I first met Catherina of Derrybrack Aubracs on twitter and was struck by her enthusiasm for her beloved Aubrac cattle. It all stemmed from a win of an Aubrac calf some years ago. She is hugely passionate about farming and bodes well for Ireland’s future farmers if many of them are as enthusiastic as Catherina.
1. Hi Catherina, do tell us about your background and location please.
I’m 16, from?Co. Mayo and I’m the eldest of two sisters and one brother.
We have a beef farm, consisting of Pedigree Aubrac and Aubrac Crossbred Sucklers, but also have some other breeds such as Limousins, and Simmentals, Shorthorns and we breed these with the Aubrac and they are an impressive Cross! Our farm is a family farm, my dad is a full time farmer and I’m in secondary school.
2. I know you are hugely enthusiastic about Aubracs and yet you’re not farming with them that long. What sparked your interest in this breed?
?We were introduced into the Aubrac Breed in 2009, when a close family friend Francis Donohoe of Johnstown Aubracs, Mullingar. Co Westmeath introduced us to the breed. He was ?introduced to the breed in France in 2004 when he went in search of a ‘perfect suckler cow’. He stumbled across fields of what appeared to be a field of perfect suckler cows ?in the Massif region, and they happened to be ?Aubracs.
Before this I had quite briefly come across the Aubrac breed in 2006 when I was 8 Years Old. At the age of 8 you think that my bed time reading would be fairytales , but my bed- time reading consisted of flicking through the Farmers Journal and AI Catalogues, and it was then that I stumbled across AI Aubrac Sires.
In 2010, on a typical sale day we went to our local mart, Balla Mart, and by chance there was some Aubrac Crossbred Heifers. We took the risk and purchased the heifers. It really was a risk as we had just heard of this breed and had no experience or knowledge whatsoever with the breed. We purchased a Pedigree Aubrac Stockbull from Johnstown Aubracs, and he bred 3 impressive crops of calves for us, both commercial and pedigrees. My interest was starting to grow in the breed. Before this I had been really interested in other breeds from the age of 5, but Aubracs just seemed to stand out by far, and tick every box! To me, they were an extremely impressive breed of cattle in a league of their own.
In 2011, I entered the Irish Farmers Journal Heifer and Hogget Competition, which was held on 11th Aug at the Tullamore Show . It really was the start of a bright future for me.
I was one many young farmers who entered the competition aged 10-18. I was lucky enough to be a shortlisted candidate in the 10-14 Breed Category.We were interviewed by judges of many breed societies, and although I thought that I didn’t stand a chance, I walked away with an Aubrac Crossbred Heifer, whom I later called her ‘Tullabelle’.
Picking the ‘Aubrac ‘ scroll out of the hat, really was an encouraging experience, and it really felt like it was meant to be.
Also at the Tullamore Show, I won a competition with the Irish aubrac Society which allowed me to get a discount for my first years’ membership with the Society.?It was from then on, that we became known as ‘Derrybrack Aubracs’.
In early 2012, I decided to take to social media to promote ‘Derrybrack Aubracs’ . I made a Facebook Account, Twitter Account and Instagram Account all in one day. I am blogging about the Aubracs
On a regular basis, every couple of hours I update these accounts. I end up Tweeting, Facebooking Instagraming , and it is all possible whether I am at a mart, in a field, in the tractor, in the jeep, at the factory… anywhere really, it really would surprise you! I could be stuck in many inches of muck and gutter, in the middle of nowhere and still have an internet connection, so I can easily access my followers. I might not exactly be your typical teenager, but I really do enjoy what I do!
?The Aubrac breed was first introduced into Ireland in 1992, when there was a first importation of Aubrac embryos. With a huge generation of interest in the breed, in 1998, the Irish Aubrac Cattle Society was established. There are now 127 pedigree breeders here in Ireland.
Since our first introduction to the Aubrac Breed, we have expanded our herd. We now have over 70 Pedigree Aubracs and Aubrac Crosses. ?We also seek advice from a French AI Specialist from Midatest in France (Midatest is like the Irish Tully Test Centre) who suggests top AI Sires for our Aubrac Cows & Heifers! We are spending the next number of years,putting this Maternal Breeding Programme into action. We recently have put our order in for some French AI Straws,and we are patiently awaiting these crop of calves in 2015 & 2016.
