Sunday, November 27, 2022
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HomeDairy‘We chose Dutch Spotted sheep because of our passion for Holstein cows’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
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.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

‘We chose Dutch Spotted sheep because of our passion for Holstein cows’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Chloe Patterson (25) in this week’s Farmer Focus series. The marketing manager discusses her farming roots and a passion for Dutch Spotted and Blue Texel Sheep that she shares with her husband. 

“I am originally from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and farm with Andrew (29), my husband, who is from Antrim, Northern Ireland.

We now live in Malvern, Worcestershire, and both of us come from dairy farming backgrounds with no experience in sheep.

Andrew is the fourth generation of his family-run Ballyginniff farm. I spent the early years of my childhood growing up at Lane Farm, home to Shropshire Holsteins, before the family farming partnership split.

Andrew has always been farming mad, and my interest in the field was sparked by joining Holstein Young Breeders and showing calves for the renowned Styche Holsteins herd after I moved away from the farm.

We both work full-time off-farm; Andrew is a full-time herd manager, and I am a marketing manager for World Wide Sires UK (dairy and beef genetics company) but also run my own freelance agricultural marketing company, Moo Marketing, which I established in 2018.

We have a handful of pedigree Holstein cattle and a small herd of pedigree Australian Lowline Cattle back at Andrew’s home farm in Northern Ireland, owned with his mother, Fiona, Ballyginniff Lowlines.

Dutch Spotted and Blue Texel sheep breeder

But here, in Malvern, we run the True View flock of Dutch Spotted and Blue Texel sheep.

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We firstly chose the Dutch Spotted breed because of our passion for the black and white Holstein cow.

We saw these black and white sheep at the Royal Welsh Show in 2017 and had to investigate.

Following the show, we approached a handful of breeders and purchased an in-lamb recipient carrying twins from the 2018 Royal Welsh Show male and female champions.

Since then, we have been hooked on the temperament, growth rates, vigour and maternal instincts that the breed carries.

The Blue Texels have been a recent venture of which, so far, we are really enjoying. A ewe we are really excited about is Hackney Fancy, a daughter of the infamous Hackney Beth (£10k) Royal Highland Show Champion 2020 that we purchased during summer 2022.

We have slowly built up the flock by purchasing a couple at each society sale and selling progeny to get our name out there.

Now we have 20 pedigree sheep, which we lamb indoors from January as it suits our system and the dairy farming calendar for Andrew’s off-farm employment.

Breeding programme and traits

We use a CIDR programme and AI with sweeper rams to follow up to make lambing as compact as possible.

We aim to only register what we see as carrying breed characteristics and quality. Due to limited land, we sell approximately 50% of progeny and keep on the rest.

We focus on power, femininity, great legs, and feet with show style too. In our opinion, overall confirmation overrides stature, and we aim to breed a compact, tight-skinned sheep.

Due to our work commitments, the sheep jobs are a great opportunity for us to spend time together and working as a team to create a future with a business we started together in 2018.

The sheep world has been and is still a learning curve. However, since joining the two breed societies – Dutch Spotted Society and Blue Texel Sheep Society – we have met many sheep breeders alike, and some have now become great friends and allies.

We have both grown up showing dairy cattle and plan to exhibit our sheep in 2023, now having both built up the numbers, and feeling we potentially have something competitive.

Genetics

Genetics is an area we are most passionate about because this is the foundation of the future of your flock.

When farming on such a small scale, we feel genetics offers a USP to our business.

As we cannot benefit from economies of scale, we have to create marketability of our livestock and make them attractive to our potential customers.

In such a short space of time, we view winning first prize ewe lamb that went on to sell for 2,500gns at Worcester Livestock Market as one of our highlight achievements to date.

As an aspiring or new entrant sheep farmer, do not be afraid to ask questions; remember why you were given two ears and one mouth.

Women in agriculture

I am treated the same as my male counterparts, and I feel that women in agriculture are getting the recognition they deserve at farm and industry level.

Farming community groups help, and for new entrants, the Ladies who Lamb Facebook group has been a space where I can take ideas, information and opinions.

Every time I visit the page, I feel an ignited energy and make tweaks and changes to improve our flock’s health, fertility, and day-to-day management.

Health is wealth, and being outdoors with animals who depend on you is fantastic. Having a 9-5, the sheep are a welcome break from the screen.

I have a balance of office/farming; however, there are stresses and strains that come from my husband working 4 am – 6 pm at his day job on the dairy farm; the sheep are the hobby.

Elite flock and meat boxes

Our goal is to produce an elite flock of Pedigree Blue Texels and Dutch Spotted sheep.

We also have plans to introduce meat boxes from the ram lambs that we do not see have breeding potential.

In five years’ time, we see the pedigree flock at the same numbers we have now and produce high-quality genetic show animals.

For us, sheep farming makes money from 50% progeny sales, but with the flock size and feed costs increasing, our hobby is viable at the moment, but our ultimate goal is to farm in our own right.

We would not change a thing; we love learning, adapting, challenges and meeting new people, especially now we have entered into the sheep sector.

The future of agriculture is bright. If we can continue to educate, we will go forward with our premium products and receive fair prices for the quality produce we produce.”

Are you a sheep breeder? To share your story, email – [email protected]

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