Farm Ireland

Sunday 20 August 2017

Cavan farmer on managing a 300-sow piggery as well as sheep and sucklers

My week... Catherine McCollum

Catherine McCollum with her daughters Rachel and Sarah on the land in Milltown, Belturbet, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Catherine McCollum with her daughters Rachel and Sarah on the land in Milltown, Belturbet, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Ken Whelan

Former Macra Queen of the Land, Catherine McCollum is a farmer through and through.

She is currently developing a new farm near Belturbet in Cavan with her partner Noel, as well as helping her dad Howard and brother John on the home farm in Ballyhaise.

And when her maternity leave is completed in a few months time, she will also be returning to the Cavan Institute where she lectures on animal care and management.

At the moment the 38-year-old's main priority is her eight-month-old daughter Rachel, her sister Sarah (2) and sorting out the paperwork for the two farms.

Catherine, who has an Ag degree from Queen's University in Belfast, is a firth generation farmer. Currently there is a 300-sow piggery on the 60ac home farm, as well as sheep and sucklers, and on the additional leased land nearby in Ballyhaise.

With her partner, Noel, Catherine is developing a smaller unit in Belturbet (20ac at the moment) which will be strictly a sheep and Aberdeen Angus enterprise with some 80 ewes already in situ.

The McCollums sell their pigs to Grants of Derry, sucklers to Liffey Meats and sheep to Kepak.

Catherine's personal favourites are the pigs. And that's despite the fact that rearing pigs for the market today is "very stressful" given the tightness of the margins in the sector.

"Prices going down and costs going up," Catherine explains on the stresses, "but I have always loved the pigs.

"They are intriguing animals - inquisitive, fast learners, clever and always investigating their surroundings."

Despite this, she adds that the McCollums are considering destocking the pigs for a while because of the tight margins.

Pigs or no pigs, the McCollum farming tradition is guaranteed to go into the sixth generation with two year old Sarah already out and about on the farms and completely taken by the sheep.

"Sarah is just mad about the sheep. She spends all her time with them on the farm."

Catherine retains very fond memories of her time as Macra Queen of the Land back in 2004.

"It wasn't the Rose of Tralee and you weren't opening festivals every other day during your reign but it was a great personal experience. Macra is a great organisation and it is great for the personal development of rural youngsters. I still do judging for them at their events and really enjoy it," she says.

When I then ask what she does in her spare time - should she ever encounter some of that elusive commodity - Catherine's list of activities extends further.

"I like rugby, I played for Cavan town at No 10 when I was younger but when I was playing at No 15 I got the idea that the team manager was suggesting the sideline. I like hill walking and gardening," she continues and then, just as you think that is surely enough to be going on with, she adds: "Oh will you tell your photographer to ring me before she comes - I will be out on Thursday getting my nails and make-up done for my sister Deborah's wedding in the Crover House on Lough Sheelin at the weekend."

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