We find the Aubrac Breed perfect, in terms of Maternal and Terminal Traits! We find they are economical, profitable, easy managed- very docile, short gestations, excellent milk abilities, maternal, high fertility, easy calving,and excellent kill out results. The Aubrac is the nearest to perfect that we have came across and we are extremely impressed with their performance and success for us.
3. What do you think of some of the succession issues being talked about at the moment, particularly the fact that some parents are resistant to the idea of daughters rather than son inheriting??
I think that farmers make themselves too restricted when it comes to decision making. I think it is important that farmers, encourage their sons and daughters into agriculture, as I personally find it an amazing way of life.
I think that some farers don’t take female farmers very seriously, and sometimes consider them ‘out of place’.?I know that in my local area,it is very rare that you come across a female farmer. So the majority of farmers in my area would be quite surprised to see me out the field with my father and the cattle.
I think it is important that farmers leave the traditional image of ‘Male Farmers Only’ behind, and be accepting of other options.?In my area, there are no young female farmers the same age as me, so it is quite difficult at times.?However,my career is going to be farming, I can see myself doing nothing but farming because that is where my interest lies and it has been from a very young age.
My Dad is very supportive of my interest in agriculture, and always gives me great tips, advice and encouragement. I feel, it was him that is in fact responsible for my interest because ever since I could walk, he brought me out on the farm to see the cows & calves. Everything that I do, he is very supportive of me, and I am very grateful for this. Everyone needs a little encouragement.
4. What challenges have you faced in farming this year?
The biggest challenge that was have faced this year in farming, would be the tight beef factories specifications.?It is definitely something every beef farmer in the country has experienced, and this issue is still ongoing. A solution needs to be found.
Also I feel that farm safety is yet another issue that other farm- families seem to have . It is absolutely tragic to hear how how young farmers are involved in such tragedies on the farm.
The issue of farm safety needs to be addressed, and if all possible it needs to be introduced into Education in the School Curriculum . People need to be aware of the dangers there are involved in farming, and at all costs these tragedies need to be avoided.
5. What do you love most about farming?
I love everything & anything about farming! Living in the country and ?being a country girl gives me great satisfaction.?Attending Agricultural shows, Breeding Seminars, Local Livestock Marts, and Irish Aubrac Society Meetings truly are some enjoyable places to attend.
I love going out on the farm, petting the cattle and the occasional halter-training session too!
My Cattle are my prized-possessions, and I really do get too attached to them. So being on a Beef Farm, producing cattle for the factory is something I find difficult, but eventually overcome thankfully. ?I enjoy meeting with other farmers, but unfortunately there aren’t any young female farmers in the areas, so this is difficult.
However, being part of the Aubrac Society, allows me to meet with other Breeders, and we chat about Aubracs. It is enjoyable, as I could talk all hours about cattle.
6. What’s a typical day for you?
Up at?7:30?on a school morning, and a quick look around to see some of the cattle close- by.?Off to school and I’m home at?4:00. I do my homework?quickly and spend the rest of the evening farming. It might involve going to a breeding seminar, Aubrac meeting, the mart (Tuesday Evening (depending on the time of year) , and all ?day Saturday ) feeding the cattle, helping a neighbour with the farm.. I’ll go at any job really anything to do with cattle.
Throughout the day, I’ll update ‘Derrybrack Aubracs’ with photos, links, videos, information, anything really that I feel will be of interest to my followers.
I also spend a lot of time during the week on websites such as ICBF recording information about our cattle.?I do as much paperwork as I can – ?updating the Herd Register, Registering calves online, Printing off movements, form- filling, Aubrac Society Documentation for Derrybrack Aubracs. ?Anything really as ?I like paperwork!
7. Lots of people find the isolation of farming a challenge – do you? ?Do you think you would find it a challenge in the future, ie when you have finished school and college?
