a few neighbours as well and use a McHale 991BC wrapper to wrap the bales.

Having the latest technology in machinery is of no real benefit to us on the islands and is an expense we don’t require. I would spend around three weeks of the year at silage and was thinking of modernising the round baler at some point to a decent used McHale F550 chopper baler, with a hydraulic drop floor – at least that was the goal.

However, at the start of June, I heard about a 2012 Vicon RF125 round baler that was being sold by an older farmer locally that had no more need for it. The baler had only had 14,000 bales through it and mostly was used for baling straw, so it was in immaculate condition.

I really needed a baler with a wider pickup reel as the old Welgar was too narrow and I was wasting time and fuel running back over rows picking up grass that had been left.

As I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to buy the Vicon, the deal was done pretty quickly and we managed to get some silage baled with it during the first cut this year.

My dad gives me a hand at baling time with his 2016 Massey Ferguson 5713SL tractor and loader to wrap and load bales which is a huge help.


I carry out a lot of grass seeding with my Opico surface seeder and would cover in the region of 150 to 200 acres per year of seeding both on these isles and the neighbouring isle of North Uist.

That means driving the tractor and seeder down to the harbour and crossing over to Uist. I normally would stay down there for three weeks sowing grass seed and helping out crofters using my own tractor.

I need to follow the weather patterns very closely as good weather windows are narrow, but we always seem to hit it right. As well as grassland work, I also carry out a small bit of ploughing using a Kverneland two-furrow plough when requested.


My working season is well spread out during the year, so I have income pretty much all year round except for January and February, which would be quieter.

I do get some work spreading seaweed during February using my rear discharge Bunning spreader. March would be spent mostly on the digger and April would spell the start of the grass seeding and fertiliser work.

Baling can be from June to August depending on the weather here and on Uist and then it would be a mix of agri and construction work until December.

On average I would put 2000 hours a year on the main tractor and have just replaced the tyres on the MF 7620 with BKT 540 r65/30 on the front and BKT 650 r55/42 on the rear. The machinery we use is usually all mechanically controlled for a good reason and that is that the salt from the sea corrodes any computerised controls, which costs a fortune to replace.


Name: Jonathon Mackay

Age: 28

Business: J Mackay Contracting

Location: Nisabost, Isle of Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides

Main machinery used:

Tractors: 2013 MF 7620 Dyno VT tractor, 2016 Massey Ferguson 5713SL tractor and loader.

Plant: 2018 Volvo EC140 excavator.

Grass harvesting: 2012 Vicon RF125 round baler, 1995 Welgar RP12 round baler, McHale 991BC wrapper.