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HomeDairy‘Sorting livestock together is a marriage test if ever there was one’
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-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 company in 2015.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

‘Sorting livestock together is a marriage test if ever there was one’

That’s Farming profiles Katie Shaw, a farmer’s wife in this week’s women in ag segment. She discusses her office background and how becoming a mother sparked her involvement in farming.

After having two daughters, Katie Shaw was unable to work part-time, so she opted to take time off to raise her young family.

It was during this period that the 33-year-old began helping her husband with his family-run dairy farm, primarily with administrative duties.

“This sparked my interest and evolved to me getting more hands-on once our youngest started at preschool,” the Carlisle, Cumbria native told That’s Farming.

“I do not come from a farming family. My husband is a farmer, and the farm has been in his family for three generations. I had little interest in farm life up until a few years ago.”

“We have been together since I was 18. My background is in office work. I have a degree in business/payroll management and worked primarily in payroll and HR and latterly in procurement for around ten years,” she explained.

While she is still responsible for most paperwork, passports, movements, medicines and accounts, she also assists with on-farm duties.

Tasks include caring for younger cattle, bedding, feeding, mucking out, cleaning the parlour and other general maintenance tasks.

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“What surprised me most about farming was how much work is involved in running the farm, physically, mentally and emotionally. I have been with my husband for 15 years, and I never knew what was involved until I started doing it with him,” she admitted.

Farm girl Katie Shaw (33) from the UK on being a farmer’s wife, her non-farming office background, being a mother of two and dairy farming.

360 cattle

Katie is involved in the farm’s running with her husband, Matthew Shaw, his father, John Shaw and Brian Will, who “is a fantastic cowman with a massive wealth of knowledge and experience”.

The 360-strong farm comprises a dairy herd of Holstein Friesians with some British Blues, Aberdeen Angus and Limousin cattle.

The farm spans 380-acres – 250-acres of which they own, with 110-acres dedicated to cereals, 150-acres to silage and a further 120-acres for grazing.

They rear all beef calves on-farm until 18 – 20 months of age and sell these as stores in a local livestock mart.

The dairy herd comprises 150 cows, which are currently averaging 11,000 kgs at 4.3% fat and 3.4% protein.

“I love the variety that farming has to offer. We are always doing something different, and I like being busy. Working as a team is rewarding.”

Farm girl Katie Shaw (33) from the UK on being a farmer’s wife, her non-farming office background, being a mother of two and dairy farming.

“There is so much to do with so few of us. We need to work together to work well. Most of all, I love spending time with the cattle, especially the new calves,” she added.

“I still have so much to learn about farming. The physical side of farming can be hard and tiring. The business side of it can be an absolute minefield. One wrong business decision can have a disastrous effect.”

“We do not currently exhibit cattle at agricultural shows. However, Brian Will has an amazing background in genetic breeding. This is something we are focussing a lot on at the moment with his guidance. Maybe one day soon, we will be at ag shows.”

“I think my biggest passion is going to be with the cattle, the genetic breeding and their welfare,” she added.

Farm girl Katie Shaw (33) from the UK on being a farmer’s wife, her non-farming office background, being a mother of two and dairy farming.

Being a farmer’s wife and mother

Katie admitted that juggling farming and family life can be a challenge that requires patience and perseverance.

“I am proud of my husband working so hard. Also, I love feeling like I am contributing to our own little piece of history with our family farm.”

“Juggling family life can be hard, but our daughters, aged six and age four, understand that daddy is working hard and things at the farm have to be done within set times, depending on weather, the cows cannot be left etc. We just try to make to most of the time Matthew does get off.”

She provided some advice to those before they consider dating and/or marrying a farmer.

“To be a farmer’s wife, you need to be flexible, understanding and have patience when plans change as much as the weather. Also, you must be willing to pitch in and help out.”

“Before dating/marrying a farmer, you should realise that the weather forecasts will forever rule your life,” she laughed.

“Sorting livestock together is a challenge. I am sure any farmer’s wife will agree that sorting livestock together is a marriage test if ever there was one.”

Farm girl Katie Shaw (33) from the UK on being a farmer’s wife, her non-farming office background, being a mother of two and dairy farming.

Women in ag

She believes that women in agriculture are receiving the recognition they deserve, especially given the rise of social media.

She explained that she “did not realise how many women worked in agriculture until I started my Instagram page.”

“There is such a strong community online of women who work in all areas of agriculture, all very supportive of each other. From what I see on there, I think women are starting to get the recognition they deserve.”

“Females should consider a career in agriculture if it is something that interests them. There is so much variety, and it is a very rewarding job.”

“My own plans are to keep working hard with my husband and his dad, support and help their visions of growing and developing the farm to be the best it can be,” she concluded.

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

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