John & Steve Ryan, Denison // May 2023 "Farming Conversations" Calendar
by Gippsland Jersey
How long have you been in the industry John, and where do you farm?
I grew up on a dairy farm down in the western district, and then Lauren and I shifted home with her parents for seven years. Now we’ve owned our own farm for eight years in Denison.
How many cows do you milk?
400 this season.
And John, what struggles, or loves, do you have for the industry? What gets you out of bed in the morning, or frustrates you?
I enjoy working with cows. My strengths are with grazing and milking cows and caring for livestock in general. The climate challenge as we move forward is about increasing the capacity of our soils and soil function, nutrient cycling, carbon holding capacity, and water holding capacity. I’m finding that a challenge, but an exciting challenge to address.
It requires practice changes; new knowledge. It’s getting your team aligned with you because it requires a lot of time and energy, and you need a good team to work with in order to achieve it. Just continuing to build a business that has a positive impact on local communities and families. I care about river health and ecological outcomes also.
Well, you do a great job John. We had the conversation about how you employ your brother. We do feel an obligation to our siblings, in terms of giving them purpose. Your brother has a disability?
Well, certainly. My brother has the intellectual ability of a young boy. He loves to be involved and is very kind and caring. He contributes where he can. I often ask myself ‘what else can he do’? but he doesn’t want to milk cows anymore. So, we just sort of leave the door open and allow him to decide what he wants to do and support him in that. He has a team of people who he works with to support him with his needs at home.
So, he basically has an open door with you as to how involved he wants to be on your farm?
So, he does a 45-hour week, but his time isn’t always productive. He’s a big lad and this presents physical risks as well. We just have to come to the middle with some things.
Does Steve have a support worker on site or is that up to you?
No, no one is coming into the workplace to do anything. There’s always a lot of talk with his organisation, but you know, getting someone to actually deliver things is something else entirely. So, we just accept it and move on.
I can relate, John, because I have a brother with disabilities and he lives on the farm where the factory’s located. We have plenty of jobs that he could physically do, and that he’s very capable of, but it’s about finding that support worker that can match him.
I think in the disability sector we’ve got a skill shortage. We actually need more people, and people with intellectual disabilities have got a lot to give, but they do need the support. There’s just not enough people to support this and I feel that a number of the people in there aren’t really suited to the role.
And do you think your brother could achieve more if he had the right support people that were farm orientated and skilled in dairy?
I think so. He just doesn’t seem to be interested in doing a lot of the things that I can do with him. I would ideally need that other person to have a higher skill level to be able to guide him to do those things unaided by me so I can spend more time by myself getting things done. We would like to buy some more land. It’s also important for Steve to have some goals to work towards.
You think it would be a great reality TV show, The John and Steve Farm?
I think it would be. It can be quite funny. The other day Steve and a worker both got bogged in the same place within hours of each other and it’s just like, ‘why would you drive through there’? It is a bog hole! Yeah, it would be quite entertaining. I reckon there are many farmers that are in this similar position.
Where are your parents?
We’re fortunate where we live. We have two houses close to each other. Mum lives in one and the other one we live in and then we have another house on the other side of the farm where Steve lives. We are fortunate that we’ve got the support there. My dad has passed away. My mum has quite the story, actually. Mum, Denise and Phillip, her first husband, had my eldest brother and sister, but tragically Phillip passed away. Around 10 years later mum married our dad, Tom. They had Steve, myself, and then the twins, but unfortunately dad developed cancer and passed away while us four were still in nappies.
Mum and our older brother, Chris and sister, Cathy, with the help of a Nun, Sister Christene, raised us and operated the dairy farm for a few years. Mum met her third husband, Carey, a number of years later. They worked incredibly hard and established a farm stay business, as well as operating a dairy farm and raising us four kids, as well as contributing to his kids, and Chris and Cathy, where they could. Once us kids had finished school they separated. We lost the original family farm, and it took us a while to feel like we had a home again.
How do you manage yourself, your frustrations and your energies?
I do yoga twice a week, and mindfulness. It’s like raising kids, sort of, you just gotta. You can’t change what they do. So, often you just gotta change your expectations and set it up better the next time. You’ll find a way. Just carry on and say ‘well, alright, we did it that way, it didn’t work, we’ll try and do better tomorrow’. Steve teaches me a lot. I do find it difficult not having a very productive family relationship though, because of the work. He sometimes feels that I’m up against him, but the problem is I can’t just let him go and do it because it could be dangerous or overly time consuming and I don’t have much spare time in my day.