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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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‘I do not have to worry about dressing up or putting on make-up for sheep’

In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Hannah Tourish, about hill sheep farming and her studies at LYIT.  

At the age of nineteen, Hannah Tourish is keeping a long-standing hill sheep farming tradition well and truly alive in Largnalore, Ballybofey Co. Donegal.

The 19-year-old runs the farm alongside her father, David, mother Mary, and three sisters, Katie, Rosie and Danielle, whilst studying a third-level degree.

The sheep enterprise is home to 120 pedigree Cheviot ewes, 60-65 Blackface Perth ewes, and 40 replacement hoggets.

“The Blackface Perth would be my favourite breed of sheep. Firstly, we use two Suffolk rams, a Cheviot ram and two Blackface Perth rams. We put most of our Cheviot ewes with the Suffolk rams as this results in the production of Suffolk-cross-Cheviot ewe lambs as replacements for lowland breeders,” she told That’s Farming.

“We used a teaser this year for the first time, and we found it to be very beneficial. Resultingly, we lambed all our Cheviot ewes inside in three weeks, and our Perth ewes lambed inside over three weeks also.”

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Each year, the family market 10-12 Blackface Perth ram lambs through the Brockagh Perth Blackfaced Sheep Breeders’ Association. Besides, they finish the remaining ram lambs on the Donegal-based holding. Furthermore, they sell 20 Blackfaced Perth ewe lambs through the society every September.

“We also are members of the Donegal Cheviot and Cheviot-cross Breeders’ Group. Lambing season is my favourite time of the year on the farm because I love bringing newborn lambs to the world.”

“I always enjoy lambing because it is the busiest time on the farm. You are kept going the whole way through it.”

“I try to be there to help assist each ewe when they lamb, but you need your sleep now and again. We lamb our Cheviot ewes from the first week in March and then our Perth ewes from St Patrick’s day on. I love watching the lambs playing in the fields.”

“As with every sheep farm, you need a good sheepdog. The main sheepdog on our farm is Tweed. I help train pups from 4-months-old on, but I would not be a professional at it now. Each dog is different; some show interest earlier than others.”

“Besides, I used to love bringing our sheep to agricultural shows in the summertime. It was always a great day out away from the farm, but due to COVID-19, they all have been cancelled. It is looking likely that organisers will cancel agricultural shows this year too.”

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Hannah juggles her farming commitments with her studies at LYIT, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. She enrolled in its four-year level 8 BSc Honours in Agriculture degree programme in 2020, following her Leaving Certificate.

The course was my first choice. I wanted this programme because I want to be working outdoors with animals. I would work with animals or humans any day.”

“My highlight so far would have been getting to inject and dose cattle on our weekly manual handling class. I am enjoying the course so far, but I do not like virtual learning.”

“I am finding it hard to sit at a laptop for most of the day. Honestly, I would rather be outside with my sheep or dogs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of distractions on the farm,” she laughed.

“The course involves different enterprises and aspects of agriculture such as animal husbandry, animal science, soil and plant science, agriculture business management and marketing.”

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When Hannah finishes her formal degree, she intends to begin farming in her own right by establishing her own 100-strong flock, whilst carving a career in the agricultural industry.

“I hopefully will breed over 100 Blackface Perth ewes and around 20 North Country or Lairg Cheviots. Honestly, I suppose I would rather sheep than any other enterprise because I have grown up with sheep all my life, and I know the ins and outs of them.”

“I have the best experience I can get from farming with my dad over the years. He has been farming in the agricultural sector for the past forty years.”

“I am still learning new things on the farm every day, but you must be a hard worker. Animals are like humans; they need a lot of care. Each day brings different challenges.”

“I would like to go on for a career in the line of farm health and safety or animal welfare. However, I am not into travelling, and yes, I probably will further my studies at some point.”

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No regrets

“I love getting up in the mornings to check the sheep without anyone judging me. Honestly, I am always kept busy on the farm, which I love. I would rather clean out a shed with a brush than brushing the floors in the house.”

“I am grateful that my daddy has taught me so much about farming from a young age. Honestly, I could live without a tractor or machinery. I think machinery work is the lazy way out of things; I like seeing my hands dirty,”

“Life as a woman in agriculture is challenging and tough at times the same way as it is challenging for male farmers. If you work in the agricultural industry, there are going to be ups and downs on the farm every day, but you must learn to accept them and move on.”

“But on the other hand, I love being a woman in ag; I love getting up in the mornings to go out and check the sheep. I do not have to worry about dressing up or putting on make-up for the sheep; they do not care what I look like. There is also so much freedom in the countryside,” Hannah concluded.

Are you involved in hill sheep farming? To share your story, – email [email protected]

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