This month, we are happy to introduce you to RYAN BROS CATTLE of Colton, Washington. RYAN BROS CATTLE include Bill, Gary and Les Ryan, and their brother-in-law, Chet Pearce. These guys are the real deal – they are ranchers and cowboys from the inside out, true-blue, hardworking, kind and respectful to people they meet; their whole lives are the land and the animals.
The Ryan brothers’ mother, Marlene, helps out with moving equipment from farm to farm. She also cooks lunch for the crew during brandings, or if they’re working near the house. Mostly, though, she is finally enjoying retirement, and enjoys gardening in her yard. Marlene also writes and recites cowboy poetry.
You may remember that we profiled Les Ryan’s farming operation in November, 2013*. There, we explained the Ryan family’s long history in the Palouse region. Their great-grandfather settled his farm near the Snake River near Colton in 1880 and the Ryans have been living on and working that land since that time.
The ranch headquarters is along the Snake River, a beautiful place, tucked up in a draw. The hills are steep and protected. The ranch includes big pastures and corrals, a couple of good working areas, a nice big barn and holding pens for the cattle. They also keep a number of beautiful quarter horses for working and moving stock and checking fences, as well as five magnificent Percheron and Belgain draft horses for pulling their big hay wagons for winter feeding.
The brothers were raised on their family’s farm and ranching operation. Their dad, Jack Ryan, was a horse and cattleman. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. All the Ryan kids were in 4-H and FFA, so they were working livestock at a young age. As teens and young men, the three brothers worked for their dad. Then, when he retired in about 1995, they were able to buy out a neighbor’s cattle herd, and that’s when they formed RYAN BROS CATTLE.
In 1990, Chet married their sister, Jacki. He had worked in the cattle business, his parents kept cattle. Chet began working for Jack after his marriage to Jacki, and then he joined up with these guys. Says Chet, “They couldn’t fire me, so we just kept a-goin’.”
The cattle operation is just part of the Ryan family’s overall work, they’re farmers, too. So, they’re busy during the farm season, working their fields, growing their crops, caring for their cattle. Chet mostly does cow work. He’s a cow man. In the spring, summer and fall, the family has cattle on several different locations (including our own Bald Butte Ranch), and Chet goes to each to check their water and salt licks, and to make sure the fences are secure and all the animals are uninjured and well. He also drives truck during harvest for the farming side of the operation.
Bill, Gary, Les and Greg farm fulltime, and assist with the cows when they’re moving cattle from pasture to pasture or ranch to ranch. Also, they all work together whenever they’re working the cattle – calving, vaccinating, branding and the like.
They grow about 25% of their hay, and buy the rest. They like a 50% alfalfa 50% grass blend.
On the day that I visited them, I lucked out, because they were vaccinating and worming their mother cows, and eartagging and branding the calves. They let me hang out while they worked, which was really great of them.
While sometimes they brand the old fashioned way, using horses to rope and hold the calves, and heating the branding irons in an open fire, on this day they took advantage of the modern method of corrals, pens and the squeeze chutes. When there are so many things to do to each animal, it is much more efficient, and safer for both stock and men.
On to the questions and answers (answered by all of the men):
What type of cattle operation do you run?
We have a commercial herd; the animals we raise are sold for beef for the American consumer. Our mother cows are crossbred between Angus, Charolais and Red Angus. We buy good purebred Angus and Charolais bulls and keep them each for five to eight years. We have about 20 bulls. We raise up the babies and they’re weaned at about 700 pounds. In the fall, when they’re about 800 pounds, we sell them at the Lewiston (Idaho) Livestock Auction, where finishing operations buy them and finish them for market (they are fed a high concentrate of corn-alfalfa until they reach the market weight of 1,200-1,300 pounds).
Each year, we pick out about 75 of our really good heifers to keep as replacements for our older cows. We treat and feed them differently from the one which will go to the saleyard.
We also sell about five animals each year to 4-H and FFA kids, who take them to the county fair. (author’s note – Ryan Bros. show steers consistently place very high in youth livestock shows in the region).
How do you decide which bulls to breed to which cows?
Well, the bulls can’t breed their daughters. It would be nice if you could always put a black (Angus) bull in with the white (Charolais) cows, but it doesn’t always work that way. We try to divide it evenly.
Do you use any sustainable practices?
We manage our (pasture) grass by grazing the right number of acres per cow so that we don’t over-graze our land and the grass stays healthy and nutritious. On the Wawawai Ranch, that’s 10 acres per cow. We are also careful with developing our springs. This protects the watershed and carefully utilizes any available water for watering the cattle.
Something interesting, cutting edge, fascinating, you would like our readers to know?
In the winter, we use our draft horses to haul the feed wagons on the ranch roads. This is much less damaging to the environment, our roads and pastures than a tractor or truck would be. (Author’s note: everything these guys do is sustainable! They are extremely careful of their land and environment).
What are ranching’s biggest rewards for you?
Depends on the year! (Chet)
Seeing the cattle finally sell! (Les)
Watching them being born and then weaned (Chet)
I like the cowboy life (Gary)
Do you participate in any civic or industry organizations?
We belong to the Whitman County Cattlemens’ Association. Also, Gary is on the Salmon Recovery Board, and Chet is on the Lewiston Roundup Rodeo Board. Chet and Jacki are past 4-H Leaders.
Are there any stories about your business or your life that you’d like to share?
Well, there are too many to count. Once, we lost a bull in the creek at Bald Butte Ranch. The creek is above ground, and then it goes underground. He (the bull) must have crossed over top of the underground creek, and his weight (2,000 +/- lbs) must have caused it to collapse, and he fell in. We searched and searched for him. A neighbor found his remains down in there months later. (Author’s note: We have named that creek Bull Creek, so that everyone remembers what happened there).
We train all of our horses ourselves. We also keep 5 or 6 cow dogs to help us out. Or, more-like, to chase the cows off over the ridge and away from where we want them! They’re Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, good dogs, all.
Oh, and one time, we had to haul our dad out of here on the tailgate of a pickup after a wreck with the horses and wagon.
Yeah, and Gary likes the goat up at Bald Butte Ranch. He was eating his lunch on the picnic table at the bunkhouse, and the goat was eating with him.
Do you have anything you would like to add that’s not addressed here?
We don’t want folks to think that cattle are a bad thing. They’re good for the environment. They graze the ground, keeping the bad weeds down and the grass healthy. We’re good stewards of our land, and we protect our livestock and land.
Most of the mis-information that people hear comes from politicians and the media, which doesn’t help at all. We don’t in any way, ever hurt or abuse our animals. We take good care of them. If anything ever went wrong with them, well, we’d be in trouble.
We’re just going to keep on as we are, take good care of our land and livestock, and manage all the opportunities that are here for us.
We are proud of RYAN BROS. CATTLE, one of America’s ranching families, who care for our country’s grazing land, and raise excellent, healthy BEEF for us all to enjoy.
The next time you eat a delicious steak or a juicy hamburger, think of Bill, Gary, Les, Chet and Greg who worked hard to raise it for you.
THANK YOU RYAN BROS CATTLE
FOR GROWING OUR BEEF FOR US.
**The really nice photos in this article were taken by Les’ wife, Laurie. Thank you Laurie.
*Go to “Meet the Farmers & Ranchers” page, scroll down to “Palouse Farms” to find Les’ profile.