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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.
Reading Time: 14 minutes

‘I saw Andy had cattle in his profile picture, so obviously, I swiped right’

Part one of a comprehensive interview with Abbie Bryant (26), who runs A & A Livestock with Andy Moye (24), in conversation with our editor, Catherina Cunnane, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment. We discuss becoming a first-generation farming couple, juggling full-time off-farm positions, regenerative farming practices, and their belief that an animal must have “only one bad day in its life”.

“A & A Livestock is based in Suffolk, Long Melford, Melford Hall Estate. Andy and I are first-generation farmers. We did not grow up on farms; we were not born into farming families and do not own any land.

The farming lifestyle inspired me as my granddad would bribe farmers to let us stay on their land for cheap in our family caravan. So, I inadvertently grew up around farms and farming. This made me fall in love with it and want to be a farmer from age 6.

Andy’s nan and the men on his side of the family were herdsmen. Although, they did not own any land or cattle themselves.

The same dream: To run our own farm

This inspired Andy to work with cattle as his nan would tell him stories of when she would work with them. However, his parents did not go into farming. Andy and I met online on a dating app. I saw Andy had cattle in his profile picture, so obviously, I swiped right.

We chatted online and then met in person in a quiet country pub. Soon, we discovered we had the same dream to one day have our own farm. So, we decided to go for it!

For me, it was going on family holidays around Britain, and we would stay on farms. I just fell in love with the outdoors, the animals, and the passion the farmers had. I have always loved the outdoors, and I adore all animals.

A first-generation farming couple 

Andy grew up in rural Suffolk. He always had a love for cattle and animals. He got this passion from his nan. She would tell him stories and show him pictures of when she worked with Redpoll cattle.

His nan had not worked with cattle for ages before Andy was born, though. But he still grew up having a love and passion for the outdoors and for cattle. He also wanted to be a farmer from a young age.

The closest I got to farming as a little girl was when my mum let me have some chickens. I grew up in Chelmsford, which is not exactly rural.

Then, I studied childcare at college because I thought I had no chance of becoming a farmer.

I had a blip of not knowing what to do as I did not live in a rural area, and I did not know any farmers or where to begin! So, when I left school, I panicked. I ended up doing my plan B: childcare. When I left college, I then got a job within a nursery for a few years.

I was very unhappy as it was not what I wanted to do. My granddad then became ill and passed away.

Walking around the countryside as a little girl with him is what made me want to farm. So, his passing made me determined to find some way to farm.

I had a blip of not knowing what to do as I did not live in a rural area, and I did not know any farmers or where to begin! So, when I left school, I panicked. I ended up doing my plan B: childcare. When I left college, I then got a job within a nursery for a few years.

I was very unhappy as it was not what I wanted to do. My granddad then became ill and passed away.

Walking around the countryside as a little girl with him is what made me want to farm. So, his passing made me determined to find some way to farm.

I emailed/messaged,/called loads of farms, but no one really wanted to know.

I could not do an apprenticeship or go back to college as I needed full-time work. Then, I met Andy, who had the same dream as me.

Andy left school and studied animal care at college. He then decided to do an agricultural course.

At 21, he bought his first cattle (4 Redpoll heifers) after trying for ages to find land to rent. Since then, he has worked on farms. He is now a herdsman for a beef farm in Colchester but really wants to farm our business full-time.

Now, we both have full-time jobs as well as our business. It can be difficult as we need more time. Next year, we both want to go part-time with our jobs so we can concentrate more on our farm and business.

Diane Moye (Andy’s mum), an absolute star, is also involved in the running of the farm. She will check livestock when we are unable to. Also, she helps us with paperwork, admin and sorting deliveries. We could not have done this without her help.

Setting up

We found it quite difficult to set up. As we are both first-generation farmers with no land or contacts, when we would enquire about renting land, some people did not give us a chance.

Building contacts within the industry was also difficult as everyone seemed to know everyone else. But we did not.

