RICEVILLE -- According to land registry documents in L'Orignal, Ryandale Farms was established on August 10, 1860 when Hugh Ryan took possession of 200 acres of land on the banks of the Nation River in Plantagenet Township. Five years later, the parcel of land was divided and registered to Hugh and his brother, George.
Young Hugh was the grandson of John Ryan, who emigrated from Wexford, Ireland, in 1814 and took up farming near Pendleton. Currently operated by Howard Ryan, son Chris Ryan and Chris's girlfriend, Isabel Larocque, the 150th anniversary of Ryandale Farms will be celebrated with family and friends at the farm in August.
A century and a half later, Hugh's great-great-grandson Chris Ryan works with a pioneer's enthusiasm on the 375-acre farm where they milk 55 head and house another 50 head of heifers and young stock. Two days a week he works off the farm for a hoof trimmer, putting everything back into the farm and his breeding program.
For 149 of its 150-year history there were Ayrshires at Ryandale Farms, the last cow, a barn favourite, was put down last fall at the age of 18.
They began the switch to Holsteins in 1995 and if it was the tough and hardy Ayrshire that helped them build a farm out of the bush in the first century, it is the Holstein that is taking them into the next. They had a BCA of 170 with their Ayrshire herd. The farm finished 2009 with a BCA of 250. "It is the best thing we did," says Chris, of one of many changes they've made over the years.
After he returned home from studying dairy production at the Alfred Campus, University of Guelph, they made a few more changes.
In 2006 they established their South Nation prefix and a registered Holstein herd. A fitting prefix in that the river has offered both challenges and benefits for last 150 years in the day-to-day operation of the farm. Situated on the flood plain, after a winter of heavy snow or a particularly wet spring the barn and farmhouse, which sit on higher ground, become an island, says Chris.
The last significant flood was in 2007. Until 1984 the cows swam across the Nation River twice a day between the pasture and the barn.
In 2007 a new, south-facing, packed bed heifer barn was built. Housing 45 head, the calves are sent over when weaned and don't come home to the milking barn until they are about to freshen. Grouped by age in four pens, they aren't over-crowded in the group housing, but do have to compete for feed, says Chris, so they come back into the milking herd more aggressive eaters. In 2008 Chris and Howard put up a Harvestore silo for high moisture-feed.
Those two improvements alone saw their production rise from 8,000 kilos to 9,800 kilos in the first lactation. Giving them the best value for their money, those improvements have increased revenue and decreased costs. Being a hoof trimmer himself, Chris also sees the value in trimming twice a year. The difference it makes in production and cow health and comfort, not just in his own barn but in the barns he works in is clearly evident. The herd average currently sits at 11,000 kilos.
To share both the cost and the risk, Chris often purchases cows and breeding technology in partnership with another young breeder, Jonathon Bergeron, of Melislar Holstein in Vars. "We look for lots of type when we breed," he says, "without sacrificing production." Even the test sires they use are high in type. To build his South Nation cow families Chris has used bulls like Mr. Burns, Re Design, Alexander and Shottle.
Some of the best cow families out there can be found in Eastern Ontario so they buy from local breeders. "Why travel 1,000 kilometers for cows when you can buy close to home from breeders you know," he says. They're utilizing ET and new breeding technologies to accelerate the breeding program, using mainly embryos from their own flushes.
Chris is particularly proud of a cow they bought last spring. Domicole Bolton Sonia is now ranked number 10 in Canada for LPI at 3346, with milk production at one year, 11 months of 15924 and BCI of 411-365-435. Flushed twice with one naturally born calf, she currently has four daughters on the ground, says Chris, and two sons with potential for an AI unit. She has more calves coming in late fall by Duplex. He also has high hopes for their Glengarry Rudolph Pamela cow, which is due to calve shortly. She too will be flushed. The herd includes 16 VG, 20 Good plus and three Good cows with about 10 of the older cows not classified.
Perhaps it's something in the water as more than one of the key cows in their breeding program are Sunnylodge Holsteins located 100-odd kilometers up river in Chesterville. Chris admits to aspiring to what the Smith family have accomplished as breeders over the years -- including their three Master Breeder Shields.
At the farm's 150-year milestone that is one of Chris Ryan's goals. "I want to be a Master Breeder."
Friends and neighbours who would like to share the anniversary celebration with the Ryan family on Saturday, August 7 can contact Chris at 613-227-9974