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HomeBeef‘Sometimes, I know what is wrong and how to cure the animal...
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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‘Sometimes, I know what is wrong and how to cure the animal before the vet arrives’

In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to 22-year-old Aisling Breen, a veterinary bioscience graduate and dairy farmer.

22-year-old Aisling Breen toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse but opted to carve a career in the agricultural field when she did not secure a place in her desired course.

The Kilflynn, Tralee, Co Kerry native grew up on her family-run dairy farm, which is home to a 110-strong herd of Friesian and Kerry cattle.

Veterinary bioscience

She recently graduated as a veterinary bioscientist, having begun her animal bioscience studies at Munster Technological University, Tralee, in 2017.

Breen completed the three-year course in 2020, and due to her grade, progressed to undertake its veterinary bioscience course as an add-on for one year.

She carried out her college placement on animal welfare in Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research Centre, Grange, Co. Meath, where she learnt diagnostic imaging, enhanced her laboratory skills and health and safety awareness.

“Although nursing was my other choice, I am happy I chose veterinary bioscience. I have improved and learnt many skills. A veterinary bioscientist has many career options. Personally, I want to secure a laboratory job in diagnostics or herd health,” she told ­That’s Farming.

“There are other options such as research, nutrition, pharmaceutical or practice manager careers. When I was younger, I always wanted to become a vet. However, after doing this course, I realised I can help animals in a laboratory setting instead.”

“Graduates branch into laboratory work in relation to diagnostics, research or pharmaceutical drug and vaccine development or become an animal nutritionist or herd health advisor. This course is often a back door into veterinary medicine or secondary school teaching.”

“Students that want to do veterinary but do not get the points for it, this course is your ‘back door’ into it. It covers many of the same modules as veterinary, so you do not have to study many of the first year modules in veterinary, depending on where you study to become a vet.”

“This course has many different career options, which is ideal for anyone that wants to work with animals but is unsure of what area.”

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Crossover with farm

It is focused on laboratory work and covers nutrition, animal welfare and behaviour, research, health and safety, agriculture, pharmaceutical and veterinary focused jobs.

The course involves veterinary-focused modules such as anatomy and physiology, basic sciences such as physics and chemistry and laboratory focused-modules such as analytical techniques and laboratory management and business development.

It includes modules that focus on animal health, disease and diagnostics with a combination of theory and practical study.

“I implement many of these skills on our farm, and I have gained a better understanding of why certain things are done on the farm.

“I notice when animals are sick quicker, and sometimes, I know what is wrong and how to cure the animal before the vet arrives. Also, I am confident to inject animals subcutaneously or intramuscularly, which is a benefit on the farm.”

“Looking back on it, I am happy I did not get offered nursing. I believe I am more suited to helping animals. Farming has been a family tradition and of major importance on both sides of my family. I am a fifth-generation farmer.”

Family farm

She assists her father, Edward, and mother, Lisa, on their family farm, where Friesian is the primary breed, with some Kerry cows.

“The Kerry cow is an endangered breed. They are used solely for their milk. Murphy’s Ice Cream in Dingle only uses Kerry cow milk to create a creamy ice cream! I also adore red Friesians.”

“I am a member of the Kerry Cattle Society, which was formed to help this endangered breed.”

“Recently, I decided to introduce red Friesians into the herd, and I am slowly increasing the number of red Friesians in my herd.”

“I love rearing calves. Getting to witness a calf being born never ceases to amaze me. Then getting to care for the calves, see them grow and form personalities. Of course, I have favourites and a few pets.

“My farm responsibilities include feeding calves, cleaning livestock houses and monitoring livestock for illness or if any cows are in heat or near calving.

I also bring up the cows for the evening milking and milk the cows with my father.”

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Working life

After she completed her veterinary bioscience degree, she began searching for employment. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she has found it difficult to secure a laboratory job.

Instead, she divides her time between her family farm, two jobs and her Teagasc Distance Education Green Cert at Salesian Agricultural College.

She works as a cleaner with Grosvenor Cleaning Services and is a farm tour guide for her family-run holiday house, Breenville Farmhouse.

“As a cleaner, I provide a high standard of cleaning in offices and disinfect equipment and touchpoints utilised by staff and members of the public.”

“As a farm tour guide, I show guests around the farm, educate them on farming, farm safety and animal behaviour and welfare. I also provide horse rides to guests on my horse.”

She started working with Grosvenor in summer 2020, and has been farm tour guide at Breenville Farmhouse since 2017. As a cleaner, a typical day includes ensuring buildings are cleaned and disinfected correctly, and there is adequate ventilation.

As a tour guide, a typical day includes educating guests on-farm and animal safety, giving a farm tour and answering questions.

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“For the future, I would love to secure a laboratory diagnostic or herd health advisor job.”

“College changed me for the better. I am more outgoing and confident now. I made some amazing friendships that helped me realise what true friendship means.”

“College helped me focus on my goals, made me have a more positive mindset and showed me that no matter what I put my mind to, I can achieve. I have learnt so much from my course, both theory and practical skills that I have already used on my home farm.”

Her advice to others is this: “Never let fear hold you back; you can achieve anything you put your mind to. All you need is a positive mindset and the right support system such as family, friends and lectures.”

“Be persistent; you might be lucky and get the first job you apply for, but many do not. Have a positive, determined attitude and remember your personality is just as important as your education.”

Reflecting on her journey, she said: “I am lucky to have grown up in the agricultural industry.”

“During the pandemic, farming was a fantastic outlet for me. I was born premature (1 pound, 5 ounces), and once I was allowed home, my parents would bring me farming. So, I really did grow up farming,” she concluded.

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