A young farmer overcomes deaf challenges to win a prize


Catherine Grier, a woman from Donegal, overcame the challenges posed by her deafness to become the first woman to receive the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (HFA) grant.

The 21-year-old dedicated the award to her late grandfather, Ivan Grier. The judges were impressed with his detailed knowledge and in-depth understanding of dairy farming.

Catherine, from Ramelton, graduated from Gurteen Agricultural College in County Tipperary in May 2021, with an advanced certificate in dairy herd management.

She is currently a student at Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) pursuing an honors degree in Agricultural Science, specializing in animal and crop production. She is currently on internship at Killygorden, where she works in the raw milk and microbiology labs.

A busy life

It’s a busy life for Catherine, who helps milk 50 mostly purebred Holstein cows on the family’s 200-acre, all-owned farm, 50 of which are the dairy pasture rig and the rest are for silage and the grazing of young animals.

“About 70% of the herd is calved in the spring and the remaining 30% [will calve] in autumn. All heifers are kept and bred, some will remain as replacements and others will be sold in the future as the herd size increases,” Catherine said.

“My ideal type of cow would be a sturdy, medium sized cow with lots of milking strength, with good feet and legs. My dad, Alastair, runs the farm and I help out when I’m not at university at LYIT.

“I studied at Gurteen Agricultural College from September 2019 to May 2021 and throughout that time I brought back a lot of knowledge and implemented it on the family farm,” Catherine continued.

“The biggest learning curve has been grassland management, placing the cows on the right covers and determining how far the field should be grazed.

“With this tool and other dairy management tasks, we gained 160 kg of milk solids over the herd average in one year, with the same number of cows. It is a great achievement for us. »

IHFA scholarship

“I was absolutely delighted to have received a scholarship from the Irish Holstein Friesian Association for my project which I did while at Gurteen and the interview which took place on March 4, so that the jury could see the knowledge I have for dairy farming,” the woman from Donegal said.

“I know this scholarship would have made my grandfather very proud as he was also a student at Gurteen College at the time with the current dairy teacher who is there, Richard Hamilton.

“Grandfather Ivan would have been well known in Donegal as he was one of the founders of the Donegal Friesian Breeders’ Club, and he served as club secretary for almost 40 years.

“He was also recognized as a high caliber judge and judged like stock across the country. I hope to one day carry on my grandfather’s legacy.

Catherine has always helped on one farm or another, she says.

“Growing up, I was lucky enough to have three farms to choose from; my grandfather Ivan’s dairy farm, my father’s suckler farm or my other grandfather Andy’s suckler and sheep farm,” Catherine explains.

“It was a hands-on experience learning about the different businesses at a young age, but my love for dairy farming grew from there,” she said.

“From milking cows to spreading slurry, from rearing calves to sowing fertilizer, you could find me in the tractor or in the field working with cattle anywhere on the farm – but when it’s milking time, you will certainly find me in the milking parlour.

“When I was 17, I completed the three-day DIY AI [artificial inesmination] course at Manorhamilton with Dovea Genetics. It was a great experience to learn as I now work with my dad doing AI and breeding at home,” Catherine said.

“I have two younger brothers, Adam (17) and Andrew (12), and Andrew also shows a lot of interest in the farm.

Catherine aims to complete her education at LYIT, earning an Honors Bachelor of Science in Animal and Plant Production Agriculture.

“I can come home and work alongside my dad and increase the herd to 65-70 cows,” she said.

grow deaf and cultivate

Although being deaf forced her to overcome obstacles, she always kept busy.

“Growing up deaf and wearing two hearing aids definitely affected me in farming, from a farm safety perspective, because I couldn’t hear where tractors or cars were coming from in the yard and I had to be more visually aware of my surroundings,” says Catherine.

“I couldn’t hear my father calling my name as I always relied on lip reading.

“I had trouble doing my job because I couldn’t hear the bunches falling in the milking parlor and I couldn’t hear the slurry tanker racing when it was full.

“It was also difficult to socialize with other farmers at the market or in the co-op because reading the lips of a Donegal farmer was not easy. Covid-19 has really shaken my confidence. When everyone started wearing masks, I couldn’t communicate with anyone.

“I heard the cows munching”

In April 2021, Catherine’s hearing changed for the better as she underwent surgery for a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is a small device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve, which is the auditory nerve.

“The first thing I did after the implant was placed was to go see the cows in the field as they were grazing and listen,” Catherine said.

“I could hear cows chewing grass, birds chirping and a tractor in the distance. These are things I have never heard before.

“Now it makes my job so much easier because I hear the slurry tanker when it’s finished filling up, I hear the cluster falling into the milking parlour. I have gained so much confidence since having the implant.

“I started taking phone calls with people I know who can speak clearly, which I had never been able to do before,” Catherine said.

When she is not a farmer, Catherine loves sport, for which she has many achievements.

“The most recent before Covid-19 were in Switzerland for the World Deaf Final with the Irish Deaf Women’s Futsal Team. Finishing ninth in the world was a feat in itself and also the best player of the match against Spain “said Katherine.

“In January 2019 I played with Doncaster Deaf Football Club in the European Deaf Champions League in Germany and came second in that tournament after a tough final.

“I was playing in the women’s national league with Donegal at under-17 and under-19 level. I now play at club level with Lagan Harps competing for the FAI [Football Association of Ireland] Intermediate fit.


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