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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.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

‘If you get knocked along the way, stand up, shake it off and go again’

In this week’s Career Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to dairy business graduate, Chris McGuirk. He hails from a suckler and poultry farm and studied an undergraduate and a masters at UCD. He is an on-farm sales representative for MSD Animal Health Intelligence.

A search through the CAO’s website, and the abolition of milk quotas, were the reasons why Christy McGuirk studied dairy business at UCD.

Leading up to his Leaving Cert back in 2014, the suckler and poultry farmer was destined for a career in civil engineering.

However, he discovered UCD’s agricultural science degree programmes when using the CAO’s course search facility.

“It was a quick switch on that day. I listed its dairy business course as my first CAO choice,” the Newbliss, Co Monaghan native told That’s Farming.

Milk quotas were being abolished the following year. So to me, it was inevitable that the work would be in the dairy industry given the rapid expansion expected.”

Dairy business graduate

Chris completed his four-year undergraduate degree and furthered his studies with a masters in sustainable agriculture at the world-renowned educational institution.

When studying for his masters, he also worked full-time in Fermoy, Co. Cork for Reprodoc ltd, a company Dr Dan Ryan owns.

McGuirk worked as a reproductive physiologist under Dan’s supervision for a year. The 26-year-old learned a “depth of knowledge from Dr Dan that has certainly carved the foundations for my career to date”.

Then, for the second year of his masters, Chris moved to Moocall as a breeding consultant.

“Based in Dublin, it suited my classes in UCD. I worked in Moocall for one year, having become the sales manager in summer 2019.”

“My responsibilities became managing key accounts, the sales team and national & international sales. I left for pastures new in October 2019.”

Chris McGuirk, dairy business graduate, dairy news, farming news,

MSD Animal Health Intelligence

That month, he became an on-farm sales representative for what is now known as MSD Animal Health Intelligence.

MSD is a world-leading animal intelligence group, providing devices for animal monitoring, identification and traceability.

Also, the company provides smart data service packages for the wellbeing and management of livestock.

“MSD is renowned for their commitment to the agricultural industry and prioritisation of customer satisfaction.”

“We strive to promote sustainable farming solutions. This is further evident with recent acquisitions such as Allflex Livestock Intelligence, IdentiGen and most recently, LIC automation.”

Chris is responsible for promoting the company’s portfolio of on-farm solutions: monitoring, animal health, identification and milking equipment.

Besides, he provides technical advice and works closely with the firm’s distributors – Lely Center Mullingar & Efficient Farming Systems.

A typical day in working life and Covid-19  

Typically, his day will consist of on-farm visits or attending farm discussion groups etc., helping clients find the best solutions the company has to offer.

“I am only one member of what is a fantastic team within MSD. We all have an extremely close and positive relationship which is partly the reason that we are so successful.”

“I like to be on-farm with other farmers; no two farms are the same, and I am always learning.”

“But my job becomes easy because I know that our portfolio is the best, and an exceptional support team can back this up. Every day is different, which keeps everything interesting.”

“It has been 18 months since Covid set in, yet my biggest daily challenge is to avoid shaking hands when I arrive on-farm.”

“It is an exciting time to be in this position. There is a huge shift towards implementing technology on-farm for all sorts of reasons, labour, efficiency, animal health, milk production etc.”

“I have been so lucky compared to others. During Covid restrictions, my job made a huge shift to online meeting platforms, but otherwise it has been quite okay.”

Chris McGuirk, dairy business graduate, dairy news, farming news,

Suckler and poultry farming

During the evenings, Chris completes farm work on his family-run suckler and poultry enterprise.

The family run 40 suckler cows and have a broiler unit holding 35,000 chickens which supply Manor Farm in Co Cavan.

In recent years, they have grown fodder crops for outwintering youngstock.

Chris’ father was a carpenter by trade and bought this farm in the mid-90s. He came from a third-generation dairy farm, which Chris’ uncle now farms.

The dairy business graduate hopes to compliment his father’s hard work over the years by maintaining, expanding and leading the farm onto the next generation.

Their suckler herd comprises Charolais-cross, Limousin-cross, Simmental-cross and Belgian-Blue-cross females, which they breed to Limousin, Simmental or Charolais sires.

