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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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‘We had to grow the farm to sustain a wage for my father and I’ – 150-cow farmer

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Armagh farmer, Jonathan Barnett of Derryadd Holsteins, in this week’s Dairy Focus segment.

“Farming is a family tradition, and I am the fourth generation, following in the footsteps of my great-grandfather, grandfather, William and my father, Chris, here in Derryadd, Lurgan, County Armagh.

I always helped out around the farm with my granda, William and my father. I was never one for looking forward to getting to school for the day and just wanted to spend all my time on the farm.

The farm would not have been generating enough funds for me to leave school and get a wage along with my granda and dad, so I continued my education in agriculture mechanising, completing a level 3 land-based service engineering course.

In 2010, I left full-time employment to work on the farm and have been there since.

Armagh dairy farmer

I have always had an interest in farming. I served my time as a mechanic and worked many years servicing farm machinery, but I wanted to be on the farm full-time and knew we had to grow the farm for it to sustain a wage for my father, Chris, and I.

Currently, we are milking 150 Holstein Friesian cows as part of an autumn-based calving system across 200-acres of land.

We would have worked with British Fresians in the past, and as time moved on, we moved to Holsteins as they produce very high yields of milk.

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We have an Aberdeen Angus bull, and I do all of my own AI on the farm as part of our breeding programme. Heifers get a maximum of two rounds of sexed semen, and if unsuccessful, she is AI’d to Aberdeen Angus or the bull, but thankfully, this does not happen often.

25 of our top cows get 2 straws of sexed semen, and if she is a favourite, she may get a third, while the rest of our cows go to Belgian Blue AI.

We operate an autumn calving season, meaning we calf between September – March, and we do not have any particular reason for this.

We keep all dairy calves and sell any beef calves. Moreover, we keep heifers as replacements and calf down at 24 months.

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Herd performance and milking

Overall, we are pleased with how the herd are performing, producing approximately 8,500 litres at 4.18% butterfat and 3.32% protein from a concentrate input of 2.8T/cow and an average calving interval of 400 days.

We milk the herd twice a day, and the process takes approximately 2 hours in a Westfalia parlour.

I like the general animal husbandry of dairy cattle and managing day-to-day activities, while Emma Parks, my other half, soon-to-be Mrs Barnett, as we will tie the knot in early April 2023, says she is very much an amateur.

However, she likes learning everyday new processes, why the process is carried out in that way, and researching if there is a smarter way of doing things.

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Milk prices

The biggest challenge I have had come up against was when the milk price hit 17ppl; this was extremely challenging for the day-to-day running of the farm.

My hope for the future would be that the milk price will always relate to any input farming costs, e.g. feed, fertiliser, and fuel.

It is difficult for young farmers to get involved or follow this career path unless they are born into it.

I would hope that more support and opportunities become available for them in the future.

Long-term, we want to look into upgrading the milking facilities and putting our electricity off-grid. We do not have any intentions to push cow numbers, but want to focus on reaching 10,000L as a target production figure.”

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