Shauna Begley may only be 23-years-old but she already has a suckler herd and sheep flock to her name.
The Garrygort, Milford, Co. Donegal native completed her second-level studies in 2013 and spent the following year working on the family farm.The flock – which is managed by her father and two brothers – comprises of Lanark and Perth-type sheep.
“I took a gap year and by the end of 2014, I knew what direction I wanted to go,” Shauna told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“I bought my first Texels at an in-lamb sale and then branched into cattle at a later stage; it all snowballed from there.”
Shauna secured a full-time position in a factory – which she continues to hold to this day – which allowed her to invest in land and livestock.
She leased land in the area and eventually purchased approximately 12-acres by auction in 2017 and acquired her own herd number.
The 23-year-old aims to breed well-conformed cows that not only have shape but also height and calving ease; they are bred to AI Belgian Blue and Limousin sires.
The majority of her cows are Belgian-Blue-crosses – two of which are registered under the Garrygort prefix.“I’ve always loved the breed - they're quiet to work with and have superior terminal traits.”
“2018 was the first year I had one born into the herd - it was like hitting the jackpot when we realised it was a heifer calf and she was identical to her mother,” Shauna said.
The autumn-calving herd comprises of twelve cattle in total; cows are tied in cubicles.“Cows are put in a pen twice-a-day to suck the calves; this starts from about 1-week-old.”
“The calves have a bedded pen to themselves; that way we can introduce concentrates to the diet at an early stage.”
“This system breaks the cow/calf bond which helps cows return to heat quicker.” She added.
Shauna founded Garrygort Texels with her neighbour; she has plans to establish Glenalla Texels later this year.
Ram lambs usually remain on-farm until they reach twelve-months of age when they are sold for breeding purposes. Ewe lambs are either retained as replacements or offered for sale as dry hoggets or when in-lamb – depending on the animal.
“I’ve always been a fan of Texels - much like the Belgian Blue, they have a shape and docility factor that you don’t get in just any animal.”
“They’re easy to work with and easy to keep; surprisingly, I've found they suit the land here better than the horned sheep.”
Along with farming cattle and sheep, Shauna also has a miniature pig, pygmy goats, a miniature horse, dogs, cats and poultry.“I keep a mix of different animals here – it’s almost like a petting zoo.” She laughed.
“I’ve always looked at farming as a hobby more so than a career. I've never been in it for the money but if you made a bit that was always a bonus.”
Shauna is keen to keep the family tradition alive as five generations of the Begley family have farmed in this part of The Hills.
“I started farming when I was a toddler – I never left my Dad’s side”
“I looked after any pet lamb that came in my direction when I was a child. Over two decades later and I still flying the flag for women in agriculture.”
Women in Ag
Shauna believes that, in general, women in Irish farming are visible and valued in the same way as their male counterparts.
She said that some farmers will question ownership when she is buying and/or selling animals.
“There have been times when Dad and I have visited farms to view potential purchases. He usually goes back to the car before money is being discussed.”
“Some farmers are surprised when they find out that I don’t need Dad’s opinion when closing the deal.”
“I can be a price maker too – Dad always says that if an animal is good enough for me, then it is good enough for him too.”
Looking forward, the Donegal native will continue to grow her enterprise and work off-farm; she may further her studies in the future.
She hopes to expand her herd size and retain the current bloodlines which are proving to be rather promising.
“The dream is to run a herd of pedigree Belgian Blues. My foundation female is a fantastic breeder – she is adding muscle and height to her progeny.”
“Farming is all I’ve ever known and I wouldn’t change it, although it can be testing at times,”
“It’s the little things that make it worthwhile - lambing skipping or cows doing full circuits around the field when they are turned out after the winter,” Shauna concluded.
If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story, email – email@example.com – with a short bio.