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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘I prefer to be outside with cows than sitting inside looking at a laptop’

In this week’s Student Focus series, That’s Farming speaks to Sinead Canny, a 22-year-old, about her active role in her family’s 40-cow suckler herd, student life during Covid-19 and her career aspirations.

“All my friends wanted to go nursing and primary teaching after school, but none of them careers stood out to me, except the agricultural courses.”

“I took a year out following my Leaving Certificate as I was unsure of the career path I wanted to take. I applied for agriculture and environmental management at GMIT/Mountbellew Agricultural Science through the CAO the year after and have not looked back since.”

Those are Sinead Canny’s words, a fifth-generation farmer from County Clare, who has “always had a passion for farming since a young age and longed to carve a career in agriculture”.

The 22-year-old full-time student plays a role in her family-run 40-cow suckler herd, alongside her father, James and younger siblings, Jamie and Shauna, whilst juggling her final-year studies.

I have grown up and spent all my 22 years on my home farm for three generations. The farm was passed down to my dad from his grandfather. From a young age, I always went to Ennis Mart every Tuesday during the summer for the whole day.”

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40-cow suckler herd

They farm over 120 cattle with 40 suckler cows, 40 calves, 40 yearling stores (bullocks and heifers) and one stockbull. Their suckler herd comprises spring-calving Angus-crosses, Limousin-crosses and Hereford-crosses breeding females.

Calving begins in January and continues through to April, with Sinead playing

“We AI all heifer to Angus sires, and a Limousin stockbull serves cows. All calves suckle cows and are weaned at approximately 8-10-months old.”

“We castrate all bulls and sell these as yearling bullocks in the mart. Two weeks ago, we sold all 40 bullocks and heifers at Scariff Mart. Overall, we were happy with the prices, averaging out €800.”

They operate a grass-based production system and house cattle in a slatted shed in late November over the winter months, depending on weather conditions.

“We carry out feeding twice-a-day with good quality silage and mineral licks. All the oldest calves born this year are out to grass with their mothers.”

“We aim to improve our sucklers’ genetics and participate in the Beef Data & Genomics Programme (BDGP) scheme. This allows us to achieve that by keeping calving records yearly and genotyping our four and five-star heifers.”

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Multiple responsibilities

Sinead is most passionate about calving season and takes pride in ensuring newborn calves receive adequate, high-quality colostrum immediately after birth.

Her responsibilities include casting an eye on any cow/heifer that may be calving as her father works with Clare Marts LTD during the day.

“Therefore, I am busy cleaning out calf pens and bedding them with fresh straw. I tag all  newborn calves, take their BVD samples and put calf jackets on them.”

“Alongside this, I bring in bales, feed all the stock silage with them oats and barley. During the summer months, I draw bales from the silage field to home,” she added.

Besides, this year she made her first investment in livestock, acquiring three Angus-cross heifer calves. She hopes to breed these and calf these as part of a 24-month-old system to grow her newly established herd.

“I am feeding them milk replacer twice daily. Being at home more allows me to look after them properly and put my skills that I have learnt to use.”


Previously, Sinead attained calf-rearing experience through placement, which she completed on a local dairy farm in her second year. She worked on a spring-calving dairy herd that compromises over 250 Friesian-cross cows.

Her day began at 7 am by scraping and liming cubicles, with primary responsibilities including calf-rearing and husbandry, general maintenance tasks and training heifer calves onto four automatic calf feeders.

“I would walk around the cows a few times a day and pull out cows close to calving and move them to a straw bedded pen. After a cow calved, I would tag calves, to avoid mix-ups. There were high numbers of cows calving in a tight calving period.”

Sinead is in her final year of the four-year degree programme, having enrolled in 2017 and will graduate later this year with a BSc (Hons) in agriculture and environmental management.

I chose Mountbellew as it offered me field and laboratory work along with an emphasis on environmental management. I love being at home farming, so choosing a college close to home was a bonus.”

“Also, I selected this course as it provided me with an assortment of skills to work in the agriculture and environmental sector,” added Sinead, who attained her Green Cert through the course.

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Moving back home and life in lockdown

Her course offers an experience of both practical and theory of farming with modules ranging from breeding, nutrition, grassland management to plant and animal science.

“Highlights from beginning this course have been able to learn all aspects of farming from dairy to sheep to beef enterprises, getting a hands-on experience in practical’s outside and meeting all my new friends who come from different agricultural backgrounds.”

“I did not know what to expect when I took my CAO offer, but I am happy I did. I found this course very interesting, having learned about farming’s business and science sides. The lecturers were always there to help and give important information regarding farming.”

“This course was my first choice, and I wanted to broaden my knowledge of agriculture as my favourite subject in school was agricultural science.”

“I was living up in Galway but moved home due to Covid-19. As a student, I miss college life and seeing my friends. In the beginning, I found it difficult to get used to talking to a laptop all day.”

“Honestly, I think studying at home benefited me as I can attend college and help out more on the farm. I prefer to be outside with cows than sitting inside looking at a laptop,” she laughed.

Going to an ag college is a bit daunting, but now I do not take any notice of that. In college, all us women carried out the same jobs on the farm as the men. There was no divide between male and female.”

“Women in agriculture are not recognised for their efforts on-farm and at industry level. Being a woman in agriculture, you have to go above and beyond to prove yourself.” added the Killanena/Feakle Club camogie player.

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Travel overseas and words of wisdom

Sinead has a burning desire to put her multi-dimensional skill-set into practice within the agri-feed sector whilst contributing to her family-run suckler farm.

She intends to travel to New Zealand and experience larger-scale farms. As it so happens, she planned to venture there for summer 2020 with her boyfriend, but Covid-19 put these plans on hold.

“There is such a variety of jobs within the agriculture sector, not just farming. Other jobs lie within the food industry in nutrition and farm inspectors and advisors. I want to work in the agricultural sector as a state agency inspector or in the agri-food sector.”

“You should never be put off the idea of agriculture because all your friends are not doing it. Stick to your gut feeling; there is no point being in a career that you do not like.”

“I feel if the prices don’t improve for beef farmers, it will knock out the smaller-scale farmers. The online system for the marts will stay around as technology will play a big role in the future of farming.”

“I grew up on a farm, spend every day outside on it, started in ag college, learnt various skills about farming, became more confident around other farmers, decided to purchase my own calves, and work independently on my own. I do not see myself in any other job as I enjoy farming.” Sinead concluded.

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