Thursday, February 29, 2024
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HomeBeef‘What I have found most challenging is dad’s death’ – young farmer...
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.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

‘What I have found most challenging is dad’s death’ – young farmer (21)

21-year-old Nathan Hylands, Co Down, in conversation with Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, as part of this week’s Farmer Focus segment. The young cattle and sheep breeder discusses his father’s passing, running the family farm and studies. 

“I am the fifth generation on our farm. Some of my memories are the many evenings after school and during the summer holidays spent on the farm with my dad and granda.

One of my earliest memories with my dad was Christmas Day 2005 when he took me over to the farmyard, and there were five pedigree poll Dorset ewe lambs waiting for me.

Dad had taken heed of my love for Dorsets at such a young age after I pointed them out from a photo while reading his agricultural papers one day.

Memories with my granda include going with him in the red Land Rover Defender.

Whether it was to lift a foster ewe or going with a bucket of meal to feed a few weanlings, I was sure to be there.

You were always certain if you saw a red Land Rover and a trail of cars behind a mile long; it was granda as he always drove her slow. He never blew the cobwebs away!

Cattle and sheep breeder

Millview Farm is home to Moygannon Pedigree Livestock

Granda Sidney and I run the farm. Before this, would be my late Dad Neville, who died suddenly in 2019.

I am thankful for my mum, Cathie, and sister, Caylan, who greatly help the farm, especially now.

I could not do it without them. We used to milk cows but now have sheep and a few beef cattle.

I have pedigree Dorset ewes and like to keep them between 20 and 30.

My sister has pedigree Zwartbles ewes. Also, I have a handful of sucklers. I keep some pedigree Hereford cows but commercials too. I love a coloury roan beast.

There is just something about them that catches the eye. I am always looking out for something that would make a nice cow.

Numbers are low at the minute because of me being at university and Dad’s untimely passing. However, I hope that numbers can increase again in a few years.

The most enjoyable aspect for me is when something is born. I love to see new life. I cannot wait until a beast calves or lambs from the minute the bull or ram goes out.

When there is a new arrival, it just shows that the work is all worth it. Of course, there is a pleasure seeing it grow and develop over the months that follow, and when it is a good one, at least you can say that it is home-bred.

young farmer, farming, Northern Ireland, cattle and sheep breeder

Dad’s death

Without a doubt, farming can be challenging in itself, but what I have found most challenging is dad’s death.

He was the main man on the farm, and without him, a lot has changed. I have had to step up to the mark and take on more responsibility at a young age.

I am so thankful I still have my granda to bounce off ideas and always come to for advice and guidance.

I feel this challenge of having more responsibility on the farm. However, it matures me even further and will help shape me into the person I am meant to become.

Bleary Young Farmers

I am a member of Bleary Young Farmers. It has allowed me to meet new people and take part in many competitions.

I was placed first in the 2021 YFCU 18-21 category sheep stock-judging finals.

Bleary recently had a tractor run to raise funds for the club and Macmillan Cancer Support.

We had a great turnout of over 120 tractors. By organising something like this, we could have craic but donate the money to help others with cancer.

Agricultural shows

I am assistant sheep secretary of Lurgan Show which is always the first Saturday in June.

I love to support anything local, especially within the agriculture industry.

I have got a lot out of sitting on the committee and have met many wonderful people in the show circuit who have helped me along the way.

Furthermore, I hope that even playing a small part within the show will help sustain it well into the future and carry on its well over 100 years of history.

I have exhibited sheep at many shows in the past, as well as some sales. In recent years I stepped back to focus on my education. I was always told education is easy carried and the rest will still be thereafter.

There is a lot of truth in that. I look forward to preparing the sheep and entering the show ring again soon.

The tables were turned in summer 2019, and I was asked to judge sheep at Clogher Valley Show. This was the first time judging and was a great privilege.

Animal genetics

I am passionate about the breeding side of agriculture and genetics. As a cattle and sheep breeder, I love crossing different breeds of livestock and seeing what you get. Artificial insemination and embryo transfer are techniques that intrigue me.

This science has had a big impact on the agricultural industry, especially in recent years and has been transformative for farmers allowing them to breed better quality livestock more easily.

young farmer, farming, Northern Ireland, cattle and sheep breeder


I am studying a BSc (with Hons) Animal Biology at University of Stirling, Scotland.

I enrolled in the course in September 2018 and am going into final view with a view to graduating next year.

I enrolled straight after A level and selected the course on the wide range of content that would be studied.

It is very varied, so you are kept engaged in the work. Some days you would be working in the field and the next in the lab examining things like soil and water.

I am constantly learning something new about every animal under the sun, great and small.

You study things like animal physiology which I enjoy, and the processes within the body, such as immune responses.

As well as this, you look microscopically at individual cells in immense detail. You also look in a broader sense at the habitats of animals, like their environment and how they interact with one another by the way they behave.

I have also surveyed environmental policy and legalisation and seen how that is brought about. My specific love is for livestock, but this degree has opened my eyes to the other species on the planet, including those I have never heard of. This has challenged me to do my research, so I must say I have gained knowledge.

At the end of the day, this world is a common space for every animal and is made up of such diversity that should be appreciated.

Rather than concentrating on agriculture specifically, I have seen how it coincides with the rest of the earth and its benefits, giving me a bigger understanding.


Student life during COVID-19 has been very disrupted. Instead of normal lectures and practical sessions, I was glued to a computer screen all year.

Positively, I studied from home and had the farm to keep me sane during the lockdown. I am thankful as I know many people could only go out for daily exercise, and that was it.

I did miss the ‘uni life’ and experience but look forward to my final year, which should be more normal.


Farming has always been in the blood, and nothing will ever take that away. From a young age, I always planned to do it part-time and have a job alongside.

People always ask me what job I could do after university, and I always tell them I am unsure because I do not know exactly.

I know the list is endless, and my degree keeps plenty of doors open, giving me flexibility.

If I were to start work straight after uni, an agriculture-related job would be a must. However, my other passion is journalism which I would like to pursue. If I could combine both, then that would be fantastic.

I am keen to travel whether that is for work or leisure. Furthermore, I think it is great to step outside of your comfort zone and explore something new and exciting.

Travel gives you that opportunity. I am aware the animals at home will not look after themselves, so it is important to find the right balance between home and away.  Being across at uni has also helped with that.

young farmer, farming, Northern Ireland, cattle and sheep breeder

Advice for younger people

For those younger people considering pursuing a career in agriculture, I would say go for it.

It is hard work with many let-downs, but you reap the rewards that, to me, no money can buy.

As a young person in agriculture, my life is busy but fulfilled. I do not see agriculture as a job, but as a way of life, so you are always occupied with something related to it.

The industry brings so many opportunities and social events. I would not change the farming life one bit.

The industry’s future

I feel the future of agriculture is bright. Technology has brought the industry forward in a big way, and I think it will continue to do so.

In my opinion, to a certain extent, it is important to remember the basics. Keep farming practices as simple as possible and let nature take its course,” the student and cattle and sheep breeder concluded.

Share your story with That’s Farming

To share your story like this cattle and sheep breeder, email – [email protected]

Further reading

Read more personal profiles on That’s Farming.

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