We had lots of people laugh and say we were mad! That we would make no money which was hard to hear. We had to learn to ignore them and make our own contacts which all took time and effort.

So, we got set up by emailing/messaging/calling up and leaving notes on farm gates to people asking about land to rent. Most importantly, we never gave up after many rejections. We then found the fantastic landlords we have now.

They were kind enough to give us a chance and see potential in us. We now rent 70-acres of beautiful parkland.

Andy has studied animal care and done an agricultural course at college, and learned on farms he has worked on.

My learning has been very hands-on! For example, this was my first time lambing ever! I was terrified! To make it worse, almost all our ewes needed assistance when lambing.

You just have to grit your teeth and get on with it. That did put me off childbirth, though! This was also my first year assisting calving also.

We had one calf coming breech, so we had to act quickly. I found that very intense, but when we got her out, and she was okay, I felt the greatest sense of pride!

I read a lot, so I have read anything I can about farming. Also, I have completed a level 2 food and safety hygiene certificate. We have been recently being certified to sell our beef and lamb to the public.

Andy got his love of cattle from his nan, who when she was younger was a herdswoman. I have always loved sheep. I got a Border Collie when I was 22 as I wanted to be a shepherdess. (Collie turned out to be terrified of the sheep.)

A & A Livestock, first-generation farming couple, farming news

Cattle

We have 13 cattle, 8 breeding cows/heifers, 4 calves and 1 breeding bull. We have Shorthorns, Redpolls, Stabiliser-X Redpolls, Galloways, Galloway-cross-Redpoll and Hereford-cross-Highlands.

For the cattle, we love any native breed. They are all extremely hardy, do well in all weathers, good mothers, easy calving, do well on grass, docile, longevity and are not massive.

Any good-looking heifers we keep and the same for ewe lambs. We kept our first bull calf, Apollo, a Stabiliser-cross-Redpoll, who is now over one year old.

His mum, a Redpoll, is our favourite cow (Emerald) as she is so intelligent and a fantastic mum and grazer.

We will use Apollo this year as a sweeper bull as well as AI’ing the cattle. Also, we are keeping his half-brother Buster, also a Stabiliser-cross-Redpoll. We are planning to sell him as a breeding bull. Anything that does not go in-calf or keeps having health issues we send to the abattoir.

Sheep

Besides, we have 17 breeding ewes (Wiltshire Horns, a self-shedding breed), soon to be two rams as well.

This old hardy English native breed is perfect for us as we did not want to shear them all.

Sadly, for the price you get for wool and the price of labour for shearing, it makes more sense to have a breed that sheds its own wool.

However, we did have to shear them a little as some did show early signs of flystrike. But, we managed to catch it in time, thankfully.

We like to calve and lamb outdoors around the same time to get all the drama over with! We tend to aim for late April, as the weather is kinder and the grass is growing again. But we ended up lambing in the snow this year, in April!

70-acres 

We farm 70-acres of parkland at the Melford Hall Estate that we rent from our amazing landlords. We do not own any land. Nor does any of our family.

We had to start entirely from scratch. All our friends are buying houses, and we are saving to buy land instead!

There is only a fence around the outside of the land we rent. So, we use electric fencing to keep the animals to a hectare at a time, so they do not overgraze.

We are constantly taking paddocks down and building new ones (who needs date night when you can fence together?)

All our animals are trained to the fence and work with us when we move them. We move them regularly, every other day, to keep them grazing fresh grass and so they do not overgraze the pasture.

A & A Livestock, first-generation farming couple, farming news

Main mission

Our main mission is to produce the best-grass reared produce, using regenerative practices healing the soil and taking care of the land, working with nature while giving our animals the best life possible with minimal chemical input and 90% chew chemical input at all.

Also, getting people back in touch with where their food comes from, taking notice of how it is produced and what goes into it.

Also, to encourage other people wanting to get into farming. We want to show that it is possible to farm even if you are not from a farming background or family.

