Shauna Gill, a young suckler and sheep farmer and student (18) in conversation with our editor, Catherina Cunnane, as part of this week’s Women in Ag segment.
“I am from Drumsna, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. Farming goes back three generations. My earliest farming memories are going down the fields and looking at the cattle with my dad.
We keep 40 suckler cows, a mix of Charolais-crosses, Belgian Blue-crosses, Angus-crosses, Shorthorns and Limousin-cross.
We AI all our cows with calving taking place all year round. Subsequently, we keep some heifer calves as replacements and sell others at the mart.
Replacement heifers calve down usually at two years of age. We sell calves as weanlings. Furthermore, we cull any cows with bad temperaments.
My favourite breed is Shorthorn, as they have strong maternal traits and a very good temperament. We have one at home, and you could sit up on her back.
On the other hand, we keep 60 breeding ewes which I hope to increase next year. We have increased numbers over the years. Lambing occurs in mid-March; we think that is the best time as there is more grass and better weather for lambs.
We lamb all our ewes outdoors as we find it a far more natural and healthier way. Also, we find sheep get sore feet from being indoors.
In terms of breeds, we keep mostly crossbred ewes along with Cheviots and Suffolks. We run a Cheviot ram, which we bought in the mart, due to ease of lambing.
We kept 15 lambs of last year’s ewes as replacement hoggets. They were all scanned in-lamb to a Blackface Mountain ram I bought off a friend.
Furthermore, we scan sheep to identify what ewes are carrying twins and singles. Then, we can sort them out and see what needs more feeding.
We cull any ewe that had problems or any with broken mouths. I also have two pet ewe lambs that I am hoping to get lambs of next spring.
Many people were bored during the lockdown, but I was lucky to have pet lambs to keep me busy. I would never sell them for any amount of money.
We sell progeny as stores at about 45-50 kilos. This year, we had over 100 store lambs, and luckily, trade was hopping!
Sheep are a mighty trade this year and still are horrid dear to buy, which is good to see compared to other years.
I am currently in Mountbellew Agricultural College, Co Galway, where I am completing my Green Cert.
I enrolled in September 2020 and will complete this course in May 2022.
Furthemore, I selected the course as I have a great interest in farming and want to get my own herd and flock number. It is handy to have your Green Cert. Furthermore, I have to do eight weeks of work placement as part of the course.
I completed placement on a dairy farm in Ballyconnell. It was very different to what I am used to at home. I was responsible for milking cows and feeding and looking after calves.
I completed one month in October and the second stint in March. The Green Cert was my first choice to pick from. I could not see myself doing anything else other than farming.
It has been challenging in college during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not simple for anyone sitting in front of a laptop all day. We travelled to college for practicals two days a week anyway, so it was not too bad. We still got to meet other people in our class.
Sheep farming and shearing in Scotland
Next year for my level 6, I hope to go to Scotland on a sheep farm for a busy lambing season and I hope to lean how to shear sheep.
I love the animal aspect of farming. To be honest, I am not too bothered about machinery or driving tractors. I always loved seeing new life come into the world. It would not bother me if I never got to sit in a tractor again as long as I have sheep and cows!
Women in ag
As a female, I am treated the same as male workers, although that is not always true. Women are now starting to get the recognition they deserve, with more and more girls applying for agricultural colleges.
It is great to see. I think women should go for a career in agriculture if they want to. Just follow your heart! If you are doing something you love, you will never work a day in your life.
As a young farmer, sometimes I do struggle with real strenuous work or heavy lifting. Although, I would not give up easily all the same.
Expansion and becoming a farm inspector
In the future, I want to make the family farm bigger with sheep and cattle. I would like to see a slatted sheep shed going up on our farm, but I do not know if that will happen.
When I finish the two years of the Green Cert, I want to do a level 8 in agriculture and become a farm inspector.
It is hard to tell what farming will be like in the future with the way the beef trade is at the moment. You would not make a living out of it. It is changing every day.”
Are you a young farmer? To share your story, email – [email protected]