Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming, editor in conversation with Nenagh, Co Tipperary’s Leah Hunt (20), a farmer and student in this week’s women in ag segment. They discuss her suckler farming roots, studying agricultural science at WIT/Kildalton Agricultural College and student life during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I come from a suckler farming background and am a fourth-generation farmer. My earliest memories on the farm were going out to the farmyard with my grandfather, Tony.
I was his first grandchild, and he always brought me out in his van to check on cows and to help him do the evening jobs. When I was younger, I was machinery mad; I loved tractors and diggers. Today, my main interest has changed to animals.
I could never imagine myself in a career outside of the agricultural sector. When picking a college course, it was not difficult as I knew it would be ag-related.
We have 30 suckler cows – most of which are commercials – mainly Charolais-crosses, Limousin-crosses, and Hereford-crosses.
The herd has consistently remained around 25 to 30 sucklers. In recent years, we have had 30 sucklers calving each year; there is no reason for this change.
The enterprise is split between two different farms. The Killoscully farm has 17-acres, and the Curraghmore farm has 30-acres. Furthermore, we rent 10-acres in Killoscully.
We select the Charolais breed because they are fast-growing with good weight gain off a grass and silage diet and show good muscle, especially in the hindquarters.
They sell well in the mart. We use two Charolais stock bulls for breeding.
On the other hand, we choose the Limousin breed as they have good muscle. Our black-white heads have good milk production to rear young calves.
Spring-calving and target weights/prices
Calving takes place in spring, and we aim to have the first cow calving on February 1st. Calving occurs during this period as it seems fitting to the season.
Life is coming back to the countryside after the winter. I always look forward to calving season and seeing new calves on the farm.
We sell calves at weanling stage in three different local marts. Meanwhile, we keep some heifer calves that show good maternal qualities as replacements.
Our target selling weights are 400-450 kg for bull calves and 375-400 kg for heifer calves, with prices varying from around €2.10/kg to €2.40/kg.
To achieve these weights, cows are on a grass diet in summer with ration fed towards the end of the summer. While housed, they are fed grass silage and beet.
If we keep females as replacements, they will usually calve down at either two years of age or three years of age – depending on the animal in question and her weight.
If she is a smaller heifer with a low body condition score, she will calve down at three years of age. We cull cows due to old age, poor fertility, and poor milk yield.
The critical element of running a successful suckler herd is proper breeding management.
Also, selecting good stock, such as replacement heifers and stock bulls, allows the desired characteristics to come through in the progeny.
I am in my second year of Waterford Institution of Technology’s Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Agricultural Science degree programme. I enrolled in the course in 2020 and will graduate in 2024.
Furthemore, I have not completed my work placement module yet as that is in the third year of my course.
But, when the time comes, I would like to go out to New Zealand to experience farming on a global stage.
I want to venture outside of suckler farming and investigate the dairy industry. I have milked cows with a neighbour a few times, and I would like to learn more about that side of the industry.
Overall, I am finding the course good and very interesting. The mixture of being in WIT and in Kildalton Agricultural College means we are learning about various topics. WIT focuses on the course’s science side, while Kildalton covers the practical elements.
WIT was my first choice on my CAO. Firstly, I selected this course as it was a broad programme that covers many different topics.
I did not want to go into a specialised course straight away, as I wanted to keep all my doors open for the future.
I do not have any set plans as to what I will do straight away after college. However, I would like to go into either agricultural advisory, focusing on the environment/sustainability or possibly teaching after this course. I want to try to experience all parts of the agricultural sector.
Thankfully this year, I am back on campus full-time for my course. During my first year in 2020, I was online for mostly everything.
It was tough doing my first year of college on a computer. We all missed out on having the craic and making new friends. This year has been a lot better.
Women in ag
From my experience, I have always been treated the same as my male counterparts. This is shown on the farm at home, which me and my brother, Aaron, both farm on with our family.
We were never treated differently. If he was told to carry a bucket, I would be told to carry a bucket. If I was told to stand in a gap, he would be standing in the other gap.
I feel that, in recent years, women are getting recognition in the agricultural sector.
It is a topic that people like to discuss a lot in recent times. I feel just because I am a woman does not mean I have to prove anything more than what anybody else has to in this industry.
If you work hard either on the farm or in industry, everyone should get the same recognition regardless of gender.
I think other women encouraging other women in this sector can help a lot. Younger girls seeing older girls succeed in this industry is great and can encourage them to bite the bullet and do what they love.
A woman should consider a career in agriculture for the same reasons a man can too.
If you have a love for the home farm, animals, the environment or even machinery, I think anyone who wants to work hard can be in this sector.
Besides, there are a lot of girls in my course; I would say it is 50/50 women and men.
I plan to travel. I may further my studies if I wish to go down a certain route in the ag sector, such as teaching, or to just specialise in a topic I enjoy a lot, such as animal breeding or the environment/sustainability.
As a woman in agriculture, I would like to further my education and apply to the farm at home and in the industry by making a change to the environment to make it more sustainable for the agricultural sector to be profitable.
The industry is filled with many like-minded people who are passionate and enthusiastic about their work. Therefore, if you have a passion for agriculture, go for it; there are many routes you can go down,” the WIT student concluded.
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