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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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‘Agriculture was always seen as a man’s career pathway’ – 30-cow dairy farmer

In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Jessica Langton, a dairy farmer, animal science student and RMS technician at Genus ABS. 

21-year-old Jessica Langton is not one to rest on her laurels. Along with being a dairy farmer, an animal science student, and RMS technician at Genus ABS, she recently became what is understood to be the youngest person ever to sit on an NFU commodity board.

Earlier this year, she was appointed to the NFU national dairy board to “help champion dairy and represent the causes of the sector”.

The Derbyshire Holstein Young Breeders member juggles the position with her role as excursions officer at Sutton Bonington Agrics Society (uni).

30-cow dairy herd 

Langton is the fourth generation on her family’s 140-acre beef and dairy farm in Derbyshire. She hails from a small dairy herd, milking 30 cows through a 6-abreast Alfa Laval parlour with 15 followers.

The family is constantly expanding the herd using Genus Sexcel semen, doubled in size over the last two years, and “will hopefully do the same over the next two”.

The herd comprises pedigree Holsteins, which they exhibit at agricultural shows, Holstein Friesian-crosses, Norwegian Reds, and some Jersey-crosses.

They introduced Jersey genetics to the farm this year as they have recently moved from a liquid contract to a constituents contract. Naturally, therefore, as the 21-year-old explained, they require higher percentages of fat and protein.

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“Firstly, Holstein maintains milk yields and udder quality. Next, Friesian increases the overall fertility of the herd and robustness. Lastly, Norwegian Red has given us stronger feet and legs and improved overall herd health.”

“All maiden heifers get two services to Genus Sexcel semen before running with our Aberdeen Angus stock bull. Any first and second lactation cows also get 1-2 services to Sexcel semen before being served with beef (Angus/Blue).”

“Moreover, third lactation plus generally get served with beef semen. Their genetic potential, at this point, is much lower in comparison to younger animals.”

“We use Aberdeen Angus and British Blue as they produce high-quality, healthy calves, and they rarely require any calving assistance. Our Angus stock bull sweeps up any problem cows to ensure they are kept within the correct block.”

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‘A cow you do not notice’

The family operate a split calving system: spring (February-April) and autumn (Aug-Nov), enabling year-round milk production. “We have the grassland breeds, Norwegian Reds and Jerseys, calving in the spring as they are best at converting milk to grass.”

“We graze the cows for approximately 6-7 months of the year – weather-dependent.”

“My ideal cow-type is one that you do not notice – A cow that milks well with good fertility and good health. Last year, the herd averaged 8,500 litres at 4.4% fat and 3.53% protein.”

They keep all male progeny on-farm before selling them at store stage at 18-22-months. Meanwhile, they retain heifers as replacements, calving these at 24-25-months.

“We are trying to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable. We recently became LEAF accredited and have been part of the HLS/ELS scheme for several years.”

“Milking cows is the best part of dairy farming. I love milking regularly as you get to know all your cows’ characters and individual quirks,” Jessica added.

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Education

The 21-year-old’s passion for farming led her to the University of Nottingham, where she studies its BSc in Animal Science degree programme.

She enrolled in the course in 2019 to gain an insight into reproductive physiology, genetics, nutrition, health, and disease and will graduate next year.

“University of Nottingham has an outstanding reputation and is local, meaning I can still work at home.”

“Joining Project Ecologeco of Enactus Nottingham as the supplement development sub-team leader has been my highlight since enrolling in the course.”

“We are looking at reducing methane emissions in ruminants through introducing seaweed into their diets.”

Last year, she was a Farmers Weekly Farmers Apprentice finalist and, this year, she was a runner-up of the RABDF Dairy Student of the Year Award.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, all learning has been remote. The course consists of practicals and theory relating to all aspects of animal science. I am enjoying the course a lot. It provides a range of learning, research, and practical experience across a variety of topics.”

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Genus ABS

Besides, Jessica has worked for Genus ABS as an RMS technician on its Insights Programme for nearly two years alongside her studies.

“This involves visiting customer’s herds and heat-detecting their cows before making a breeding decision based on the farms’ individual protocols.”

“I particularly enjoy this job as it has provided me with a broader view of the British dairy industry. Also, it has enabled me to meet a range of different farmers.”

Women in ag 

“Agriculture was always seen as a man’s career pathway; however, I believe people’s perceptions have and are changing as there are so many strong and influential women in agriculture today.”

“There are many women in agriculture initiatives across the country. One I am involved in is First Milk women in Ag.”

“Agriculture is not just an industry. It is a community of incredible, like-minded people working together to feed the nation every day.”

“Life as a woman in agriculture can be challenging at times. However, it is an agricultural industry is filled with supportive individuals who help me work towards achieving my goals and aspirations.”

One of her goals is to complete her current degree programme before undertaking a PhD, focusing on bovine genetics and fertility. She also has a burning desire to continue having an active role in growing her family’s dairy herd.

“I am a firm believer in the following: you don’t try it; you will never know what you are capable of. But, being a woman in agriculture is exciting. There are so many opportunities within the industry. I cannot wait to see what the future holds,” the animal science student concluded.

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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