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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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‘To me, the main aim of this scheme is to wean the suckler farmer out’

Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Co Cavan, in conversation with That’s Farming, editor, Catherina Cunnane, in this week’s women in ag segment. She discusses her family-run suckler farm, being an FRS employee and her two degrees. 

“I farm Gallon Limousins and Pullakeel Herefords alongside my father, Michael Brady, in Carrickaboy, Co Cavan. Farming is a family tradition; the farm was originally my granny’s, and my grandad married into it. I am the fifth generation to farm in my family.

We were not always suckler farmers. In the early years, the farm was mixed between dairying, pigs, beef cattle and poultry.

We are part-time farmers; my dad drives a bus for the HSE, and I work as a farm labourer and relief milker for Farm Relief Services.

Hereford and Limousin breeder

To note, we have 13 suckler cows in total: 5 pedigree Limousin cows, 1 pedigree Limousin stock bull, 1 vasectomised bull, 9 replacement heifers – 2 pedigree Herefords and 4 pedigree Limousins.

We are members of the Irish Limousin Cattle Society and the Irish Hereford Breed Society.

We have not expanded the herd in recent years. In 2018, we cut cow numbers from 23 to 7 as weanling prices were at rock bottom. We decided to focus primarily on the pedigree side. Also, I buy a couple of dairy-beef calves that I bucket rear every year.

We have 68-acres of mountainous ground with a 44-acre grazing platform and 24-acres of silage ground. We own all this land and do not rent or lease any.

My grandmother and grandfather established an extremely successful herd of pedigree Herefords. The herd was fully pedigree from the 1960s up until the 1990s, when there was a significant drop in demand for Hereford bulls and heifers.

They decided to change from pedigree breeding to breeding commercial cattle for the weanling trade. This meant running a Limousin bull with the Hereford cows, which produced an exceptional calf of size and quality.

My grandfather still carried on breeding a small number of pedigree Herefords until he passed away in 2001.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

Moving to a specialised suckling operation

After my grandfather passed away, my dad decided to sell the remaining pedigree Herefords as he was working full-time and did not have the time to commit to training and showing.

In the years that followed, my father focused on introducing more Limousins.

As he was working full-time, he found that the Limousins were extremely easy calved and produced a very vigorous calf that required very little attention and was up in a matter of minutes and sucking.

We bought our first Limousin cow in 2005, and she was imported from Belgium. She came in-calf when we bought her and had a lovely heifer calf on arrival. These were the foundations of our herd.

Throughout the years, we crossed this cow and heifer with our stock bull. We retained some replacements and AI’d. But as the years went on, my interest in breeding and genetics increased. Then, we started to buy in some pedigree breeding heifers.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

AI and stockbull

Our stock bull is 5-star terminal and 5-star replacement both within and across the breed.

We purchased him from a Limousin premier sale in Roscrea in 2016. His bloodline stems from the renowned Limousin bull, Sympa.

He is extremely docile, easy calving and produces extremely shapey calves.

This year, we purchased a vasectomised bull, and we were extremely happy with how he worked. We decided to put a chin ball on him, and our heat detection rate has been spot on all summer.

Our stock bull sired the majority of our replacement heifers, so this year, we decided to introduce some new bloodlines by AI’ng these. We purchase all of our straws from Progressive Genetics as they have an excellent selection of top-class bulls.

We run a spring-calving herd and find this suits our system the best. It enables us to manage the cow’s intake of nutrients before calving, we can monitor calf health closely, and it also allows for a bank of grass to build up before we turn cows out.

Our ideal cow type would be between 500 and 700kgs, docile, milky, deep and an ability to calve on her own.

We sell commercial calves in the mart as strong weanlings in January, with heifers weighing 280- 350kgs and bulls weighing 450- 500kgs.

Besides, we sell pedigree males on-farm as breeding bulls and retain pedigrees as replacements.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

24-month-old calving and culling policy

We calve down all of our replacements at 2-years-old. This ensures that they have reached 60% of their mature body weight before breeding. This practice ensures an extra year’s profit in comparison to having them calve down at 3-years-old.

Our grassland management policy is fairly straightforward. We usually block, or strip graze our fields, and we graze whatever fields we do not use for second-cut silage.

