Life on a Family Farm


Catherina Cunnane interviews Mary Smyth for insight into running a family farm!

Life on a Family Farm

  • ADDED
  • 3 years ago

Catherina Cunnane interviews Mary Smyth for insight into running a family farm!

Mary Symth actively farms with her son and husband in Co. Longford.

Each of the parties involved in the running of the family farm have their own various roles and responsibilities.

Mary’s responsibility is managing the administrative side of the farm, including the registration and record keeping for sheep and cattle, in addition to monitoring animal medical records.

Her son monitors the business element of the farm as a whole, alongside her husband. This ranges from financial management, enforcing requirements under governmental schemes and the introduction of new farming methods, which derived from his degree in agriculture.

Mary’s husband is deemed the manager and monitors the livestock on a daily basis including animal welfare and breeding strategies, in addition to monitoring the business element of the farm, along their son. His years of experience in the agricultural sector prove to be very beneficial.

‘I grew up on a drystock farm myself, so I have always had a keen interest in farming from a young age. Then I married my husband who was a farmer which allowed me to keep my interest active. The present farm is over 90 years in the family my son is the third generation. To date, I have been farming for 50 years on and off.’ Mary explained.

‘We run a suckler/beef farm. Calves are usually weaned at six months of age. We also buy in additional weanlings for the Winter housing period, then graze all during the summer period before marketing the cattle the following September. We also farm a crossbred Suffolk sheep herd with Suffolk and Texel rams. Lambing commences in late December to early January, with all lambs sold off at the local market,’ she continued.

Mary’s speciality tends to be cats and pet lambs and like the majority of females involved in the agricultural industry, her caring nature comes into play, when young lambs have to be reared.

‘I bottle feed pet lambs with milk replacer if they are orphaned or if we were unable to foster them to another sheep. I also tube feed weak calves. Cats are on the farm for vermin control, although I tend to spoil them due to my own personal love for them. However my life tends to revolve around endless paperwork and keeping the dog, who I deem a wolf, from torturing my cats,’ Mary said.

Mary and her family are participants in the new Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).

‘My son has a keen interest in all areas of agriculture, particularly areas that the scheme focuses on. We think it’s a good scheme, as it strives to improve the overall breeding quality of the herd going forward. It also aims to produce beef animals that have better efficient feed conversion rates and animals that reach target slaughter weights earlier, resulting in financial savings for the farm long-term. However, with these schemes comes an additional workload for farmers, which may deter some from participating,’ Mary added.

She continued to say that her farm has ‘qualified for the BDGP 2018 €uro-Star requirements which is great, and we are looking on track to have over 60% of our herd 4 and 5 star by 2020. We have recently purchased a 5 star replacement and 4 star terminal genotyped Pedigree Charolais bull. The aim will be to be producing 4 and 5 star replacement heifers over the years to come in addition to selling additional 4 and 5 star heifers for breeding purposes,’ she said.

For Mary, the most enjoyable aspect of farming is the peace and tranquillity that farming life has to offer on a daily basis. Watching animals grow and develop from calving or lambing right through to the grazing period in the summer is something she receives great satisfaction from.

However, early morning lambings and calvings, especially during cold wintery nights, can prove to be rather difficult for Mary. She told Catherina that it is difficult to meet the ever-growing farm regulations.

Catherina asked Mary for her thoughts on the whole aspect of farming as a family.

‘I hope that my son will carry on into the next generation. Everyone is happy to help out and we all have a genuine love for it. In order to encourage my son’s interest from a tender age, we attended numerous agricultural shows and pet farms, which helped him to appreciate what we were doing at home.’

Mary believes that giving children responsibilities and delegating tasks to them from a young age allows them to build up an understanding of the farm which they can carry forward and improve on. She strongly feels that allowing younger generations to have their farming ideas heard and acted on will make them feel appreciated and wanted on the farm.

One month ago, Mary, her son and her daughter established a Facebook page to write about what she calls ‘her farming adventure’. It was initially established purely for entertainment purposes; however it has proven to be a popular hit among both farming and non-farming community members. Followers stretch as far as North and South America, New Zealand, Australia, France, Jordan, Japan and a little closer to home in England.

Apart from the obvious reasons behind the name, in the eyes of Mary and her family, every day is described as an ‘adventure’, with no two days the same.

‘I enjoy the versatility of farming. When I say no two days are the same, let me give our most recent example. Today we were looking for ‘Shaun the sheep’. We had only recently sold two of her lambs when she took off with the remaining one down the fields, so we had to go look for them. Tomorrow it will be something different.’ Mary said.

She continued: ‘We tend to post about the activities that occur on the farm and usually update it once or twice daily, depending on how busy we are. It depends on the day really. Last week we were doing silage, and then bailing. At the moment it’s dosing time for us. Obviously later in the year we were covering calving, then lambing etc. If we are attending agricultural shows or open days that will be covered as well.’

Quotable Quote from Mary:

‘How do you make a million on farming? Start with two million and work your ass off!’

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