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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.
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‘Being able to work anywhere in the world is awesome’ – farm vet (30)

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Miranda Timmerman (30) in this week’s veterinary segment. The University of Bristol graduate discusses her non-farming roots, her pull towards farm vet life, working as a locum vet and her Nufield Scholarship.

I hail from the South Welsh/English Borders and am not from a farming background, but we moved out of a city to a rural area when I was fourteen.

I have always been drawn to being outside and fascinated by growing and rearing things. Therefore, I started trying to breed stick insects and garden snails when I was ten, but my snails always seemed to be able to remove their lid every night, thanks to my mum.

When we moved, I could help out on neighbours’ farms, especially around lambing, which started my interest in farming and farming businesses.

When I was picking my A-level options (16), my dad told me I needed to think about what I wanted to do with my life.

I knew I could not be stuck inside all day and liked working with animals, so I did some work experience at a local veterinary practice and never looked at any other career path after that.

Veterinary science at University of Bristol

I studied veterinary science with an intercalated masters in global wildlife health at the University of Bristol from 2011 to 2017.

There were seven vet schools in the UK when I applied, and Bristol was a relatively rural city compared to many.

I applied on a deferred application so that I could take a year out while knowing that I had a place at vet school. So, I spent most of the year travelling while working in Zimbabwe, Canada and the UK.

I worked in a small mixed practice in West Wales for 18 months which helped me understand that farm animal work was what interested me the most, so I moved to ProStock Vets in Carmarthen and Cardigan.

Prostock is a 22-vet practice, farm only, working out of four locations from Cardigan to the Gower and up to Lampeter. The rota was 1:3 or 1:4, depending on the time of year.

I had some great female role models in my first practice who taught me a lot while enabling me to thrive and work solo.

But ultimately, I wanted to do just farm work, and the directors of ProStock pushed me to be the best vet I can be while providing any necessary support.

Locuming & Nuffield Scholarship

Currently, I am locuming to fit work around my Nuffield Scholarship. I am most passionate about working with farmers to improve the health of their herd or flock and consequently make their businesses more successful.

Improving livelihoods is the ultimate goal, whether that is through profit, time management, reducing the time dealing with sick animals and concentrating on preventative measures or helping to grow a business with great animal welfare.

A healthy herd is a productive herd and is more enjoyable to work with by all involved.

Advice for new grad vets

My advice to new grad vets is this: do not be afraid if you do not know what your interests are straight away.

Be prepared to try things out, and do not be afraid to change your mind. Your career is a long time, so it is worth trying out new things and ideas to make sure you continue to enjoy it.

I believe that you will find the support you need if you want to look for it. And it does not have to be in the normal groups such as Young Farmers or BVA YVN.

I joined a sea swimming group but was also prepared to drive for a few hours after a long week of work to meet up with some old uni mates.

Work-life balance, success, challenges

You need to truly understand what you are getting yourself into. Yes, the profession is changing in the work/life balance aspect, but this is a slow process and is even slower in many farm practices.

You will have to deal with difficult days, cases and situations, and however hard you try, not everything is going to go right.

But the successes are great and definitely worth working for. However, there are lots of opportunities to make it a fulfilling career if you know what you want and go for it.

I spend my life trying to go into scenarios without expectations other than what I expect of myself.

As with all jobs, until you do them, you do not know what it will really be like. Not being from a farming background, I did not expect to be embraced by the farming community that I worked within as much as I was, which really surprised and delighted me.

It just goes to show that if you are interested and passionate about something, you can learn and embrace it as much as you want.

Fotojet (22)

Farm Vet

I enjoy using my skills to improve people’s livelihoods, whether through improving their herd’s health and productivity through preventative measures or safeguarding the farm for the next generations through proper anthelmintic and antibiotic use.

Helping make long-lasting herd decisions through breeding or large management changes can be a slow burn but very satisfying when all the hard work and effort starts to show through.

For example, I was working with a split-block calving dairy herd that had great dry cow management in the spring calving block but struggled with metritis and milk fevers in the autumn block.

We assessed the ration and moved the autumn dry cows onto standing hay and dry cow rolls.

The next year, we had less than 1% milk fevers in that block, and cows were getting back in-calf much sooner. It took over a year from identifying the problem to prove that the change worked, but it was very satisfying!

As with many farm vets in West Wales, TB has to be up there with the most challenging scenarios that we deal with on a daily basis.

It is very difficult having spent hours every week on fertility visits trying to improve their herd and building a good rapport to a point when clients become friends, just to have to seriously disrupt their business through implementing restrictions for TB.

To be a vet, resilience, an overused word at the moment is key; it is very important to be able to bounce back up after you have been knocked down in this profession.

I also think curiosity is crucial, having the interest to go above and beyond what you are taught in uni, to investigate new and different ways of thinking to help push those progressive farmers to be the best they can be.

Studying Veterinary Medicine

Further studies

I finished my Cert AVP in production animals in April 2021 and am currently undertaking a Nuffield Scholarship looking at reducing anthelmintic usage in sheep.

This is allowing me to travel globally to speak to farmers. Since starting it in November 2021, I have started locuming and worked in several different practices from South Wales, Shropshire and up to Orkney.

I spent June in Kenya and Saudi Arabia speaking to fish and dairy farmers about the challenges they are facing in their industries. Furthermore, I have just agreed to work in New Zealand for six months in a few different practices on the North and South Islands.

I want a fulfilling career balanced with a successful home life. My fiancé and I met at uni, worked together for three years before he went to work in Saudi Arabia as a dairy vet, and I started my Nuffield travelling.

It has made us value our family and friends, who have enabled us to make the most out of our early careers.

I enjoy looking at the bigger picture in relation to farms, and consequently, becoming involved in a sheep consultancy business would be very interesting, helping proactive farmers improve their flock management choices.

Reflection

I feel I would have gotten to where I am quicker if I had known straight out of uni what I wanted to do. However, every experience allows you to learn something different, so nothing is wasted.

My life is constantly changing; new opportunities and adventures are ever-present. And, while you will always talk about the weather at least once a day, the rest is never predictable!

Being able to work anywhere in the world is awesome and keeping an open mind is imperative.

I truly believe that the future of our industry is bright, despite the constant looming recruitment crisis.

We are in an exciting and dynamic industry, and where there is change, there is an opportunity; it just looks different to what the previous generation had,” the farm vet concluded.

To share your story like this farm vet, email – [email protected]

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