Revealing a hidden gem

30 Nov, 2013 01:00 AM
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An ever-present passion for producing cattle and potatoes in the pristine South West environment was all Glen Ryan needed to ride out the highs and lows of farming.
We've been the hidden gem for so long but now we want people to know about us
An ever-present passion for producing cattle and potatoes in the pristine South West environment was all Glen Ryan needed to ride out the highs and lows of farming.

THERE is a strong current of passion behind every word spoken by Glen Ryan.

It's not only a passion for farming, but the entire Pemberton area, of which he thinks is WA's most pristine and underrated agro-tourism area.

And that is something he'd like to change.

"We've been the hidden gem for so long but now we want people to know about us," Glen said.

"There are a handful of passionate and like-minded people in the area that realise the huge potential of this region.

"They are trying very hard to get it up and going."

He is talking about the Southern Forests Food Council (SFFC), which encompases and promotes the Pemberton, Manjimup, Walpole and Northcliffe areas with the help of SuperTowns funding under the Royalties for Regions initiative.

The SFFC started a couple of years ago with the primary goal of developing an agri-tourism brand and Glen was a keen supporter and advocate.

Climate, rainfall, soils together with an all round clean and green environment was the major drawcard for the group to build a strong agri-tourism case and it was an ethos the Ryan family also adhered to on their Pemberton property.

The farming family was made up of Glen and his wife Jo, his brother Dean and wife Julia plus their parents Tony and Jan, who all take part in producing predominantly milk-fed vealers and potatoes.

In recent years, the Ryans have been working hard to improve the soil health and structure of their land, which Glen believed had a direct impact on everything they did.

"We've gone to a five-year rotation with the potatoes," Glen said.

"By reducing our cattle numbers we've been able to get our crop rotations right.

"It's made a big difference to our potatoes and cattle, which are putting on more weight and seem to be happier.

"Now we're getting better grass and pastures while the health and structure of the soil have noticeably improved."

The Ryans run 135 breeders, most of which are Angus-Friesian with a few Murray Greys, and each year they buy about 140 heifers externally.

Usually the heifers were Angus-Friesian or Murray Grey which were artificially inseminated in April for the Manjimup first cross mated heifer sale.

They purchase heifers aged between seven to 15 months, which were grown out to 350 kilograms before being mated specifically for the sale.

They were also currently running 115 first cross heifers which was the next line of unmated females due to be mated next year.

By using AI with Angus semen, they can ensure they meet the requirements of the heifer buyers by providing an easily managed tight calving period.

But the main cattle call for the Ryans was producing the specialised product of milk-fed vealers.

"Most of the milk-fed vealers come from this corner of WA," Glen said.

"Even though we are producing this premium product, pricing continues to be one of our biggest problems.

"People need to recognise the value of the unique taste, texture, colour and flavour of the milk-fed vealer.

"It's a premium product that takes more time and effort to produce, so it should be worth more money.

"In order to be sustainable, we need to be paid more money."

Glen acknowledged there was a small window of opportunity to produce milk-fed calves and the seasonal nature made it difficult to ensure supply.

In an effort to capitalise on the early market prices, the Ryans join their bulls earlier than most, at the end of March until the beginning of June.

They were attempting to achieve a short calving season while also hitting the early market later in the year.

As soon as New Year's Eve celebrations were over, the Angus-Friesian breeders were calving throughout January over a couple of months, while the tight calving also helped with getting the right amount of weight on the calves.

The first calvers were joined with Angus bulls, while the rest were joined with Charolais bulls to add leanness to the carcase normally associated with the Charolais' European origins.

Getting the calves to reach a certain weight imposed by a market that has become more specific has been a challenge in recent years and Glen said they had to be careful with gauging feed requirements.

Even though the last 15 years has seen the market plateau and challenges mounting, it's obvious where the heart of the Ryan family lies.

"We've been in it a long time, we've seen the ups and downs and we just have to ride it out," Glen said.

"It can be time consuming and a lot of hard work goes into farming, but the rewards are still there.

"It's a sensational feeling to raise those animals yourself and see them growing every day into beautifully muscled calves.

"Although, when the truck turns up, my wife doesn't like to hang around to see all her pet calves being taken away."

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