AS a fifth-generation farmer and a descendent of the pioneering family of Ferguson Valley, it’s fair to say agriculture was in Ryan Gibbs’ blood from the start.
With a close affinity to the land, today Ryan, his wife Narelle and their three young children, carry on the knowledge and experience in farming that has been gathered over the past 150 years, as they own and operate 385 hectares, a Angus herd nearing 200 head and a vineyard/wine brand which produces 6000 cases of wine annually.
With a Bachelor of Science in viticulture and oenology, Ryan works two to three days a week as a viticultural consultant, providing vineyard management advice to wine companies in all WA wine regions, while Narelle works part time in Bunbury as a physiotherapist.
Life is certainly busy for the Gibbs family that has a passion for the land, a lifestyle and black cattle that are the driving force to succeed.
“While the vineyard consultancy work is a huge part of what I do, it has aided in growing and improving our beef enterprise to what it is today,” Ryan said.
In 2008 Ryan and Narelle took the reins and began breeding out the first-cross Angus-Friesian females that Ryan’s father had left from the dairy days.
Ryan said it took them a few years to find their feet and work out the right direction for their beef production system but soon realised trying to finish off first-cross heavyweight vealer calves was increasingly difficult in the drier and more unpredictable growing seasons.
“We have been slowly transitioning from a first-cross herd to breeding second and third-cross Angus females, as well as buying in quality unmated purebred heifers” Ryan said.
“We are focused on breeding beef cattle that are more resilient and an end product which suits feeder and grazier demands.”
With the use of well-known Angus genetics and the recent purchase of approximately 50 purebred commercial heifers which were sourced down south by their local Elders agent Mal Barrett, the Gibbs herd now consists of mainly second/third-cross and purebred Angus cattle.
“There is no questioning that Angus is the right fit for us,” Ryan said.
“They are incredibly hardy, very fertile, well marketed and highly sought after.”
When it comes to sire selection the family tries to source bulls that are moderate framed, well-proportioned and are structurally correct.
Some of their recent genetics have been from Mordallup, Little Meadows and Blackrock Angus studs.
Ryan said they tried to buy the best genetics they could, and in doing, have found purchasing younger yearling bulls to be very beneficial.
“The yearlings have replaced our older bulls, we have conditioned them to suit our hilly country, they are not big or heavy so fewer breakdowns and they are extremely fertile,” he said.
Ryan doesn’t chase extreme growth figures or low birthweights but puts a lot of emphasis on visual appraisal of a bull.
“I think you’re playing with danger when you look for bulls with below-average birthweights as I believe its key to purchase a structurally correct sire than get fixed on a particular figure,” he said.
“In my experience the majority of calving difficulties stem from management reasons rather than figures or bull related.”
In the middle trimester of pregnancy the Gibbs tightly monitor the availability of feed for their female herd and have found little to no calving problems due to heifers not being over-conditioned and their calves not growing excessively before birth.
“This past three to four years we have used a selenium supplement pour-on before calving and at joining which I believe has helped reduce calving and birth difficulties,” Ryan said.
“I pulled one breech calf last calving season and noticed no females had retained afterbirth which we have had troubles with in the past.”
Since the 1960s the Gibbs family has rotationally grazed its pastures and today Ryan continues to do so, ideally every four days with 40 to 45 females drafted to a single mob.
“I don’t like running any more than one bull to 45 females and I will only ever have one bull working in a mob at a time to reduce fighting and injuries,” Ryan said.
“However I will rotate my bulls once or twice throughout our four-month joining period because I have nearly been caught, before realising a bull was not working properly.”
Ryan keeps close record of everything in the beef operation and has done the sums and applied a longer mating period to his program, believing he is better off having a few later calves than no calves at all.
“In the long run it’s more cost-effective for us to have the odd late calvers than selling the females if they are not in calf and having to buy in more females,” he said.
“I find the later calvers always seem to be highly fertile and often go straight back in calf as they have the opportunity to be mated on their first cycle.”
All the females are pregnancy tested in December and are due to calve from March 1.
Ryan said during calving season he supplementary fed hay and checkd the calvers every morning.
“I individually ear tag the newborn calves and at the same time I will castrate the males,” he said.
“I suppose I’m a bit old school when it comes to castration and find it best practice to do so when they are very young.”
The Gibbs yard wean all its calves and in the middle of December sold its first draft of 55 mix-sexed weaners at the Elders Boyanup weaner sale.
“In the draft were our heavyweight steers and lightweight heifers with the top lines reaching over $1000 a head,” Ryan said.
Although pleased with the prices they received, Ryan withheld 45 of his classier middleweight steers and heifers.
“For tax purposes while we are still transitioning our business we decided to hold onto a mixture of steers and some of the heifers for herd replacement selection and sell them as yearlings in the spring flush next year,” he said.
“Hopefully next selling season we can offload all our weaners at once.”
Selecting replacement females for the herd involves Ryan choosing moderate framed, well-portioned heifers that are not overly fat.
“I will not keep the bigger heifers as I find they struggle to lose the weight at mating time which can reduce fertility and lead to calving difficulties in the future,” he said.
“Selecting the average weight, classier heifers and purchasing young, fertile bulls have resulted in only two out of 140 young females pregnancy tested not in calf.
The Gibbs family has had incredible pregnancy and calving results over the past few years, and with strong background knowledge in farming, together with the Angus breed, its future in the beef industry looks bright.