Monday, June 21, 2021
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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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‘My father died, and I took over the running of the farm’ – stress-free beef producer

In this week’s Farmer Focus series, 57-year-old Elaine Adams, discusses taking over the farm, life as a woman in the industry, and carving a career in photography. 

I was born in Waddesdon in Buckinghamshire. My father was a carpenter and joiner antique restorer.

We lived in a bungalow with a three-acre paddock, where I grew up with a pony and horses, and by the middle to late 1970s, we had ducks, bantams, goats and calves.

Home farm

At 15, I moved to South Wales with my parents, where they purchased a thirty-acre smallholding in Carmarthenshire called ‘Ty-Newydd’.

My father knocked down the old house, rebuilt it, and constructed a new agricultural shed. From then, we set about building a herd of Charolais beef. Whilst studying, for 12 months, for my phase 1 in agriculture, I worked on a dairy farm and then went on to study for my NCA whilst living in college.

Once I finished college, I returned to help on the farm doing some of the tractor work, but the acreage was not enough to support my parents and I.

Therefore, I took a part-time job with SWALEC. In the late 1980s, I met my husband and left the farm. I have two children and have worked as a preschool photographer.

Taking over the farm

In 2016, my father died, and I took over the running of the farm. By this time, the herd had decreased. They were wild and did not know me; the land was in poor condition. There were no boundary fences or ditches, the hedges that I had once helped my father lay had all grown over.

My husband and younger daughter help with the day-to-day running of the farm.

The herd is in my name, and we have crossed the remaining 7 Charolais with Hereford. I opted for this breed because they do well on rough land and are easy calving.

Furthermore, I have always loved Hereford cattle as this was the breed of calf my father bought me many years ago.

I am still running the seven Charolais cows, but we now have five homegrown Hereford cross, which currently brings us up to twelve, until we start calving at the end of May.

Stress-free beef 

We pride ourselves on our stress–free beef by encouraging them to do their own thing on the farm. For example, I have a five-day turn around in fields, and the cows often come back to the shed for a lay down out of the sun or use their brush, which is on the wall.

They are not shouted at or pushed around as they know their routine; they have plenty of love and cuddles and come when they are called. This makes life easy for all of us!

We sell additional calves to a finisher, but we keep some heifers to increase the herd or to replace those sold.

We feed cattle are grass and silage in the winter with the bonus of the calves having milk from their mothers.

Hopefully, beef prices will continue to rise. I benchmark my cattle to allow me to know the true cost of their upkeep and my profit margin. As I sell to a finisher, I do not have the added expense of transport to market or the auctioneer’s commission.

Elaine Adams, farm girls, women in agriculture, women in farming

Job satisfaction and challenges

The most enjoyable part of farming must be the animals. I love them because they have their own personality, with the wildest cow now being the cuddliest.

The challenges I have are improving the land to gain maximum output to increase the herd and reduce the cost of winter feed.

I am a farming connect member who has benefitted from their help to update my knowledge through courses and webinars and gain grants for soil analysis and animal health checks.

I am passionate about improving the land, which has been in very poor condition due to the lack of management.

Fertilisers, muck, chain harrowing are just some of the methods that I have introduced over the last five years.

It is my responsibility to make sure I am up-to-date with the daily running of all aspects of the farm, whether it be animal’s well-being, grassland or paperwork.

Business 

Is there such a thing as a part-time farmer? No. There is always something I need to be planning, whether it is the next job that needs to be done on the farm or designing improvements that make a job easier and safer.

As previously mentioned, I worked for SWALEC, and I was a preschool photographer. This has helped me gain experience and inspired me to start up my own photography business: ‘Seasons Focus Photography’.

Although in its early stages currently, I love incorporating daily farming life into the business. I very much think when you get into farming, you always return at some point; it is very much in your blood.

Elaine Adams, farm girls, women in agriculture, women in farming

Women in agriculture:

When I was younger, women were definitely not treated the same as our male counterparts.

We were classed as the weaker sex, and because there was quite a lot of manual work done on the farms compared to today, as most of it can now be done by some sort of machine.

It was very difficult to get a farming job unless it was female-related such as milk testing.

Women in agriculture are increasingly being recognised for the work we do. However, there are still areas where there are gender-specific obstacles such as operating machinery and shifting heavy loads.

Suitable working conditions and equal treatment would help change it from being known as a man’s world.

farm girls, beef farming, beef farmers, farmer

Women have always been involved in agriculture; they have been the main contributors to the paperwork, feeding calves, chickens and selling at local farmers’ markets/ farm shops.

I think more women are coming into agriculture as times are changing, especially as there are more highly profiled women such as the Red Shepherdess and the Yorkshire Shepherdess, being very much at the forefront of promoting gender equality in running a successful business.

There are many different aspects of agriculture that women can be very much a part of, whether it be raising sheep or goats or being business mentors for different sectors.

Agriculture can be tough. It can be hard work managing the farm and the day-to-day business side. However, it is a great sense of achievement and very rewarding when everything is running smoothly.

Elaine Adams, farm girls, women in agriculture, women in farming, farmer

Advice

The advice I would have given my younger self would have been to have helped more on the farm, not as and when there was something major that needed doing. Also, to have kept up-to-date with the daily running and the rules and regulations of what was happening in the industry.

My ultimate goal is very much, as I said before, to bring the farm up to specification and make it a profitable business for my family.

My future plans are to continue to gain knowledge on every aspect of the farm wherever that may take me.

In five years’ time, I hope to have the fields improved to a standard where I can build up the herd and dramatically reduce the cost of bought-in silage.

Reflection 

My life as a woman in agriculture has been a great journey that will continue. I cannot wait to see how far I can go as I look back on what I have achieved in the last five years.

In honesty, the knowledge I thought I had lost had never really left me but I had just put on the back burner for a while.

For the future of agriculture to continue, we need to be wiser in the decisions we make to look after the environment, taking into consideration the wildlife and the natural world around us, managing hedgerows without totally decimating them, managing the land without continually stripping it of nutrients and then overloading it with slurry and fertilisers to have a more natural approach without chemicals.

Are you a farmer? To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

In conversation with Catherina Cunnane

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