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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-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 company in 2015.
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‘I was always eager to work in the family business and become a butcher’

Career Profile: Butcher 

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Ciara Flavin in this week’s women in ag series. We discuss her family-run butcher shop, Jim Flavin Butchers, and beef farming operation, completing an apprenticeship to become a qualified butcher and her father’s influence on her career.

“I turned 24-years-old in April and am living at home with my parents and two younger sisters in Grange, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick

I come from a farming background and am the fourth generation to farm the land here in Grange. We run a beef enterprise and a family-run butcher shop in Castletroy, Limerick.

We keep a variety of breeds, including Herefords, Angus, Charolais, Limousins and Simmentals, on our farm.

Futhermore, we buy in all our stock from local marts at around the age of six months, where they are then put out to grass.

For the last month and a half, we house them and put them on a specialised diet to fatten them to the standard we want to sell in the shop.

We feed cattle with a diet feeder; the mix they receive consists of maize meal, barley, sugar beet, silage, and hay and straw. I feed cattle twice a day to ensure they receive adequate quantities.

On average, we kill 14 heifers a week for our butcher shop. I take in two loads a week to a nearby abattoir where they carry out the slaughtering.

After slaughtering, we hang cattle in our boning hall facilities in Annacotty, where we leave the carcass meat to age and mature for 30 days.

We then break the carcasses down into their primal cuts and bone it out so it is ready to be delivered to our butcher shop down the road.

Butchery 

I have always had a huge interest in agriculture from a very young age. After my Leaving Cert, I attended Pallaskenry Agricultural College and completed my Green Cert.

As I got older throughout my teenage years, I also developed an interest in butchering. From the age of 13, during school holidays or weekends, I always used to work and help my dad in our family-run butcher shop.

I started with easier duties such as making burgers and cleaning as I got older, I became a counter assistant.

From there on, I gained more and more knowledge of the different cuts of meat and started to watch and learn through my father, who tutored me the whole way up.

My father, Jim, set up the business over 26 years ago. I am the second-generation butcher in the family. From watching my dad throughout the years and gaining lots of knowledge from him, I was always eager to work in the family business and become a butcher.

Family business

Dad’s hard work ethic, and resilience are something I have always admired and I have aspired to be like him.

He has built up an extremely successful business over these last 26 years and has gained a strong customer base.

This is not an easy thing to do in this highly competitive industry as we have two big supermarket chains on either side of us.

He has always been very innovative with his business. You always need to be coming up with new product lines and ideas to keep customers interested and attract a bigger audience.

I am working full-time myself and do 6/7 days a week. Our shop is on the main Dublin Road, Castletroy, Limerick.

We employ a total of 15 staff, in which we are very lucky to have some who have been with us for many years, including my aunt.

She has been working with us from the very beginning. In our shop, we have a huge variety of big product lines from BBQ packs, ready-made meals, stir-fries, cooked meats, and the more traditional cuts such as roasts, oxtails, packet and tripe and brisket.

We have something to suit everybody’s needs.

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Training

I started my apprenticeship in butchering three years ago in Ashtown Co. Dublin; it was prolonged an extra year due to Covid.

We travelled up to Dublin once a month for a few days to lean all about meat cutting.

We would then take this knowledge learned and bring it back to our shops where we practiced it.

At the end of our three years, we then had to complete a block test breaking a full carcass of beef, lamb, and pork, where we were timed and marked accordingly on our knife skills, safety, and hygiene.

I qualified in April; we had a graduation, and I received my certificate at the Teagasc Centre in Dublin.

There was a mixture of practical and theory assessments we had to sit throughout each month. We learned all about the anatomy of the animal, where all the muscles, joints and connective tissues are situated in the body.

This is very important as you need to know the whereabouts of the correct points on the carcass area to cut correctly and not damage the meat.

We also learned all about animal welfare and how important it is when taking care of and handling animals accordingly.

Throughout my apprenticeship, I was delighted to see two other women starting the apprenticeship as I was finishing mine.

It was nice to see them choosing this course and to hopefully encourage more women to make a leap and prove that women are just as capable as men when it comes to butchering.

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Women in ag/butchering

Growing up watching my dad running his business alongside my aunt, I never found it unusual to see women in the butchering industry.

Throughout the years in business, we have always had a good balance of men and women working for us.

As my dad would often say, women are just as capable as men when it comes to butchering and would always encourage us when we were younger whether it came to farming or butchering.

I was in a fortunate position to have my dad as my mentor.

He allowed me to learn the skills of the trade, whereas other women in the industry might find they have to prove their capabilities more so than their male counterparts to be trained as a butcher.

I feel grateful to have gotten this opportunity with this apprenticeship, as other women might not have had the same opportunity as I have.

Some women might be deterred from the trade as it can be a very physical job at times, but with more advances in health and safety in shops, there are lots of aids there to help.

We recently installed sliding rails where we hang the beef carcasses, which takes a lot of the heavy lifting out of the equation.

Increased involvement

It is great to see more and more women becoming strongly involved in agriculture and promoting other women to get involved.

When I was completing my Green Cert in Pallaskenry, I had five other females in my class, but each year, more women were enrolling, which was a great thing to see.

I find social media is great when it comes to reaching out and following other women in ag who have big followings online.

Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are great ways of encouraging other women to not be afraid and try their hand at farming.

Macra Na Feirme is doing great things when it comes to encouraging the younger generation of female farmers to get involved and meet other ladies in the business.

My plans for the future are to continue running the family business both in the shop and farm alongside my father.

I hope to expand our beef herd and start breeding a few suckler cows so traceability would be even better again for customers buying our beef.

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Reflection

Looking back, over the last few years, I am happy to see I have reached the goals I have set for myself, with completing the Green Certificate and graduating from my butchering apprenticeship.

I will continue to strive and always set new goals for myself to reach, be it on the farm or in the butcher shop. I hope to continue to grow our business more and more each year.”

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

See more women in ag profiles.

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