For Miriam and Rachel Hastings, “every day can be a school day”, as they navigate a life that is full to the brim with both learning and teaching and, of course, farming.
They farm with their parents, Claude and Monica, in Ballyforan, located on the Galway/Roscommon border. With the farm being “on our doorstep” at the family home, they have been “accustomed to farming life from a very young age”.
‘The French would call us zoo farmers’
“From when we could walk, we were out and about on the farm. From this, we have great childhood memories of farming; from rearing our own bucket-fed calves, to forking in silage, to helping to move wire. We were encouraged from a young age to help out on the farm,” Miriam explains.
“Our pure-bred herd comprises of mostly Charolais cattle with a few pure-bred Limousins. We also have a few new additions of pure-bred Shorthorn cows.
“Our commercial herd has a variety of breeds [the French would call us zoo farmers – a little bit of every breed] – Charolais X, Limousin X, Simmental X, Hereford X…our stock bull is a pure-bred Charolais bull.
We love the Charolais breed as they have good confirmation, a fast growth rate, lean carcasses and, most importantly, docile.
“The calving difficulty is usually quite high for Charolais cattle, however, the bull in which we bred ourselves is very easy calving.
“By cross-breeding the Charolais bull with own suckler cows, they produce muscular, quick growing rate calves. By cross-breeding the pure-bred Charolais bull or AI [artificial insemination] Charolais bulls with own pure-bred Charolais cows, we can produce white/cream coloured calves which are strong and muscular.”
‘A bit Charolais/Charollais obsessed’
For the sheep enterprise, they mainly have Lleyn cross ewes and other lowland cross sheep. This year, they are introducing a native breed, Galway.
We are currently excited waiting for their offspring to arrive. The ram we use is a Charollais ram [a bit Charolais/Charollais obsessed].
“He is also easy lambing. The ram was purchased from a local breeder who was registered with Sheep Ireland. The sheep breeding season starts in October. We are currently about to start lambing.”
The sisters are very passionate about breeding, along with new advancements in farming.
“The herd is involved in the ICBF HerdPlus Programme. This shows the ‘Euro-Star’ indexes of each animal.
For us, is it especially important for the sale of their pure bred Charolais bulls and heifers. Four and five [star] bulls are more saleable as farmers require a four or a five bull to comply with BDGP requirements.
“When using AI, we enjoy selecting and choosing the bull that will best suit the cow/heifer, as well as taking into consideration their bloodlines.
“We enjoy bringing new ideas, products and breeds onto the farm. We are lucky that our parents are always very supportive when we suggest new ideas and they take them on board.
“We use, for example, the Moocall when calving; Kamar Patch for heat detection; and introduced this year feeding Sealac to the animals.
“Unfortunately, we usually gain our new knowledge from attending agricultural events such as the Ploughing, however, Covid-19 has put these events on hold.”
‘Every day can be a school day’
Despite this, they, of all people, know how to keep learning.
Miriam has her Green Cert and Rachel will be beginning her Green Cert this coming September, having just recently completed a master’s degree. Along with this, they are both teachers, working from home since January.
“Farming did instil us with the qualities a teacher needs: patience; being calm; being a good problem-solver; being adaptable; and being able to adjust to the changing times.
We have been teachers since being in primary school if you include teaching calves how to drink from buckets and lambs how to suck…much harder than teaching children!
“We are both passionate about helping others and I suppose from farming from a young age, this is naturally in us as we always help our animals in any way possible on our farm. We also love educating others and enjoy seeing our students progess and learn throughout the year.”
Pink JFC barrow and wellies
As women, the sisters feel that they haven’t faced many challenges – “as locally, people know we have been actively involved in our family farm all our lives”.
“When we go into our local agri-store, Greenes of Ahascragh, the staff never question our orders despite the one time we requested they order in a pink JFC barrow for us!
“They didn’t nearly believe us that they came in pink [the pink colour had only been launched]!
Our local contractors always have great respect for us in addition to our AI technician and our local vets. They all know that we are capable of assisting them in their work.
“However, when going to any mart, we often get a look or two when walking around the pens wearing pink wellies or when we raise our hand to bid.
“We will never forget the time Rachel, mam and I went to a mart to buy our first pedigree Charolais cows and heifers. We will never forget the looks some men gave us when we actually started bidding and buying!
“However, seeing that we were well capable of reversing in the trailer and loading them ourselves, they soon [saw] how capable we were, and how capable women can be.”
Be sure to follow AgriLand on Instagram to see the Hastings in action tomorrow morning.