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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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‘The farm makes me a small profit each year’ – 22-year-old part-time farmer

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with young farmer, Keith Whyte (22), Newbridge, Kildare, in this week’s Farmer Focus.

“My interest in farming began in childhood. I was always very interested in farms and machines, and I was introduced to the sheep sector at a very young age as my uncle, Joe, always kept a handful of sheep.

Am I a first-generation farmer, Joe always had a few sheep, and he acquired a long-term lease of commonage ground which I took over at the age of 16 when we went from having a few sheep to building up the flock and introducing a few pedigree breeds.

I then went on to acquire more ground which I rent long-term myself.

I kept replacement ewe lambs each year to build up flock numbers, and I went to a lot of marts where over time, I built up flock numbers which currently stand at about 80 breeding ewes and 3 rams, and I always have a handful of ram lambs which I fatten and send to the mart.

Alongside building up my farm, I have always worked in the thoroughbred industry as a stud hand and went on to become a stallion handler.

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Farming life 

I have always been working full-time to make money to build up the farm. I obtained my flock number at age 18 and my herd number for cattle when I was 20.

My fiancée, Kate, has a huge part in the farm in the day-to-day runnings of the farm and the health of the animals. My great uncle, Joe, also has a great interest in farming and helps take care of feeding and selling the animals.

At the moment, I am part-time farming as I am also working to earn more money to put into building the farm and saving money to invest back into the farm.

I own 6.5-acres of ground at the moment and am currently renting a further 28-acres.

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Dairy calf-to-beef

At the moment, I am rearing a handful of Friesian bull calves from calves to beef; I usually buy a few calves in the springtime and fatten them over the summer and sell them off before the winter around October time.

I also have two pedigree Hereford heifers who are in-calf to Angus bulls, and we will be calving them in May.

We chose Angus bulls this year for heifers to have an easy first calving experience; next year, we plan to put Hereford bulls to them to have pedigree calves on the ground.

I have only recently gotten into farming cattle in the last two years; it started with rearing calves, and then I kept two of those calves, which are now in-calf themselves.

I am breeding my own cattle to try and keep a better quality animal to them to rear on to beef.

Sheep farming 

On the sheep side of things, I have recently gotten into pedigree sheep to maximize profits from lambs. I have expanded into pedigree Texels and Jacobs alongside our flock of commercial Cheviot ewes.

In total,I have some pedigree Texel ram lambs, which I will be selling as hoggets next year; likewise, with pedigree Jacobs, they will be held until next year.

I have about 20 commercial ram lambs also, which are a cross of Suffolk, Cheviot, Kerry Hill and mountain-type lambs and will sell those ram lambs in the next couple of weeks.

Lambing happens from February right through until May- we start with the pedigree flock of Texel and Jacob ewes to give them and their progeny our full attention and to help them lamb successfully.

The commercial flock lamb from March through to April, and we finish up in May with lambing our ewe lambs from the previous year to give them time to mature to lamb successfully. This means they are roughly 14 months when they lamb for the first time.

Besides our cattle and sheep, we have two Thoroughbred breeding mares, from which we have one foal from them this year, and we plan to sell him on at the national hunt foal sales in December.

I do not receive any farming payments as I have not had the chance to complete the Green Cert due to having to work.

At the moment, the farm makes me a small profit each year, which is starting to build as I invest more into the farm each year.

Gaining access to land 

The biggest obstacle I have faced as a young farmer would be trying to gain ground for grazing and trying to compete with the bigger farmers, as my competitors are very challenging as a young farmer.

At the moment, inflation is a problem for farmers as the price of everything has increased, such as feed. Factory and mart prices have not increased enough to make a healthy profit.

What I like most about farming is being outdoors and being around animals. I also have a strong passion for sheepdogs, so I love to farm the land and work alongside my dog, Lil.

I bought Lil two years ago from a good sheepdog trainer, and she has strong breeding with lines, including Ballyglass Lassie and Karven Dave. Lil is one of my strongest assets on the farm.

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I am happy with what I have managed to build on my own so far in terms of the herd and flock size. However, I would like to continue to expand numbers to where it is profitable to farm full-time in the future.

I would like to expand the cattle side of things a bit more, and I would like to see my suckler herd grow to where I am producing the best quality animal for beef so I can get higher margins.

The future of farming in this country, in my opinion, is very tough. To increase the number of young farmers in the country, there would have to be a limit put on the larger scale farmers in terms of ground and numbers of animals for the young smaller farmer to grow and be profitable.

I do not think farmers are rewarded enough for the quality they are producing at all.

It is very difficult to breed a top-quality animal with the current prices of feed, land and fertiliser, which are all involved in the quality of how the animal is produced.

To date, I am happy with the farm I have built up, and I am delighted to get into the cattle side as I enjoy farming cattle, and they tend to have better profit margins than sheep.

Kate is currently pregnant with our son; she is due in December. Down the line, I hope to farm alongside my son and hopefully be able to hand him down a successful and profitable farm when it is his time to take over.”

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