In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Aoife Gilbride (19), a suckler and sheep farmer, Ballyhaise Agricultural College student and agricultural show exhibitor.
Aoife Gilbride, a Ballyhaise Agricultural College student and show exhibitor, claims she was “always destined to be a farmer”.
The 19-year-old hails from a suckler farm in Grange, which sits under the picturesque Benbulben in County Sligo.
Speaking to That’s Farming, she said: “Farmers are on both sides of the family. Some of my earliest farming memories are going farming with my dad and falling asleep on the tractor.”
“When I was younger, I was afraid of cows until one day I got over my fear, and now they are my favourite animals. If I could work with cows all day, every day, I would. It was only really in the last few years I started to like sheep and working with them.”
“When filling out my CAO, I honestly did not know what to do with myself. I never really thought about agriculture until one day, I applied to Ballyhaise to get my Green Certificate. Now, I cannot see myself do anything other than agriculture.”
The 19-year-old level 5 in agriculture student runs the family’s mixed suckler and small flock with her father, Eugene and brother, Darragh.
Their herd primarily comprises of Limousin-cross with all subsequent progeny sold as yearlings at their local Dowra Mart.
“We keep on heifer calves to build up our herd. Two years ago, we kept on the bulls as bullocks and slaughtered them. Then, last year, we kept them as bulls and sold them at around 24 months in Dowra Mart. We were trying out different farming systems to see which works best for us.”
“Responsibilities on the farm are very much all shared between dad, my younger brother and I. The most enjoyable part for me is lambing and calving season.”
“Personally for me, what I find most challenging about farming is not being strong enough to do some things. I will always try to do it, but sometimes I will have to give in and get either dad or my brother Darragh to give me a helping hand.”
An accidental venture
Most of all, Aoife is a keen show exhibitor and assists Inishmurray Pedigrees through the summer.
“In 2019, a syndicate of 8 of us, called the Lang’s Aul Bar syndicate, bought a heifer at Carrick Winter Fair. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 circumstances, we have not gotten a chance to show her on the circuit just yet.”
“Hopefully, when we can get back at shows, I will be able to show my commercial heifer, Ivy. I made my debut appearance on the show circuit back in 2016 by complete chance. My younger brother and my cousin were meant to show in the young handler’s class at our local show.”
“On the day, they did not want to. I was thrown into the ring for the first time ever to hold a cow, let alone walk it. It was scary, but after that, I got the bug for it and haven’t looked back since.”
“I love everything from meeting new people to getting the cattle all done up to the adrenal run you feel while trying to control the beast in the show ring. People always say it’s the taking part that counts, but there is nothing like the feeling of winning.”
“Ag shows had become a big part of my life. I love getting a day out at them, so now it is a bit of a downer, but hopefully, we will get back on the show circuit soon.”
Although Covid-19 has brought the showing circuit to a halt for the student, a switch to remote learning under Covid-19 restrictions allows Aoife to gain more practical experience on-farm.
She enrolled in a level 5 in agriculture at the Cavan-based college in 2020, following her Leaving Certificate.
“I ended up just selecting this course on the off chance. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I knew I didn’t want to take a gap year. I chose Ballyhaise as I knew I would use the Green Cert anyways, so it would not be a waste of a year.”
Students undergo two four-week blocks of work placement in first year: one block in October and one block in March.
Aoife completed her placement at Ballyhaise Agricultural College for both blocks, and spent the month of March in its lambing unit.
“I love the course. It is very 50/50 practical and theory-based, which I like. I am not a book person, so I love getting up to the college once a week to see everyone and to do our practicals.”
“At the start, the course was not my first choice as I had other courses down on my CAO. I ended up realising none of them were right for me, so I decided to apply for Ballyhaise as it was very hands-on; I liked the sound of it.”
“We learn many skills, from dosing and injecting both sheep and cattle to taking soil samples and measuring grass, so you learn a bit of everything you need to know.”
“Student life with Covid-19 restrictions is hard and not what you expect college life to be. We were lucky that when we started, we were in college and got to meet most of the year so.”
“In that sense, we were lucky, but on the other hand, I have not seen some of my good friends since before Christmas as we are only in one-day-a-week, and that is difficult.”
Goals and aspirations
Looking ahead, she plans to complete her second year in Ballyhaise Agricultural College before furthering her studies at DkIT.
She intends to travel and work in New Zealand for a period, but as of now, “the dream is to go driving in New Zealand next summer”.
“Take the plunge and study agriculture. You mightn’t become a millionaire, but if you love farming enough, you’ll make it work.”
“As of now, my ultimate goal is definitely to be known on the show circuit. When I am older, I hope to breed pedigree cattle. Furthermore, one day, I will hopefully, one day, I will breed pedigree bulls to a high standard. I would also love to be a stock judge someday.”
“It is great to see more females getting involved in showing both sheep and cattle and even better to see a few women judges on the circuit.”
“In my view, there is still a divide between men and women in agriculture. Agriculture is and always has been viewed by some as a man’s job. However, it is not just a man’s job, and more young women are starting to join the sector which is great to see.”
“Women in agriculture are getting a slight bit more recognition than they were, but still not as much as we deserve. Farming is a hard job for anyone, but, in my view, there is added pressure when you are a woman in the industry.”
“Life as a woman in agriculture is challenging as some people will always look at you like you cannot do something,” the Ballyhaise Agricultural College student concluded.