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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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From a 10,000-acre station in New Zealand to a 550-cow herd in the west of Ireland

As part of this week’s Women in Ag series, That’s Farming speaks to Leyla Byrne, a UCD animal and crop production graduate with international agricultural experience.

Covid-19 restrictions may have hindered Leyla Byrne’s plans to return to New Zealand, but the pandemic has not stopped the 22-year-old from furthering her career in the agricultural field.

The Blessington, Co. Wicklow native, who spent her childhood on her late grandfather’s mixed sheep and suckler farm, graduated from UCD in 2020 with a degree in animal and crop production.

Experience she gained over four months in New Zealand as part of her third-year Professional Work Experience module fuelled her desire to travel further.

The travel bursary recipient began her experience on a 270 cross-bred dairy farm, encompassing some 1,000-acres on the South Island’s west coast. “I spent a month here, and with no previous dairy experience, I learned a lot. They operate a low-input system, with no grass measuring and very little fertiliser.”

“Despite this, cows were averaging 476kg of milk solids and 5,000L of milk. The cows peaked at 25l in mid-November.”

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From there, she ventured to the south of the South Island where she spent two months on a 10,000-acre all-year-round grazing beef and sheep station in Waikaia. The farm is home to some 12,000 Romney ewes alongside 500 Angus and Hereford suckler cows.

Byrne spent her last month in an abattoir in Gore, approximately 40 minutes from Waikaia. Silver Fern Farms process just shy of 2,500 lambs daily, equating to 300,000 annually.

“They also have a bobby calf season, which runs from July through to October, slaughtering 110,000 calves in that time. The meat is all Halal as their main export market is the Middle East. They have full farm-to-fork traceability through the factory.”

Leyla Byrne,Sheep, sheep farming,

After graduation

Bitten by the travel bug, she longed to return to New Zealand last May, but Covid-19 struck and brought plans to a halt.

However, a vacancy on a 550-crossbred herd in Co. Roscommon created a window of opportunity for the new graduate.

She applied and was appointed to the position of herdsperson, with responsibility for milking, grass measuring and maintenance, fertilising, monitoring, and assisting with calving, calf-rearing, and other general farm husbandry tasks.

She left her native Blessington, where she helped her uncle with the running of the farm, and moved to Roscommon where she now resides. Leyla currently works on a 550 cross-bred spring-calving farm, with 330 cows on 200-acres just outside Tulsk, and 220 cows on 160-acres outside Ballymoe, Co. Galway.

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“There is a full-time manager in Ballymoe, Paul, who has all the young stock to tend to also. Joe and I are full-time employees, split between the two farms. Jimmy and Ed, who are father and son owners of the farm, also work alongside us.”

“The first 200 cows calve in Tulsk, and we aim to finish by the first week of February. Everything else calves in Ballymoe, where calf-rearing takes place also. Tulsk is for grass and milking once calving finishes there.”

“Milking begins at 6.30 am, and after, we go for breakfast and feed the herd. Then, we could be sent to Ballymoe to assist Paul or be back down in Tulsk helping Ed.”

“Every day is a school day in this job, and there is always something new to learn or some method that makes life easier as a farmer. I find I get bored easily and need a challenge to keep me on my toes, which farming certainly does, as no two days are the same.” Leyla added.

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Satisfied in her current role on the west of Ireland-based dairy enterprise, the Wicklow native has a burning desire to continue spreading her wings.

Having graduated at the age of twenty-one, her career is only in its infancy with a venture into advisory or teaching, being considered as her next stepping stone. Although for now, she aims to “gain as much varied experience as possible”.

“During school, I always wanted to be a teacher and up until sixth-year that was the plan. I studied agricultural science as a Leaving Cert subject and fell in love with it there. I am an animal lover at heart and love working with animals daily.”

“If anything, the past year and all its challenges have shown us how important Irish agriculture is and how lucky we are to be in a position to produce top-quality goods that rival any other country.”

“Farming is an essential part of Irish life and culture. With so many people connected through agriculture, that, in my opinion, will never cease. However, practices and styles of farming will need to adapt and change to meet environmental challenges.” the animal and crop production graduate concluded.

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