Thursday, November 30, 2023
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HomeBeef‘I have a borderline obsession with cattle’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
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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‘I have a borderline obsession with cattle’

UCD animal and crop production student, Eilish Gill, has been passionate about breeding cattle from a tender age.

She purchased her first pedigree Simmental heifer at the age of sixteen and has since ventured into pedigree Charolais and commercials.

The 20-year-old assists her father, Michael, with the running of the family suckler enterprise, whilst studying full-time.

“Originally, we were dairying until we made the switch to sucklers in 1996. We introduced pedigree Simmentals to the farm in 2003.” the fifth-generation farmer explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.

Eilish Gill - Suckler farmer and UCD animal and crop production student at UCD

Sowing the seed

“Growing up, I was always under my father’s feet from any mart to garage. You will rarely find one of us without the other.”

“My earliest outing was at 6-weeks-old when my father brought me all the way to Cork for machinery parts. My poor mother always struggled to keep me in the house.” the Crossmolina, Co. Mayo native laughed.

Her father has been running an agricultural contracting firm for over four decades. He initially offered lime spreading services across north Mayo and parts of Sligo, before switching to silage services in the mid-1990s.

“My younger brother Micheál and I are heavily involved and spend our summers working with him. It is a familiar sight to see the family convoy go through Crossmolina.”

“While I do enjoy the machinery, my true passion is in cattle. Anyone that knows me knows I have a borderline obsession with cattle.”

“I have always been fascinated by animal genetics, an interest fuelled by my uncle Sean and family friend, Alan Wood of the Crossmolina Charolais herd.

Eilish Gill - Suckler farmer and UCD animal and crop production student at UCD

Suckler herd

Eillish said Simmentals are the “perfect all-rounder” breed, having desirable maternal qualities, coupled with exceptional growth rates, and high carcass yields.

“Added advantages are the breed’s extremely docile nature and low maintenance.”

They run the Essgee Simmental herd, currently consisting of 15 breeding females. For years, the family exhibited cattle notably winning multiple Connacht championships,

In recent years, the Gills have withdrawn from the show circuit, mainly due to work commitments in the summertime. “I am itching to be back showing,” Eilish admitted.

The rest of the herd comprises of mostly Simmental-cross cows using Charolais/Limousin bulls. “We run a spring-calving herd with weanling bulls sold come autumn with a select few pedigree bulls kept for spring sales.”

“Generally, we are a closed herd. We use 100% AI which is overseen, by my father. A.I provides so much more choice, giving us the option to tailor to each cow individually.”

Eilish Gill - Suckler farmer and UCD animal and crop production student at UCD


Eilish striking passion for animal genetics influenced her decision to further her studies in this field.

The Mayo native began studying at University College Dublin in 2019 majoring in animal and crop production.

“Since I was in transition year, I just knew I was going to do the course. I was not going to venture into any other sector but agriculture. I love my course; the ag family is a tight-knit community making me feel instantly at home.”

Eilish Gill - Suckler farmer and UCD animal and crop production student at UCDface

Women in ag

At this point, not many dispute Eilish’s ability and knowledge of cattle, but some raise an eyebrow when they see her working machinery.

“I was fortunate to have strong female figures in my life with both my grandmothers running their respective farms.”

“Like them, I tend to be stubborn and strong-minded. However, I will admit that I still have to prove myself time and time again to try to get a seat at the table.”

“Attitudes are slowly changing, but it something that could be aided if more women got their voices out there merely making their presence felt in societies, marts, and ag shows.”

“We need to normalise women not only working but succeeding in a male-dominated industry.”

Eilish Gill - Suckler farmer and UCD animal and crop production student at UCD


Set to graduate in 2023, Eilish plans to continue working the farm at home and expanding her own herd.

“I would love to keep the farm ticking over on a part-time basis. It would be naïve of me to think I could pursue it full-time.”

“After I graduate, I am not sure what I exactly want to do, possibly completing further studies. Thankfully, my degree opens so many doors I really could end up anywhere.”

“The field is ever-changing, which makes it so exciting and interesting. There is always something new to learn; it keeps you on your toes.” Eilish concluded.

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