Robert Gamble – who is set to graduate next month with a BSc in Agricultural Technology from Queen’s University Belfast - has just returned home to farm on a full-time basis.
“For the first two years, I was predominately based in Greenmount and I completed placement in third-year.” the Bangor, Co. Down native told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
The 22-year-old gained experience at Dunbia for eight-months before venturing to New Zealand where he worked on a farm with 1,100-dairy cows and a further 1,000 bulls which formed part of a beef production system.
“I completed my final year at Queen’s; I was lucky in the sense that I could work on the farm whilst attending university,” he added.
Robert runs a 40-cow suckler herd and pedigree and commercial sheep flock with his father, Henry; his 24-year-old sister is a qualified pharmacist.
“I always intended to return home to farm at some point – I am happy with the decision I have made but a first-class honours degree gives me a plan B.” he explained.
“I’m passionate about improving grassland management on the farm, daily husbandry tasks and sales preparation."
Pedigree Simmental and Limousin cows dominated the 163-acre farm until the Gambles introduced a cross-breeding element to the herd by using Stabiliser and Aubrac genetics.
Commercial breeding females are now bred to a Simmental bull; calving takes place in March and April and progeny are finished as steers at approximately 18-20-months.
Meanwhile, ten superior heifers are retained as replacements annually while surplus females are sold to a local butcher.
The father-and-son-duo also purchase twenty store heifers – mostly continentals - every autumn; they are finished at approximately 16-months and are then supplied to a local butcher.
The farm is also home to sixty pedigree Texels which are managed under the Springwell prefix since 1977. “My grandfather was the first person to bring Texels into Northern Ireland in the late 1970s,” Robert told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“We recently celebrated our 40th anniversary; we have the oldest flock Texel in Northern Ireland.” he added.
Lambing takes place from February 10th with up to seven superior ewes flushed every year; offspring are sold to new and established pedigree and commercial flocks at society sales in Balmoral, Lanark and Carlisle.
“I enjoy going across the waters to sell our sheep; I take great pride in the breeding programme – selecting rams and reviewing progeny,” Robert said,
The Co. Down breeders exhibit sheep at agricultural shows including Castlewellan and Balmoral and have numerous prestigious titles under their belts.
Henry – Robert’s father is committed to the Texel breed and continues to make a significant contribution at club and society committee level. He had just finished his term as chairman of the British Texel Sheep Society and is the current chairperson of the Northern Ireland club.
In addition to their pedigrees, the Gambles have 200 commercial ewes are used as recipients for Texel embryos; commercial lambs are finished through Tesco’s COP scheme.
“This is our first year being involved in the scheme which gives us an insight into how our pedigree and commercial flocks are performing.”
“Tesco reviews all our costs and sales from both flocks and they work out how much it is costing us to produce a lamb.”
The progressive farmers are keen to diversify and explore new avenues; “Our farm is quite exposed to the wind, so we purchased a small turbine five years ago.”
“We have an old farmyard so my father decided to convert it into commercial units which are now leased to small local businesses.” explained the young farmer.
As someone who has just completed their undergraduate degree, Robert is keen to introduce new ideas to the family enterprise to help it reach new heights.
“I take great pride in the family ties associated with the farm – I am the fourth generation to farm here.” the keen rugby player outlined.
“I am looking at adding another enterprise as I want to explore options that will allow us to make our farm more viable for the future to prepare for a world post-subsidies,” he explained.
Robert hopes to expand the farm’s land base, improve the enterprise’s efficiency, move more towards a paddock-based system and increase stock numbers. “Agriculture is an industry where you cannot stand still or you will be left behind.”
“Don’t be afraid to do something that may be different to what the past generations have done,” he concluded.
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