A Suckler and sheep farmer in Co. Mayo, things may have turned out differently for John Ryan had the family not made a big change on the family farm many years ago.
The 33-year-old is the son of another John Ryan, who ran a dairy farm on the family’s holding up until 2010. It was eight years ago in 2010 that John and his father abandoned their dairy roots and decided to make a tackle at the Suckler sector.
“Dad was milking cows up until around 2010.” John told That’sFarming’s Kevin.
“It was up to me. I could have carried on with the milking if I wanted, but we were at 24 cows and hadn’t any hope of expanding where we were.” He added.
The family had also always kept sheep prior to this, ran alongside their dairy enterprise. This is a something continued by the family to this day, with both John and his father running their own flocks.
“Dad changed to Suckling in 2010, but we always kept a few sheep with the dairy cows.” John noted.
John is the third Ryan generation to be farming in this area near Kiltimagh, though the family had farmed another parcel of land in the locality prior to them taking over the current holding.
Together John and his father run their Suckler herds and flocks’ side-by-side. They are two separate farming enterprises on paper with separate herdbooks, though the pair carry out any work in unison.
They now keep approximately 40-42 Suckler cows in total, all continental crossbreeds, while they also keep an average of 90 ewes each year. The sheep on the farm are now predominantly Cheviot crossbreds, with roughly 20 Mountain type ewes also kept on the farm.
“We have separate herd numbers, but we run them both side-by-side,” John explained to That’sFarming.
John says his experience being brought up on a dairy farm is what pushed him to seek a future within the industry. He admits to having been bitten by the farming bug at a young age, not that he minds one bit.
“Being brought up on a dairy farm, you were always involved. There was always something to do.” He said.
“So, I kind of got bitten by the bug at a young age.” John added.
John’s Journey -
For John, a full-time career working in agriculture was always going to be virtually impossible due to land constraints.
This was not to stop him trying to pursue it, however, and the Mayo-man undertook a Green Certificate in Mountbellew with these intentions in mind. Following this, a full-time return home never seemed likely and John then decided to pursue a trade as part of his Ag course.
“I did my AG course in Mountbellew as I said I would get it out of the way.” John said.
“To follow on, you could do nine months work experience or you could go into a trade. So, that is how I went into plumbing.” He added.
From here, John completed his education and became a plumber. He has been working off-farm, trading under his own name ever since. This, John says, gives him a lot of freedom and allows him to operate his farming enterprise in unison alongside his full-time plumbing career.
“I am self-employed, which means I am more flexible come calving or lambing time.” He noted.
The Farm -
On the Suckler side of the enterprise, together John and his father keep approximately 40-42 cows for calving each year.
Calving usually begins at the end of February and is not finished until around May, with all cows on the farm continental crossbreeds.
“The calving shed was an old cubicle house which has been converted.” said John.
John also keeps some Purebred Salers and Limousine cattle on his farm, while his brother also runs a pedigree Saler herd of his own. John himself is currently working with one Pedigree Saler bull and two cows on his farm, while he also has "a few" pedigree Limousines.
“There would be a good mix in them. We have Limousines, Simmental crosses, Shorthorn crosses.” John said.
“There is a couple of purebred Salers and purebred Limousines as well. They would be nearly run commercially at this stage.” He continued
Any calves born on the farm are reared as weanlings when they are then sold at the family’s local Balla mart.
“Everything is sold as weanlings.” John explained.
In terms of breeding, all cows are put in calf to the family’s Charolais stock bull. The Ryan’s also began a new breeding system on their farm this year, as a trial to try and improve the milkiness of their cows. They began running a Pedigree Salers bulls with their maiden heifers. This bull was put with 9 Hereford cross heifers which were reared from calves by John himself and bought from a dairy herd. These and five other heifers were all put to the Salers bull.
“We had a Saler stock bull out with the heifers this year to build up numbers. There were 14 heifers to go to the bull this year.” John said.
“That was a bull bred out of one of our own Purebred Salers…It was the easiest way of building up cow numbers and getting milk back into the line. We have gone that far with breeding Charolais’ that we have lost our milk.” He added.
Originally, John’s father (Also John) had kept only Suffolk-type sheep on their farm. They have recently decided to move away from the Suffolk types and now keep predominantly Cheviot-cross animals. They keep an average of 90 ewes on their farm, approximately 20 of which are Mountain type ewes.
“We have bred away from them (Suffolks) now. We have gone towards a Cheviot cross and a few Suffolk-crosses.” The Mayo farmer noted.
“Cheviots, I like them. They are low maintenance, a big ewe, a ewe with milk, and a ewe which will mind their lamb…I just like them.” John told Kevin.
John breeds his own replacements on the farm, running the Mountain-type ewes with a Cheviot ram.
“We keep them replacements and put them to a Suffolk or Texel ram then.” John said.
Lambs are generally born on the farm from the end of February onwards, meaning John and his father do not aim to sell their lambs in the Spring markets. Instead, they finish all of the lambs born on their enterprise, themselves.
“Everything is finished at home.” John said.
The sheep are kept in a newly-converted sheep shed, with all-plastic sheep slats. This means John and his father need not worry about bedding their flock anymore.
“We converted a sheep shed and put in the plastic sheep slats. So, we can now house them comfortably without using straw or bedding” John explained.
Grazing wise on the farm, everything is grazed in a paddock to paddock system, with strip grazing also used on occasion and excess grass generally baled as silage.
“Like the dairymen, if the grass gets ahead of them (the cows), it is cut and baled.” John said.
In terms of the future, John’s main aim for the coming twelve months is to calve down in excess of 50 cows, all-in.
“With the two herds, next year I am hoping to calf down fifty plus cows.” He noted.
“I didn’t hit my target this year but going forward next year I should be well on target to hit the fifty plus.” He said.
On the sheep side, John has no plans to implement any major changes or to increase sheep numbers either, admitting that more land is needed before numbers increase any further. One thing which John is going to continue over the coming twelve months is his small-scale calf-rearing enterprise, where he rears dairy cross heifers to enter the herd. He has already purchased five heifers this year and hopes to soon reap the rewards of using dairy cross animals.
“I bought five (heifer calves) this year. We will maybe keep a few coming up every year to have replacements coming.” John said.
“There might be some Suckler men that will disagree with it, but I have no choice as I need the milk coming back into the herd.” He added.
In terms of the facilities on the farm, the Ryan family have already carried out an abundance of work in recent times, upgrading their calving facilities and sheep sheds. They also have a slatted house in the process of construction.
“Currently, we are putting in a two-bay, double slatted house. That is under construction.” Said the farmer.
Although he dreams of farming on a full-time basis, John admits that is quite a bit off yet due to land constraints. Though should he find the right land, he will be well and truly on his way.
“I would love to go farming full-time, but we just don’t have the land at the minute.” said John.
Why Agriculture -
A fan of working outdoors and a self-proclaimed ‘machine buff’, John Ryan was always destined to be involved within the agricultural industry in some shape or form.
“I just love breeding cows, seeing can you better your calves from last year.” John told Kevin of That’sFarming.
John admits it is almost impossible for him to have a bad day when doing something he is so passionate about and he also enjoys being his own boss.
“You truly are your own boss with agriculture.” said John.
“If you want to sell tomorrow, you can sell. You are not dictated by anyone else, you can do what you want.” He added.
As passionate and as dedicated as any suckler farmer, John may not be a full-time farmer on paper, though in his head there is nothing else he would rather do.
Do you have a story to share? Fancy taking a call and being featured like John? If so, send an email with details of your background and story to Kevin at email@example.com