I grew up on a very small farm - with about 20 acres around the house and another 40 away from it. From a young age, I was a tomboy and wanted to be out around the yard. The land work was contracted out, so when lads came to mow or spread slurry I would jump up beside them and it was a big novelty.
Now, at 14 or 15 I did fall away from it for a while – you know in the teenage years when all your friends are getting dressed up and going to discos. But I got back into it when I came to do ag science in school and I didn’t know why I ever left it.
I went to Sligo after secondary school and did a course in environmental protection. It just wasn’t for me, so I went working on a dairy farm down the road from me, for about two years.
I would have known nothing about dairy or milking a cow at that stage, because we only had a handful of sucklers at home. The farmer I was working for used to say that I was like a sponge – anything he showed me I was on it straight away. “You really have a knack for this. You need to go get your Green Cert,” he’d say.
That is when I realised it was only a lack of confidence that stopped me from getting involved with dairy. All I needed was someone to take the time to properly show me and I got that from him.
I always thought in my own head that Gurteen and those places were only for big farmers with hundreds of acres of land; you didn’t go if you only had a bit around the house - as I do say.
So I went and did two years in Gurteen studying dairy herd management. In first year of work placement I went out to meet the farmer and he said: “Grand. You can come out on Monday morning at about 9am. One of the lads will have done the milking.”
I asked why I couldn’t come to do the milking and he said, “Maybe you could feed the calves when he is milking.” I understood fairly quickly what that implied. So I went straight back to Gurteen and said, “That’s not going to work for me. First of all, I am not going to learn anything and second, I am not going anywhere to be made a fool of just because I am a girl.”
Soon after finishing in Gurteen, I got a job on Bakers farm, in Birr, Co Offaly. They were milking 450 cows at the time and I stayed there for nearly two years, as assistant farm manager.
That was a huge learning experience. They were very forward-thinking and didn’t think twice about taking on a girl. I decided to finish up there, only because I was so busy minding everyone else’s stock that I didn’t have time to invest in my own. I knew if I could get a nine-to-five job somewhere, I would be able to focus on building up my own herd.
I applied to Arrabawn then and once I got in there, things started coming together for me. I rented a 40 acre farm and bought weanlings. I started behind the counter in the store. Then it got to a stage where lads were constantly coming into me with bits of papers and receipts in folders, wondering if I could sort out their records for the Bord Bia audit.
They would get a text to say their Bord Bia certificate is out of date, so their milk couldn’t be collected. And then of course, panic would set in. I knew I didn’t have time to deal with all that and run the store, but I really wanted to focus on helping those people. So I kind of pitched my role.
I told my boss exactly what I wanted to do and how I could do it; get an office where these lads could come in and sit with me privately and go through the process. They said that they could definitely see an opening for that position. So now I am working as an agricultural specialist with Arrabawn and I am happy out.
I got an idea a while back of Arrabawn hosting an event for women in agriculture. I wanted to organise something for women who are farming. To show we are doing a fairly good job! That event held recently in Nenagh and it was a great success.
Myself and my boyfriend Liam are living in Borrisokane. He is a full-time farmer and contractor. I am renting 40 acres by myself, with about 40 Friesian bullocks and a few sucklers running it. I have 60 lambs reared and finished indoors too.
I rent that farm on my own – I stock it and I calve the cows on my own too. Obviously, if I am dosing or castrating or the likes, I will get someone to give me a hand, but it is all my responsibility.
Someday down the road I would love to get into dairying myself and be able to host Teagasc walks and farm meetings on my own ground. So it really isn’t about the acreage you come from, it’s about what you make of it yourself – that is what will define you.