Sinead Conway and family operate a beef and sheep enterprise in Killawalla, which is located 7kms outside the popular tourist town of Westport in Co. Mayo.
The 21-year-old WIT student is proudly carrying on the long-standing family tradition.
“From a very young age, I was always very interested in all aspects of our farm. I loved getting up early with my father and mother to complete jobs that had to be done on the farm,” she explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.
“As a child, I loved attending the mart with my father every Saturday and comparing the prices of stock week-on-week.”
“I bought my very first cow when I was 10-years-old and from then, I had to take on all the responsibilities that came with her. I believe it’s a great thing for a child to purchase animals from a young age as it gives them more responsibilities on the farm.”
Suckler and sheep enterprise
The farm is home to Limousin, Charolais, Belgian Blue, Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus spring-calving breeding females, with a view to producing weanlings that are sold in autumn.
“On our farm, we use mixed grazing systems during the summer and autumn months and then paddock grazing in springtime, when growth starts, and the land is beginning to show good grass cover.”
The Mayo natives focus on superior genetics and good grass management practices to produce good-quality animals.
“We try to avoid giving concentrates to weanlings and focus more on the animals utilising the grass to the best of their ability.”
Sheep breeds include Suffolks, Cheviots, Zwartables, Lanarks, Mules, Milfords and Mayo Mountains.
Ewes usually start lambing from late February through to mid-March. “We usually lamb all sheep indoors and once they have lambed, they are let out onto the fresh grass.”
Like their cattle, they strive to utilise grass efficiently, with an aim to fatten all lambs off grass only.
“The weather is often very challenging in autumn and springtime. In recent years, we have had to house our animals much earlier due to bad weather conditions and poaching of land.”
“We have also noticed that the prices for finished beef cattle and lambs can be very unpredictable to gauge as prices are driven by supply and demand.”
“All farmers expect to get a good return after the hard work and effort they put into rearing the animals during the year.”
When Sinead is not tending to animals on her family farm, she is based at Waterford IT where she is studying a BSc in Agriculture.
“This is a three-year course and once we have completed the three years, we will have the option of completing an add-on year.”
This add-on year will give students the opportunity to be awarded with a BSc Honours in Land Management. Sinead is currently going into her third year and is hoping to complete the add-on year to obtain a level-8 degree.
“I find this course very interesting – It covers most aspects of agriculture from academic and practical levels which I believe is important for young people interested in agriculture.”
“Personally, when I started this course I didn’t know what I was facing, but thankfully everybody who I started with were all on the same boat. We all had similar interests which made the experience much easier.
As part of her undergraduate studies, the 21-year-old embarked on a journey to New Zealand last January for placement and returned to the Emerald Isle in June.
She spent six months in the North Island, where she worked on a family-run enterprise, which was split into two separate farms side-by-side.
The first farm had 110 hectares with a 30-aside herringbone parlour milking 355 Jersey and Jersey-cross cows. The second farm comprised 74 hectares of land and was home to 240 cows in a 22-aside herringbone parlour.
The third-level student admitted she had very little experience of milking before travelling out, but it did not take long to adapt to the milking parlour.
“Working on a dairy farm is much different from working with beef and sheep, but I really enjoyed the experience.”
“During the time I spent abroad, I developed new skills involving herd and grassland management that I hope to put into action on our own farm here in Mayo.”
“While I was out on the farm, I experienced a very bad drought, and water was at historically low levels.”
During this period, they found it very difficult to manage water and ensure the herd had access to water at all times. “Although water levels were a major problem during drought, the levels of grass growth were also extremely bad.”
“For a few weeks, grass was not growing and we were feeding animals silage and maize.”
“This was a real eye-opener for me as I had not experienced extreme weather conditions like that before whilst trying to care for animals,” Conway added.
Once Conway attains her level-8 degrees, she intends to further her agricultural knowledge by travelling overseas.
“I enjoy comparing different farming systems and how they work for the farmer and would enjoy experiencing these different systems abroad.” the young farmer concluded.
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