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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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‘Farming is not only how we make a living, but it is our livelihood’

19-year-old Kelsey Daly from south Roscommon in conversation with our editor, Catherina Cunnane, as part of this week’s Student Focus segment. She provides an insight into her family-run sheep and suckler farm, studying FAM at UCD and working for Farmeye and an agricultural consultant.

I have grown up on our fourth-generation family farm where farming is not only how we make a living, but it is our livelihood.

It is hard to say what my earliest memory is when it is all I have ever known. However, I do recall lying in the meal troughs in the passway of the cattle shed, watching the cattle eating silage.

It is often nice to sit and watch them, and you get to know that each cow has their own personality.

I remember dad teaching me how to pull lambs at a very young age. There is something about bringing life into the world that has always given me great joy.

Even as a child, you learn no matter how much time, effort and care you put into trying to keep lambs alive, you will always have losses.

It is something you take on the chin because there are always more ewes to lamb and stock to feed.

I love lambing time and pulling lambs. Even as a child, it was something I jumped straight in to do. Dad taught me all the tricks about pulling lambs; the importance of having both legs, or you are going nowhere, and sometimes you must leave the ewe to do it herself.

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A family affair 

Our family farm is located just outside Athlone town in County Roscommon.

My dad farms full-time, and I work with him any chance I get. Since the pandemic and with my mam’s work being closed, she has finally gotten some time to spend on the farm herself and seems to love having a pet lamb of her own.

We certainly would not call ourselves big farmers; our farm is roughly half and half-owned and rented.

Sheep farming 

Our ewes are a mix of Suffolk and Texel-crosses.

We keep a few hoggets every year to replace our cast ewes. Each year, we lamb, on average, 180 ewes starting near the end of March.

Most of our lambing takes place in April and the beginning of May. We lamb around this time of year because it can be warmer for our outdoor lambing system.

We do not have a compact lambing season as we find it easier for us to have a few sheep lambing every day and not lots in one day.

Lambing outdoors may seem like madness to some people. However, we find it much easier to control disease, and lambs are much hardier.

There is hardship involved in it, but that is normal, and you get the knack of catching a ewe lambing or a freshly lambed ewe.

One thing for sure is if you are going to nab her, you only have one chance, so never let go or miss the target. Dad’s famous words when he stands back are, “you have her there, Kels!”

farm girls, women in farming, Roscommon, FAM at UCD,

Suckler herd

We run a suckler herd, with the majority being commercials. Our cattle are mainly Limousin and Charolais-cross.

The odd few cows are pedigree Limousin and Charolais along with our two home-bred bulls, a Limousin named  Milo, and a Charolais called George.

We very rarely use AI as we are happy with the type of calves that are bulls produce. Our herd has not expanded in recent years. It is difficult to do so when farmers are being required to reduce their herd by 5% in the BEAM scheme.

We often keep maybe three of our own heifers – depending on how they are performing and their genes.

This year, I have my own heifer. She is a Limousin-cross called Sonny and has just a few white spots on her.

She will be running with our Limousin bull for the summer. I bought her as a runner in 2019 after I killed my cow that I bought with my communion money.

Is that not what every farm kid spends their communion money on? I cannot wait to see what sort of cow she will become.

Calving can take place at any time of the year here at home because we sell weanlings all-year-round.

Cows calve a few at a time throughout the year as we go off dates when they were last served and confirm again at scanning.

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FAM at UCD

I am currently studying Food and Agribusiness Management (FAM) at UCD and have just completed the first year, which I took from home.

This is a 4-year course that I hope to complete by 2024. I chose this course as I wanted to do something ag-related but having the business with it was ideal as it keeps my options open for future jobs.

With the help of my family, I put FAM as the first choice on my CAO and immediately took the course when the offer came through.

Being a student during this pandemic has been very difficult. The way the Leaving Cert was handled in 2020 was a shambles, and only for we were in the height of lambing season, it kept me going.

Checking ewes morning, noon and night was the only way to take your mind off the uncertainty of what was to happen with the exams.

I was so grateful to be able to fall back on farming at that time. I think it is what drove me to choose FAM as my course.

Doing college online was great for a while but trying to make friends while staying at home was difficult. However, we got through it. I hope to finally meet some of the friends I have made by the time September comes around.

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Women in ag

I believe women in the agriculture sector are just mighty.

I do not think I would like to be treated the same as men. For instance, here at home, I always opt for the bag with only the two buckets of nuts in it. Dad gets the heavier one as there is no hope in me trying to carry it.

However, I do think women are getting the recognition they deserve. We put in as much effort and time as men do.

I really do believe that if you regard yourself as a farmer, full or part-time male or female, you should stand with one another. Everyone should get recognition for the hard work they do.

Furthermore, I think if you love livestock and are willing and able, then there should be nothing holding the ladies back from getting into the agri sector and putting on the wellies!

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Working at Farmeye and with an ag consultant

My plan for the near future is to continue working away at Farmeye.

This digital soil management system provides farmers with accurate information about their soil’s health and how best to manage their soils.

I also am working with a farming consultant part-time, and we are currently doing the REAP scheme for farmers. With it only being in the early stages, there is a lot to learn.

With more environmental schemes coming down the track, it will be hard for all farmers to be accommodated under these schemes.

Not all farms are suited to the one eco scheme. Therefore, the future looks challenging for consultants and farmers to participate in those schemes.

I have recently enjoyed visiting the different farms in the REAP scheme and meeting the farmers who give great advice themselves.

I am delighted to see that sheep prices and beef prices are good now. Let us hope it continues.

I am not sure what kind of a job I will end up in. However, I would like to keep my options open until I know more about what is available in the ag industry. You never know where I might end up yet.

My Instagram has been booming, and I could not believe that so many people love the crazy posts that my camera roll has been filled with – especially since the Covid-19 pandemic.

I was nervous at the start sharing pictures and videos. However, I think it is a great way for people to see where their food comes from.”

Are you studying FAM at UCD? To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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