Hopefully I won’t ?experience the issue of farm isolation. I think that completing my education- Second Level and Third Level Education will hopefully allow me to meet many other younger farmers, so hopefully the issue of farm isolation will be avoided.Also it is definitely a help, that there are another 126 members of the Aubrac Society, we are like a big family really!
Next year, I hope to Join Macra Na Feirme, which I am really looking forward to!?When I turn 18 I hope to join the IFA as well.
8. There’s lot of challenges for beef farmers this year between price, weight restrictions and a young age cap on bulls. What do you think beef farmers can / should do?
We are one of many beef farmers that have suffered as a result of the tight beef factories specifications this year regarding age, and weight restrictions.?The cattle markets definitely have changed, and it is a controversial issue regarding is it ?better or worse?
We need to produce the cattle the markets are demanding, and if we don’t, we are going to be at a loss. ?I think the factories need to be a lot fairer to the Irish farmers. A possible suggestion would for the factories, to put themselves in the shoes of their producers, and try to understand how difficult it maybe for Beef farmers to produce with the tight specifications regarding weight, and age limits. Bull- Beef Producers are definitely experiencing a difficult challenge when bulls have to be finished under 16 Months, but also have to be the correct carcass weight(Under 380KG) ?and restrictions are in place in terms of EU Classification (Grade) and Fat Class Conformation. It really is difficult to get all of these things correct.
Organisations need to come together, and bind ?some sort of agreement, to be a lot fairer to Irish Farmers.
The majority of Irish Farmers are full- time, and are supporting a family. Full-Time Farmers at the end of each week don’t get any payslips, so their income is unpredictable especially with Beef Factory Specifications.
Farmers need to speak out more, and should definitely express their angry feelings towards the factories. More groups and organisations should be established for the benefit of farmers to speak out and to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions.
These groups and organisations would not only benefit farmers with beef factory issues , but could also prevent the issue of isolation involved with farming, as they would be regularly communicating.
9. How do you see social media benefiting farmers? What benefits do you get from it?
Social Media definitely benefits farmers. From my experience of promoting Derrybrack Aubracs
to date, it lets me to access farmers at a local, national and international level. It has allowed me to talk to people from all over.
I have come in contact with people that have now gained an interest in Aubrac Cattle, but also Aubrac Breeders in other Irish counties and Countries such as Germany, France, Spain,and America. Also by using social media such as Twitter especially the Tweeting Farmer Initiative in September 2013 and August 2014, It definitely shows how ?Social Media and Farming can go together successfully.
With the keen interest in cattle breeding, that I have, I can follow updates from AI Stations in Ireland and France such as Progressive Genetics, NCBC, Munster AI, Dovea Genetics,Bova AI and Midatest France It is really interesting that at the click of a button you can access so much information about AI Bulls and their progeny. It is especially interesting when I would spend hours upon hours, checking their bulls on ICBF and in AI Catalogues.
Social Media benefits for me:
I had a recent encountering ?at Tullamore Show. One person in particular(whom I had never met before) asked another ?Aubrac Society Member ‘Who was Derrybrack Aubracs?’ The person said that had been following Derrybrack Aubracs online for sometime now, and have decided to buy some Aubrac Cattle.
I was so gobsmacked!
10. As a young female farmer, if you were to give someone else a piece of advice, what would it be?
As a young female farmer, I believe everyone should just follow their dreams, the sky is the limit! It something is meant to be, it is going to happen!
Life is like a long rollercoaster, a series of twists and bends, ups, and downs, so if you want to do something just do it & go with your heart!
If you are a female and have an interest in Agriculture just go for it! Take an Ag Course and go for gold! Some of the best farmers in the world are females… that’s what so many male farmers tell me anyway 😉
My hopes to the future:
Working closely with the Aubrac Society, Promoting Aubrac Cattle and Derrybrack Aubracs. Complete Second Level and get a qualification in Ag- and specialise in Bovine Genetics.
Hopefully show Aubracs at local ag shows in 2015 / 2016! (Something I have been meaning to do for sometime now )
‘The Farmer has to be an optimist or they wouldn’t still be a farmer’
?Brian Brett once said: ?Farming is a profession of hope?