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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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Balancing work and farming life

26-year-old Cathal Cassidy runs a 200-strong beef herd and 400-ewe flock with his father, Edward, while also working as a ruminant nutritionist with Alltech.

The Nobber, Co. Meath, native provides an insight into his farming and working life in conversation with Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.

What type of farm do you run?

My father, Edward, and I are the main labour units on the farm, along with help from my brother, Barry, and mother, Suzanne, who are also in full-time employment off-farm.

We run cross breed black and white speckle face ewes and cross these with Texel and Charolais rams.

We finish steers, heifers, and a small number of bulls through a store-to-beef or calf-to-beef system. Calves are bought and reared in both spring and autumn and brought right through to finish.

These calves are joined by store cattle after their first year on grass to be either finished on grass or from the shed the following year.

We would finish a lot of Friesian and Friesian-cross cattle, with a preference for calves with Hereford, Limousin and Aubrac-influence due to their heavier carcass weights.

On the sheep front, we run a mid-season lambing flock of ewes crossed with terminal rams, with all lambs brought to finish. Along with this, we buy in store lambs during the summer to be finished in the back end.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of farming?

It is being able to see the results of your hard work; whether it is thriving animals, well-managed fields or simply tidying up the storeroom, there is a great satisfaction in it.

What do you find challenging?

Balancing a full-time job along with farm work can often be a challenge, especially during the winter months with short days. You often find weekends are the busiest days in the week.

In the mornings and evenings, there is only time to get the necessary jobs done and anything extra has to wait until the weekend.

What area of agriculture are you most passionate about?

Animal nutrition, as it has been something I have had a keen interest in for many years, even before my current role with Alltech.

When I learned more about it, I realised the major impact it has on all parts of an animal’s production cycle and overall efficiency and profitability of any farming system.

Did you pursue your studies in the agricultural field?

I enrolled in DkIT’s agricultural science degree programme in 2012 and graduated in 2016. After graduating, I went on to undertake a masters in ruminant nutrition at Harper Adams University in the UK.

Did you ever consider a career in a non-agricultural-related field?  

I always had intentions to end up working in the agricultural sector, whether it was pursuing a career for a few years or coming home to farm.

What do you currently work as?

I am a ruminant nutritionist holding the position of Alltech, InTouch Feeding Specialist in Midlands and Leinster.

Alltech has more than thirty years of research in animal nutrition and health, which has allowed us to develop and manufacture innovative, natural feed supplements that improve animal performance.

The European Bioscience Centre was opened in Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Ireland in 1999.

The InTouch support hub in Dunboyne combines the latest in feed-management software, mixer wagon controller technology and skilled feeding specialists to work proactively with many types of farmers, ensuring the best in feeding accuracy and animal performance.

Each day, InTouch manages the feeding of over 300,000 animals on 2,000 farms across the globe, representing one of the world’s largest feed efficiency databases.

When did you begin this role?

I started in this position in 2017 after graduating from Harper Adams University and moving back home. I started with the company as part of their European ruminant graduate program, where I was placed in the ruminant nutrition side of the business as part of the InTouch team.

Here, we were given extensive and practical training in ruminant nutrition production systems across Ireland, the UK, and other European countries.

I was also given good experience in other areas of the business, such as in marketing and sales, before being placed permanently into my current role.

What are your responsibilities?

I work in the Midlands and Leinster region, where I provide tailored nutrition and advice to both dairy and beef customers in the area.

What does a typical day in the life entail?

Generally, it involves visiting farmer clients in my area, assessing their systems and current production and putting a tailored nutrition plan in place for that particular time in the production cycle.

This is then followed up by constantly reviewing and accessing production, then making any necessary tweaks, depending on how animals respond and what we are trying to achieve based on specific goals set out with each farmer.

Some examples of these production goals and what we can help with include increasing kgs milk solids, reducing days to slaughter, reducing issues around the transition cow period, reducing feed costs or feed and mineral advice.

Currently, there are a lot of beef cattle being housed for finishing, so I am busy preparing finishing plans for these.

On the dairy side, many farmers are introducing buffers to stretch grass and make up dry matter intakes and help hold production into late lactation, with a lot of autumn calving herds getting into calving, so things are starting to get busy again with these.

Along with this, I am spending a lot of time reviewing silage feed and mineral test results and getting winter feed plans in place.

Who do you liaise with/work closely alongside?

On a daily basis, I work closely with my farmer clients, along with any party who is involved in their business, such as feed and mineral suppliers, vet, co-op or other farm advisors.

I also work closely with my colleagues on the Alltech and KEENAN side of the business.

What do you like most about your position?

No two days are the same, as every farm is different, each with its different challenges or goals we are trying to work on.

You also come across many different types of production systems across different parts of the country. You get plenty of experience, and there is always a challenge.

What is challenging?

The travel can often be a challenge, and as it is a big area, you need to be very well organised to use your time most efficiently.

Otherwise, you could find yourself wasting a lot of time driving around aimlessly. This is compounded by the extreme seasonality of agriculture in Ireland, with the busiest time starting in late autumn through to spring, when animals are being housed.

This period brings many changes in animals’ production cycle occurring at the same time on most customers farms.

This gives a small window to visit and give the best advice for each stage to get it right, such as cattle moving into their finishing phase or cows going into their dry and transition periods.

Is this position meeting your expectations?

It is, as it has allowed me to expand my knowledge of animal nutrition and gain valuable practical experience dealing with customers, while also being able to follow on and see the results you are getting with them year on year, all while still being able to be involved in our home farm.

It has also given me the opportunity to travel and work in different countries and experience many types of production systems I would not have otherwise got the chance to do.

Working life during Covid-19 – How is it?

In my role, I work remotely, with most of my time being spent out on the road visiting customers.

During lockdown, we did not do any farm visits until restrictions were lifted, so instead spent a lot more time on the phone to customers from my home office.

We also had to stop all face-to-face meetings and open days with colleagues and customers, instead of having team meetings and webinars online using Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

What are your plans for the future?   

Recently, I have moved to cover a new area in the Midlands and Leinster, which is closer to home than I have been to date, so my main aim is to get to know the area and new customers.

This move has also cut down my time spent driving, so it will hopefully allow me to spend a bit more time focussing on our home farm too.

What advice would you give to people who are considering pursuing a career in agriculture?

It is a broad industry to work in, and the skills you learn are generally universal. They can be used across many different sectors and countries outside of the typical ag careers we think of.

Try to get a broad experience of different areas and businesses and always take the chance to gain experience somewhere, as you never know what you might be interested in until you actually see it.

Every day is a school day, and you should never be finished learning. Anyone you meet will have something to teach you, even if its how not to do something.

Nobody can ever know too much, especially in a sector that is always changing and covers such an extensive range of topics and research.

Sum up the journey you have undertaken to date.

My journey to date has been interesting, as I have gotten to grow my knowledge and experience through my work and education and use this to help me best advise my customers now.

Along the way, there have been plenty of new challenges and opportunities to learn from.

After starting college, I thought my plan was to come home to the home farm and never have to leave the parish.

This plan changed to spending some time during holidays and work placements working in a feed mill, piggery, dairy farm, abattoir and then moving to the UK to complete my masters, before returning to a job with a large animal nutrition company, travelling across the country and to many different parts of the world as part of this.

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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