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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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380 beef cattle and 300 dairy cattle: 18-year-old student’s love of the land

This week’s Women in Ag segment features Rachel Boyce, who hails from a mixed farm enterprise in Northern Ireland and a BSc Hons Food Technology student at College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise at Loughry Campus, Cookstown.

A sheep is possibly one of the only farm animals you will not find on the Boyce family’s beef, suckler, pig, poultry, and dairy enterprise.

18-year-old Rachel, a student at College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise at Loughry Campus, Cookstown, is the fourth generation of her family to farm the land in Garvagh, County Londonderry.

Her father, Geoffrey, runs the beef farm and pig unit, while her uncle, Russell Boyce, is at the helm of the dairy farm.

On the other hand, her mother, Denise Boyce, oversees the poultry unit and bookkeeping. Besides, Rachel’s two older brothers, David and Sam, work on the farm and in their agricultural contracting business while her younger sibling, Andrew, is still at school.

In total, they run 330 head on the beef unit, with a further 300 head on the dairy farm along with a 50-strong shared beef herd across their mixed farm enterprise in Northern Ireland.

Suckler farming  

Rachel lives on the beef/suckler farm, which is home to approximately 90 suckler cows, mostly Limousin and Simmental-types. They run two pedigree Limousin bulls and a pedigree Simmental bull with cows, while an Angus bull serves heifers.

The Boyces calf heifers from December-January, whilst cows generally calf from February through to June. They keep approximately ten replacements annually and serve these at 20-22-months – depending on size.

“The herd mainly consists of Limousins as they are easy calved, cows have optimum milk levels, are easily finished and are efficient,” Rachel told That’s Farming.

“As well as cows, we keep around 220 youngstock, mostly home-bred and some which we purchase as weanlings. We sell the best bullock and heifers at the market and finish the majority.”

“I have always had a real passion for Limousins as we have always had Limousin stock bulls for suckler cows.”

Rachel established her pedigree Greenlea Limousin herd in 2017 when she received a young heifer for her birthday, which has produced three daughters to date.

Furthermore, she also purchased another heifer at a sale in Ballymena last June, which will calf down next month.

“I get all my pedigree calves using AI. That way, I can select a quality bull who is specifically suited to each cow. I hope to continue to increase my herd’s size gradually and sell pedigree bulls one day.”

Limousin cattle, suckler farming, suckler farmer, farm girl, mixed farm enterprise in Northern Ireland

Gorran Holsteins

Besides, on the dairy farm, owned by her uncle, they milk 140 Holstein Friesian cows at peak, with a herd average of 10,700kgs at 4.10% butterfat and 3.24% protein.

They have installed 3 Lely A5 robots, and cows are housed-all-year to increase productivity. They AI cows from December through to April before two Aberdeen-Angus stockbulls run with the herd.

“Heifers are served at 14-15 months old to sexed semen using the World Wide Sires’ mating programme – a range of 5 proven bulls each year. We aim to calf most of the cows from September through to December. “

“We feed four cuts of silage with whole crop wheat through TMR, with a customised blend and brewers grain. The milkers’ annual input of meal is 3.2ton per cow, with the robots feeding a 17-20% nut using a DLM feeding software program after day 30 into lactation.”

“We feed first and second cuts to milking cows while we feed the remaining two cuts to heifers and dry cows. Calving runs from September through to June, with the majority between September to December.”

They rear calves on automatic feeders and wean these at 65 days (ad-lib pellet until four months before moving them onto TMR and commencing cubicle training). They sell dairy-bred beef calves as weanlings to the shared beef herd and finish these at 24 months.

“We always aim for 50 heifer calves each year with a cull rate of around 30%, and we sell any surplus females as springing heifers. We graze all young stock from May through to October, with first-year heifers receiving 1kg of concentrates per head per day at grass.”

Rachel Boyce, Lely, dairy farming, dairy farmer, mixed farm enterprise in Northern Ireland
Rachel on dairy farm in Northern Ireland
A typical day in the life

Rachel’s life revolves around farming and her BSc Hons Food Technology studies.

Her day begins with general maintenance and animal husbandry tasks, including feeding, bedding pens and calf-rearing.

Then, she returns indoors for her online lecturers before the cycle begins in the evening after her remote learning.

“At home, there are always plenty of jobs to be done throughout the day, whether it be hoof trimming, pregnancy scanning or calving. The boys take on most of the tractor work, which I do not mind; it means I get more time to spend with the livestock.”

If she is on holidays from university, she spends time working at a local veterinary practice, either out on farms officiating as a clerk for TB testing or performing administrative duties in the office.

“As well as all the good sides to farming, there are always the bad sides. In my opinion, losing stock has always been the most challenging part of farming.”

“I know all suckler individually, and to see any of them die or being put down by a vet is always very hard.” the Young Farmers’ Club of Ulster and Limousin Cattle Club member added.

“Suckler cows have always been my main passion on the farm. I know each one individually, and I find it interesting to see new generations of cows coming forward.”

beef cattle, beef prices, beef farming, Limousin, Angus, Simmental cattle,
Farm in Northern Ireland

Studying her chosen course at College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise at Loughry Campus, Cookstown allows Rachel to “still play an active role in the farm’s workings while studying a course that will equip me with the skills needed to secure a job in the agri-food industry”.

“I did not want to go somewhere too far from home, especially not overseas. Loughry suits me well as I can get away to Cookstown early in the morning and be back in time for ‘redding up’.”

Rachel is undertaking a four-year degree programme and will complete placement in third year, before graduating in 2024.

She explained that she enjoys the variety that her chosen degree programme offers. “One day, you could be in the lab testing food samples, while the next day, you could be out visiting an agri-food business.”

“Student life during Covid-19 is not great, spending all day looking at a screen and not seeing anyone face-to-face. However, there are plenty of pros to it! It means I am at home all the time, so I never miss much especially calvings.”

“After I complete my current course, I would like to either do a master’s in agriculture or else go straight into a career. Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” Rachel concluded.

Are you a woman in agriculture? To share your story, email – [email protected]

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