That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with 28-year-old Ryan Gibbons of Glengowla Salers, in this week’s Suckler Focus.
“I run Glengowla Salers with my father, Martin Gibbons, in Oughterard, Co. Galway.
I am a fourth-generation suckler farmer, and agriculture was always the centre of attention when filling out my CAO form in Leaving Cert.
I had nothing else on my application, only agricultural science around the country, and now I work in administration within the agricultural industry.
We farm a total of 22ha, which is a blend of owned and rented land. The family farm has been passed down from father to son since my great-grandfather’s time.
Currently, I run a herd of 20-25 pedigree and commercial Salers; everything I have on-farm has at least a touch of Saler in it.
I am split between spring and autumn-calving, with spring-calving taking place between January and February and autumn-calving happening between August and September.
At the minute, I am 100% AI but previously would have served everything once to an AI Saler and cleaned up if needed with a Charolais stock bull.
Until this year, all weanlings would have been sold at 8-9 months, with a small number of heifers and an odd pedigree bull being kept for breeding.
This year, all my pedigrees had heifer calves except two, so these will be kept on as breeding stock.
I chose the Saler breed for a number of reasons, but in a word, I chose them for simplicity in that they do the basics that a suckler cow should do, and they do it very well.
The biggest characteristics I chose them for were fertility and calving ability.
My plan going forward is to continue with 100% AI and to phase out commercial cows as they age out of the herd, leaving me to focus on my pedigree breeding.
The biggest challenge I would have had before Salers is much the same as any other part-time farmer: working off-farm.
Dad and I are both working off-farm and trying to juggle work in the spring and be around for difficult calvings or trying to watch cows for heat and organise the AI technician for the evening time after hours was a non-runner.
Since going fully into Salers, this is not an issue anymore. The cow is like clockwork, the calving jack has been retired, and there is no second guessing when she is in heat.
In the past, I have used other breeds on them, be it Charolais, Belgian Blue or Limousin. It does not knock them off their stride, and the resulting calves make outstanding weanlings.
I find the Saler ticks every box; whether you want to use them for commercial or pedigree breeding, you are guaranteed to get what you want.
The golden egg
Commercially, ‘the golden egg’ (CH X SA) weanling tends to be a flyer in the marts. You are guaranteed weight for age and a good hairy golden-coloured weanling with a great ability to thrive.
When crossed with a Limousin, you have a heifer that has style and calving ability combined with milk.
The Saler bull has massive value in a herd, too, with easy calving and vigorous calves that are up and going in minutes.
I recently saw a video on the Irish Salers’ Facebook page of a herd using a Saler bull on pedigree Charolais heifers, and the quality of the calves was top-class.
Agricultural shows and social media
I have started showing cattle at shows this year and hope to pick up a few prizes in the ring this summer; all going well.
From the shows I have attended so far, I think there is huge value in showing stock. You can learn a lot from talking to judges and to other breeders.
It is nearly more valuable being second or third in the line-up than winning; you get a chance to see where improvements can be made.
Besides, I have social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram) for the herd, where I try to post regularly to show how I find the breed and to promote the breed’s characteristics as much as possible.
It is easy to write and talk about how good something is, but you will not beat visual evidence to help promote something.
My focus at the minute is to build up the herd with more pedigrees; it is currently about 50/50 pedigree/commercial.
I have no plans to expand the number of cows or acres, as I am a big believer in quality over quantity.
I will place a big focus going forward on genetics and trying to breed good correct stock, either for breeding or selling, with the Glengowla prefix to the fore.
The future of farming
There will always be a need for agriculture, and there will always be a need for a good quality suckler cow.
I believe the Saler cow is the ultimate suckler cow. I made the decision to try something new by going into pedigree breeding a couple of years ago to try and adapt to changing markets.
It is my belief that by staying at a modest, sustainable level and not pushing everything to the brink, then, there will be a place for everything going forward.
To me, there is no better lifestyle than rural Ireland and an agricultural background.
Agriculture is often portrayed in a negative light, but if it is something you are passionate about and want to do well in, surround yourself with the right people, listen and assess before making a decision, and you will not go too far wrong.
I heard a quote once before, and it goes like this: “the smartest person in the room is never as smart as all the people in the room”.
I like to stick by it. We can all put our heads down and work ourselves into a corner, but if you take on board other people’s opinions and experiences, that will stand for you down the road.
The pedigree breeding has been a whirlwind. Back in October 2019, I bought my first pedigree heifer at the Irish Salers’ annual heifer sale and established Glengowla Salers.
In August 2020, the first pedigree calf was born at Glengowla Salers, a heifer to start.
Then on St. Stephen’s Day in 2022, that first heifer calved down unassisted and started with a heifer of her own.
The journey has really kicked up a gear, and now, I am building my own story with my own stock. It just drives you on to keep going.
My advice to my younger self would be to stick with it and take the plunge sooner.”
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