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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
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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‘My father passed away seven years ago, and my brother and I now run the farm’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Kerrie Hall (Farm_girl_ni on TikTok) in this week’s Women in Ag segment.

“I am from Ballyclare, County Antrim and farm with my brother, Sam. My father grew up on a farm and always wanted one, and we moved to the farm when I was 15.

Unfortunately, my father passed away seven years ago, and my brother and I now run the farm. He works shifts, and I work part-time off-farm, so we are like ships passing in the wind.

I always helped on the farm at weekends when growing up, working with cattle, topping, rolling, going to the mart – stealing luck pennies and helping with the winter feeding and dreaded silo covering.

We farm a herd of beef finishers (bullocks and bulls), all continentals, with stock numbers running between 100-140 head and also produce hydro energy.

We purchase them around 11-15 months old, and all are Continental-bred, around 400-500kg. My uncle, Weldon, gathers cattle in markets for us.

Farm Girl NI 

We have a lot of land rented out and still only keep half the head of cattle my father did. Although this coming year, we have taken some land back and intend to increase head numbers and see how that goes.

We are happy with the kill-out rate of our cattle and would not change any processes in that respect.

I want to improve some facilities on the farm and add another store wintering shed or better cattle handling crush area, but with the cost of building materials at the moment, it is just not feasible.

I like the peace and quiet, the freedom of being your own boss and being in the fresh air; every day is different and the craic.

Practically learning the ins and outs of farming from scratch has been the biggest challenge.

When my father died, we were thrown in at the deep end, having to learn the paperwork side of the business, recognising animal ailments and machinery maintenance, for example.

Although we always helped out on the farm, my father was very much the ‘boss’ and decision-maker, and we just did what we were told.

9/10 times the machinery was already on the tractor for us, so especially for me, connecting machinery and setting them up right has been a steep learning curve.

In a way, I am proud of what we have overcome and where we are now with the farm.

Ew

Challenges 

Some challenges are when things go wrong, weather not being in your favour, stock illness, machinery breakdowns, juggling family life and not having enough hours in the day.

The price of meal, diesel and fertiliser, like with all farmers, has really impacted us and our profit margins.

Beef slaughter prices have been good for a while now, but now with retail products rising so sharply, I can really see the difference in household bills.

While beef slaughter prices are high, but then when you need to feed your family, you end up paying a lot more out than what you have got for your blood, sweat and tears.

I have noticed that even abattoirs are slaughtering fewer a week, which means we are limited in the number of beef animals we can send. This means that cattle have to stay on the farm longer than expected, eating into profits.

Farming is up in the air; again, rising costs in all aspects of living, not just farming, will only push some farmers to leave the industry altogether.

Women in agriculture

My experience as a woman in farming has not been great, to be honest, but more so from the older generation, as some think women are not strong enough or capable of being farmers.

Some seem surprised to see me out feeding silage, carrying four tyres at a time when covering the silo, cutting hedges, medicating cattle and being covered head to toe in dung after power-washing sheds.

But I do not care, as I know I am more than capable of carrying out all those tasks and as good as any man.

I have given up having nice nails; breaking a nail is not the end of the world anymore. Just because you are female does not mean you cannot do it.

I am not treated the same as my male counters. More times than enough, male delivery drivers have said to me, “Is the boss about, love?

Therefore, when they see me climbing into the tractor/telehandler to unload a lorry, I politely tell them I am the boss.

One once admitted he was panicking when he saw me coming with a toddler on my hip and the tractor keys in my hand but admitted I could drive as good as any man after the load was lifted off and his lorry was still in one piece!

We need more awareness in social media and articles like this, to hopefully encourage women into the industry.

Fotojet 2022 09 02t174647.880

Reflection 

All in all, farming is not easy; it can also be a lonely, isolated, demanding career that is 24/7, 365 days a year.

It is important to take time out from the daily grind, have a social life, and spend quality time with the family. Ask for help when you need it, and you never know when someone may need your help in return.

If you are unsure of something, go on training courses and do the workshops; that is what they are there for. At the end of the day, if you are not mentally or physically able to farm, who will do it for you?”

Read more Women in Ag profiles.

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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