That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Aoife Mullen (28) in this week’s women in ag segment. She discusses her non-farming roots, a stint in New Zealand and working on a buffalo farm in the ‘Rebel County’.
“I am originally from Dublin but am farming in County Cork. Farming is not a family tradition, as my parents grew up in inner-city Dublin, and I grew up in Tallaght.
It is safe to say that I did not grow up around livestock or have any early introduction to farming.
I always had an interest in working with animals, but unfortunately, I did not get into farming until my 20s when I went travelling to New Zealand.
What started as a temporary calf rearing job became my passion for farming. I was always under the impression you had to be raised in farming to be a farmer.
Marketing graduate turned farmer
Moreover, I have a degree in marketing management and worked in marketing for four years before I started farming, but I was always unhappy in the office environment.
So, I started farming when travelling to New Zealand in 2019, and I never completed a Green Cert or any official agriculture degree. I have learned everything just from working and asking questions.
I worked on a 1,500-cow dairy farm in New Zealand, and two cross-bred dairy farms in west Cork, where I got my first cow (Dottie), who is with me still.
Currently, I am a full-time farmer in Cork, working on a Buffalo enterprise.
I love working with animals, every day brings a new challenge, and I love to learn how to overcome them. Also, I love working outdoors; rain or shine, you cannot beat the fresh air.
We are a 67-acre farm on the hills of Drimoleage, milking 70 buffalo in an all-year-round milking and calving system.
We use the milk from the buffalo to make buffalo mozzarella, yoghurt and other cheese at a local dairy.
They belong to my boss Toby, who owns the farm and the creamery that makes the cheese. I manage the farm along with my partner.
They are very similar to cows in terms of management, but something that surprised me about them is how calm and friendly they are.
At the beginning, I was very intimidated by them due to their size and their horns, but they are very friendly and love a scratch under the chin and behind the ears.
But they are extremely destructive, so everything on the farm has to be reinforced. Their gestation length is nine months, and their diet is very similar to what you would feed a dairy cow.
They get grass in the summer and silage in winter, along with a ration for the milking herd that is made up for them.
There is only a slight difference in the grass management in that they prefer a slightly longer grass than you would give to a cow, so when most farmers are thinking of pulling a paddock out for silage, that is when they are going in with the buffalo.
Thankfully, they do not need a lot of veterinary care. They are easy calvers, and so far, we have not needed to interfere. Also, they have good feet, so they have not had any need for a hoof pair yet.
Currently, we are on a once-a-day milking system, but as soon as we install the new parlour, we will be switching to twice-a-day.
They produce less than a regular dairy cow, doing about 15-20L per day but with higher solids. Our last test had us at 8.63% butterfat, 4.16% protein and 4.9% lactose.
We use their milk to make buffalo mozzarella, and some yoghurt.
The public can buy our produce as it is made and sold in Toonsbridge Dairy. They make a wide range of cheeses, including our buffalo mozzarella.
Every day brings a new challenge in farming, especially with buffalo. They are so destructive and will destroy anything they get their horns to.
Therefore, a lot of my challenges day-to-day are repairing and preventing accidents and staying one step ahead of the animals to make sure everything is buffalo-proof.
Women in agriculture
I feel like my experience as a woman in agriculture has been very positive. Every farmer I have worked for has treated me very well and has given me the experience to show what I can do.
On some occasions, I have been mistaken for the farmer’s daughter, a sales rep and a vet, rather than the farmer, so there is still some stigma to women in farming.
I think farming is still very much a man’s world, and women are not getting the recognition they deserve.
Moreover, I feel like men are still seen as the farmers, and women are seen as the helpers, usually put at calf rearing.
I am happy to see more women and girls wanting to get their wellies on and get stuck in.
Furthermore, I think social media has helped to show more women in agriculture and is very inspiring. I hope someday soon, it will not be unusual to see women in the farming industry.
I started my TikTok, The_Dairy_Queen, last year to share my experience and day-to-day life on the farm.
Coming from a non-farming background, I did not know anything about farming and believed a lot of the misinformation being spread about the farming industry.
Once I began farming, it opened my eyes to the amount of misinformation being spread. I hoped that sharing my experience might help people to understand how farming actually works.
My main objective is to continue to work in farming and teach people about my daily life as a woman in ag. I also hope to buy my own place soon where I can start my farm.
My biggest challenge has been starting in farming completely new to the industry.
It was tough knowing absolutely nothing, and everyone around you seems to know it all. I had to allow myself to learn and speak up, and ask questions. I am still learning new things to this day and have learned some amazing skills.
The future for the farm is definitely to grow and hopefully increase our herd. My personal future plans are to have my own farm, complete my Green Cert and venture into regenerative farming with a few different animals.
I love working with other farmers, but my dream is to have my own place.
I see the farm increasing in the next five years. We are currently drawing up plans for a new yard, handling system and a new parlour, so it is all very exciting.
It has been a difficult but very rewarding journey, and I am finally happy that I found a job that I love going to every day.
If farming is what you want to do, do it. Do not let anyone change your mind, and do not be scared to apply for jobs even if you have no experience.
Most farmers are happy to take you on and teach you. Ask every question that comes into your head, and find an area within farming that you love.
I feel like there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment in regards to the future of farming.
My hope for the future is to see farmers take on a good sustainable farming practice to ensure that we can all grow as a community and continue to do the thing we love.
I also hope to see more women in ag, and young girls encouraged to get into farming and take over their family farms.”
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