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‘I fear that small-scale suckler farms like my own may become a thing of the past’

Shane Joyce divides his time between his family-run suckler and sheep farm in Co. Galway with a position on a dairy enterprise in the ‘crystal county’. 

The 25-year-old, who hails from Clifden, completed his Green Cert in 2018 and has since up-skilled in the areas of bovine AI, bovine ultrasound scanning and hoof trimming. 

“Farming is a family tradition. It started with my grandfather who had a small herd of cows and sheep.” Shane told Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.

“My dad, Sean, purchased some suckler cows and at the age of ten, I bought my first calf to follow in his and my grandfather’s footsteps.” 

Suckler farm 

The farm is home to twelve cross-bred suckler cows, with Charolais, Limousins, Salers, and Belgian Blues being the breeds of choice.

Two one-and-a-half-year-old heifers, and four calves also dominate the pastures, along with a flock of sheep. 

“Calving takes place between December and February. The reason for this is because my cows are in the shed during the winter and it’s easier for me to keep an eye on them when they are all together.”

Progeny are sold as weanlings, with some females retained as replacements for 24-30-month-old calving. 

“I try to keep our calving window as tight as I can; however, as there is a small number of cows, it doesn’t have a huge impact if that does not go to plan. I like to keep it within the 2-month period.” 

“I find the key element of running a successful suckler farm is picking the right bull for each cow.”

Shane explained that AI benefits his herd as it offers a large selection of bulls, allowing him to match dams and sires accordingly. 

“I try to have one calf per cow each year. Having a small herd, I want each calf to be as valuable as possible.”  

“Feeding is also an important aspect. I graze a lot of mountain ground, so it is important that I supply cows with sufficient nutrients all-year-round.” the 25-year-old added. 


The father-and-son-duo also farm twenty-five ewes, mainly Connemara Blackfaces and Lleyn crosses, which lamb between February and March.  

“I select these breeds because of the kind of ground I graze. The Connemara Blackface are bred for mountain ground and the Lleyn brings a bit of weight to the lambs but are still very easy lambing,” explained Shane, who introduced sheep to the farm back in 2014.

Dairy farming 

“I have always wanted to have a career in farming, but the home farm is not suitable to support a living.” 

Recently, an opportunity arose for Shane to work on a large dairy farm in Co. Waterford and he accepted the position.

“The job has given me the opportunity to gain more experience with farming on a larger scale, as well as with the robotic milking system in place.” 

The 300-acre farm is home to a 140-cow herd with 2 DeLaval robots and an ABC grazing system. 

“I help the owner with the general running of the farm. Calf rearing, moving cattle, working with machinery and generally just keeping the farm running.” 

“I return home on the weekends and whenever I am needed. I return as often as I can.” 

“It is not feasible for me to venture into dairy on my own farm with the quality of the land I own in Clifden.”

“I am happy to keep the home farm small as it is easy to manage,” he added.


Working on his own mixed enterprise and the Waterford-based dairy farm is satisfying for Shane, but he casts doubts over the future of farming, especially on a small-scale. 

“It’s hard to know how the beef industry will go. I fear that small-scale suckler farms like my own may become a thing of the past.” 

“I like working outdoors and being hands-on. I enjoy working with animals as I have done so from a young age. I enjoy the lifestyle as a farmer.” 

“Some days are better than others – Sometimes you just have a bad day and everything can go wrong I’m just lucky that those days are rare and there’s always a happy-faced animal to keep my spirits up!” 

“Farming has allowed me to meet some great people over the years and has given me the opportunity to pursue the career that I have always wanted, and the passion I have always had.” he concluded. 


Shane has recently joined Instagram using the farmer_murphy1 handle, where he posts videos and photos, providing an insight into farm life.

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