Furthermore, we give all stock mineral boluses before turnout and give cows garlic lick buckets throughout the summer to help deter summer mastitis

We usually cull 1-2 cows per year – depending on age, fertility and feet

Furthermore, we use ICBF’s Herd Plus programme to track our progress throughout the year. This gives us a great indication of where we are excelling and where we need to improve. Our calving interval is 338 days, with 1.08 calves per cow per year.

I am very happy with the current performance of our herd. Good genetics and a solid herd health plan have ensured the efficiency and sustainability of our cattle.

In the next five years, I would hope to increase our number of pedigree Herefords and familiarise myself more with their genetics and build from there.

Hopefully, I will have the success my grandmother and grandfather had many years ago.

I would like to focus on breeding a good milky dam that can rear a strong, well-framed calf without the need for excessive amounts of meal.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

Challenges

Personally, I feel the key elements of running a successful suckler operation are starting at the base with the quality of your stock by ensuring they not only look well but are functioning well.

Herd fertility and heat detection are two major areas that need to be kept in check. If you are not reaching one cow per calf per year, either you need to manage fertility or implement a culling plan.

Genetics also play a huge role. When choosing either a stock bull or AI, you need to research what you want to achieve in the form of daily live weight gain, conformation, milking ability, calving ability and docility.

The main factor impacting us as suckler farmers would be price volatility. You are producing a top-quality product which you are getting paid less for, while the cost of inputs – such as meal, fertilisers, contractors – are all getting more expensive.

We are currently taking part in the BEEP-S scheme and the BDGP scheme. Both of these schemes are very straightforward, and we have found that the efficiency and quality of our stock have improved through the continuous collection of data and then implementing it at farm-level.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

Education

I completed a level 8 degree in Sustainable Agriculture at Ballyhaise Agricultural College Co. Cavan/ Dundalk Institute of Technology Co. Louth and a level 9 masters degree in Agricultural Biotechnology

I completed my undergraduate degree from 2015 to 2018 and a masters from September 2018-September 2019.

I always knew I wanted agricultural science, but it was not until I actually got stuck into the course that I realised my passion for agriculture.

It was the path I wanted to follow for my future career. The Ballyhaise/DkIT course was excellent as I got to do a lot of hands-on practical learning on the farm, but I also got an insight into the scientific side and lab time in DkIT.

The masters just felt like a natural progression after my level 8 degree. It was a fairly difficult year, but the reward at the end was worth it.

We also completed a DIY AI course through our masters, which was brilliant to learn and something you will always have going into later life.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

Farm Relief Services

After I graduated with my level 8 degree, I started working with the Farm Relief Service

I have been employed with the FRS for just over three years. The experience I have gained through working with them has been invaluable.

Getting experience at farm-level and seeing different systems of production, and picking up some hints and tips along the way, has definitely equipped me well for where my career may take me next.

I am currently looking for new job opportunities. I would love to gain some experience at industry-level and put my degrees and my farm knowledge to use.

Women in ag: Limousin and Hereford breeder, Annie Brady, Cavan, graduated from DkIT/ Ballyhaise Agricultural College and is an FRS employee.

Suckler farming in Ireland

During my level 8 degree, I completed my thesis on the future of suckler farming in Ireland.

I feel the results that I found then and the opinions of farmers now are the same. You are not paid enough for your product. Without being subsidised, it would be almost impossible to carry on with this system of production.

Suckler farmers are not rewarded enough for their quality progeny. You are waiting at least two years before you see any income. The uncertainty of markets and prices dictates your whole labour, and you may not break even.

On paper, a €300 suckler cow scheme is ideal but will it ever come to pass?

There is no doubt that the suckler cow needs funding to survive. Unfortunately, like payment ideas in the past, it will probably never reach the farmer on the ground.

Personally, I feel the Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme is an insult to suckler farmers.

Capping suckler cow numbers will have little or no effect on the methane and Co2 emissions produced in this country.

The beef sector is one of the most efficient and environmentally sustainable in Ireland and in the EU.  To me, the main aim of this scheme is to wean the suckler farmer out.

Personally, I would never consider dairying as we do not have suitable land to make it worthwhile.

Agriculture, for me, is not just a profession; it is a way of life. I am extremely proud to be a suckler farmer and to be a woman in ag.

My passion will always be cattle, but I have a hunger to learn, and I would love to use my knowledge and qualifications within the industry and help cement the future of suckler farming,” the Limousin and Hereford breeder concluded.

To share your story, like this Limousin and Hereford breeder, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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