“My father, Gerry, is the farm’s biggest asset. He keeps an eye on the stock when I am at work and carries out the day-to-day work with the chickens.”

“Farm safety has become my father’s main priority on-farm, adding in more calving pens, calving gates and a head scoop at the crush. All of these make our farm a much safer workplace for handling cows.”

Chris McGuirk, dairy business graduate, dairy news, farming news,

Meanwhile, Chris is responsible for machinery work, grassland management, breeding decisions, and labour-intensive jobs.

“I am there for the heavy lifting and to take responsibility for any poor decisions made,” he laughed.

He explained what is involved in running the operations. “Firstly with the chickens, Bird welfare is the main priority in all poultry farming.”

“Acute ventilation management controls the environment, and sometimes we add extra bedding is to maintain a high level of welfare standard.”

“With cows, we keep things simple. We calve in the spring and generally sell bulls as weanlings in November/December.”

“On the other hand, we select our best heifers for our own replacements or to sell as replacements at approximately 12-months-old.”

Profitable suckling, animal health and 100% AI

Chris is most passionate about genetics and the farm’s breeding programme.

“I am passionate about the fact that sucklers can be a viable enterprise if genetics and breeding quality stock are prioritised.”

“I think the breeding of good stock, stock that are easily maintained and can be finished in 24 months or less will make suckler an exciting, profitable & sustainable enterprise.”

“Installing Sensehub beef in 2020 enabled us to go 100% AI. We used six different bulls over the whole herd, which reaps its own benefit. Breeding for particular traits on different animals, trialling sexed semen on a couple of cows too.”

“Animals receive mineral boluses, are vaccinated against BVD, IBR and pneumonia and are for fluke and worms when necessary.”

“Sensehub monitors health. This has proven itself to be extremely effective against any sickness, especially in the transitional period between calving and breeding, enabling early intervention where it has been necessary.”

Chris McGuirk, dairy business graduate, dairy news, farming news,

Agriculture’s future

Even with particular challenges ahead, he believes Irish agriculture has an “extremely positive” future outlook.

In saying so, he believes the need for change is “inevitable”. However, the adaption of technology and innovation that will facilitate such change is on an “upward trend”.

“Thankfully, especially after Covid making 2020 such a horrible time for everyone, 2021 has seen a positive trade for beef and sheep.”

“This has really helped farmer’s mental health while creating a positive outlook for the market’s future.”

“Persistence will be key in the future, but farmer’s resilience will shine through, and we will overcome such challenges.”

The Monaghan native believes technology will continue to play a key role in the Irish agricultural sector’s future.

“We need to further embrace technology that will improve labour efficiency, animal health, aid the reduction of antibiotic use and ultimately enable cows to become more efficient.”

“The reduction of our carbon footprint while maintaining the level of production is the ultimate goal. Without technology, these goals are not possible.”

Chris McGuirk, dairy business graduate, dairy news, farming news,

Wise words of wisdom

According to the Monaghan native, it takes hard work, self-belief, a willingness to learn and respect for others to succeed in the agricultural field.

His motto is: “If you get knocked along the way, stand up, shake it off and go again”.

“Agriculture is so broad, and whether your interests lie within the industry or farming itself, it is a career I certainly encourage.”

“Everybody needs to eat and be nourished, so agriculture presents vast opportunities around the world. If the feelings are in your gut, go for it.”

“People can get bogged down on studies and Leaving Cert points which is unfortunate. There are so many ways to get to where you want to go. It is important to stress that there should be no fear of getting there.”

“Do not try to start at the finish line, or you will miss all the fun on the way. Once you graduate, the learning only starts. Grab every opportunity by the horns and back yourself,” he added.

Reflection

“Having graduated with my degree in 2017, four years ago, the rest has been a flash.”

“Looking back on the last four years, there has been a lot of hard work, a lot of mistakes and a lot of learnings made.”

“My journey has been enjoyable. I worked hard and have jumped at every opportunity that presented itself to me, each of which has somewhat aided my development within the industry.”

To share your story like this dairy business graduate, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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