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Farming heroes of Covid-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 has significantly affected all aspects of our lives, especially within our farming community as we deal with marts being cancelled, a loss of income due to restaurants and cafes being closed and workers self-isolating at home.

Dautespite these challenges, farming spirit remains high and families work hard to keep us all fed. Some are going above and beyond, rapidly changing how they operate whilst also helping the vulnerable. We caught up with one truly inspirational family about how they have been affected...

Meet the Cherry’s

Like many part-time farmers here in Northern Ireland, Ryan and Joanne Cherry run a farm in their spare time. This has been particularly difficult in recent months however as they also work full-time as frontline doctors in the NHS.

Owning a farm was but a dream for Ryan and Joanne but that all changed back in 2011 when they discovered Tullyreagh Farm in Ballymena by chance when friends mentioned a “wee farm for sale with 20 acres of good ground…and the rest was history.”

They currently have a suckler beef herd - Aberdeen Angus and Simmentals. Most of their herd is kept for 20 months, averaging about 380KG. Recently, the couple purchased a stabiliser bull of their own and they are still currently calving his first set of calves this Spring.

In addition to cattle, they also have a few free-range chickens and several pheasant pens plus their two four-legged hairy companions, Jake and Elwood, who are both aged 11.

So, what is a typical day?

“We don’t have a typical day, per se” says Ryan. We can understand why!

Joanne is an anaesthetist working the Belfast Trust and Ryan is an acute physician in the Antrim Area. Having studied in Scotland and worked as doctors in England for many years, Antrim called them back home where they settled down and did a little extra studying at CAFRE in beef farming.

Whilst the daily schedule changes, most mornings start with “quick check of the stock” then the majority of the daily farm chores are done in the evening after their long shifts in the hospital. Ryan works a four-day week enabling him to spend the rest of the week doing more intensive work like fertilising, spreading the slurry and bringing in the silage.

Finishing up on the farm in the evening can be anywhere between 9pm to midnight, depending on the season and what is happening before a well-deserved cuppa to finish off the day.

What challenges have you faced throughout this pandemic?

Like us all, they have found the non-essentials supplies harder to come by. Even without Covid-19, calving is always pretty stressful but for the first time, they installed CCTV into the calving pens. Ryan told us, “It’s the first time in a long time we aren’t sleeping in our defender waiting to see what a heifer is going do in the middle of the night, when she takes sick to calve”.

For Ryan and Joanne who have been on the front line throughout, Covid-19 has meant a significant change to their working pattern due to the huge amount of uncertainty. Despite this, they luckily had the slurry out and annual TB testing completed the week prior to lockdown.

Has your local community been a support?

In the last few weeks, Ryan and Joanne told us they have seen local communities challenge this crisis hands-on, supporting the vulnerable, staying at home and providing flexibility to key workers like them so they can do their jobs.

Ryan and Joanne’s neighbours have been hugely supportive of the fantastic work they have been doing. They have had several offers of support and even received homemade wheaten loaves and yummy pavlovas so they don’t need to cook when they come back from a long shift at the hospital.

Ryan says the farming community in particular has been supportive including their local vets who have been a “huge help and very understanding of our position”, often having to contact them out of hours. They also very grateful for their family, particularly Ryan’s uncle Ivan who “has been a huge help to us in the last nine years in building up our farm and passing on invaluable knowledge of the day-to-day running and skills required for good stockmanship…we definitely could not cope without him”.

A huge thank you

Like many of you out there, Ryan and Joanne’s adaptability and resilience truly showcases what our farming community is all about and highlights just how lucky we are to have people like them in our community and working for our NHS.

We truly miss being out and about on the farms meeting our customers. So we would love to hear your inspirational stories of hope and strength, and help spread a little more positivity across our amazing farming community during this uncertain time.

If you know of any #FarmHeroes in your community who are battling on despite the huge setbacks, please get in touch with us as we would love to share your story.

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