Yes, it takes more time and a lot of hard work, but it can be done if you have the passion. We did it! If we can, you can! We try to use as little chemical input as possible without sacrificing animal welfare.

We want hardy animals, so we try and breed for this. For example, if we have a ewe that kept getting worms, we will worm her but will then sell her on as we want to breed sheep that are genetically less prone to worms.

We have sheep and cattle in together as the sheep pick up parasites that could infect the cattle and are dead-end hosts.

Also, we move them regularly onto fresh, clean grass and make sure they always have clean, freshwater.

We supply our own mix of mineral buckets containing garlic, rock salt, just to name a few minerals in them.

We check them very regularly, and treat any injuries or illnesses quickly.

One bad day in an animal’s life

We believe to eat an animal, it must have had only one bad day in its life. We are both huge animal lovers! People often ask us: “how can you love animals and still be a farmer?”

We both love meat also. So, for us knowing, we have given the animals the best life possible. They are out on grass all year round; they never see a concrete shed.

We put their needs before our own, make sure they are happy and healthy.

We move them onto fresh grass every other day. They have a happy life, pain-free, always out on fresh grass all-year-round and then have one bad day. The day we take them to the abattoir.

We believe people are so disconnected from where their food comes from today.

Children think that food is made at supermarkets. That is why people find the idea of an animal dying for food so hard to swallow.

But it is a fact of life, if you eat meat, it has to happen. We take it very seriously; it is not a happy or an easy day for us.

Knowing that decision you have made means taking an animal’s life is incredibly hard.

But we are a business. We keep in mind the end goal, to produce grass-reared meat to the best of our ability. Yes, we do have favourites; that is unavoidable. But the day we stop feeling sad about abattoir day is the day we should stop farming.

Regenerative practices

We try to use practices that greatly benefit the soil, the forage, the livestock, and eventually our health.

Soil and forage, the way we graze our stock is due to our concern for regenerating and maintaining soil life.

By not applying synthetic chemicals to the land or our animals, we can assure the microbiology in the soil has ample opportunity to thrive. This then ascends, helping the overall soil and forage ecosystem thrive.

We move our stock onto new areas every 1-5 days, depending on any handling or other circumstances.

This allows us to graze a portion of the plants but leave behind two-thirds of it, still standing or trampled down, adding carbon in material form to feed the soil.

Also, moving the stock regularly benefits their health hugely; they have fresh forage in front of them that has not been spoiled by their own muck and urine. This keeps them happy and greatly limits the ingestion of internal parasites.

Moving regularly lets our ruminants behave like a wild herd would, never in the same place long and experiencing new areas and forage.

The fact we use no chemicals, except drugs when welfare absolutely calls for it, lets us ensure us, the consumer does not consume harmful chemicals that can impact our health from the products from our livestock.

We use polybraid, strep in posts, pigtail posts, metal corners posts and battery-powered energisers. All are mobile and quick for set up. We sourced these from various online supplies and country stores such as Mole Valley.

We outwinter our stock, so they are always on grass, never in a concrete shed. Besides, we only feed grass and some hay, apart from occasional grass pellets, if we need to bribe animals into hurdles. Our slogan is just add grass, as we believe this is all ruminants were meant to eat to grow naturally.

A & A Livestock, first-generation farming couple, farming news

Farming organically

We are not certified as organic, but we practically run as organic. Furthermore, we do not apply any chemicals to the land at all, and our livestock only receives synthetic treatment when absolutely necessary. Also, we do not worm drench or use fly poor-ons.

That being said, welfare is our number 1 priority, and an animal will be treated with drugs if necessary.

If it is a reoccurring issue, that animal will be culled or sold to another system. We are trying to breed genetically superior animals with the strongest genetics that are hardy to lessen any chemical use in the future.

We try to use practices that benefit greatly the soil, the forage, the livestock and eventually our health too.

Soil and forage, the way we graze our stock is due to our concern for regenerating and maintaining soil life.”

Tune into That’s Farming for part two of this interview.

To share your story with That’s Farming, like this first-generation farming couple, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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