That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Cork suckler farmer, Áine O’Donovan in this week’s women in ag segment. The 28-year-old preschool teacher discusses her earliest farming memories, her Kildee pedigree Shorthorn herd, and her desire to become a breeding advisor.
“My name is Áine O’Donovan (28), and I am from Dunmanway in West Cork.
I grew up in a local village, but I spent most of my childhood on the farm.
Growing up, I remember spending each Saturday on the farm with my father, Seán, and brother, Denis.
There could be fertiliser to spread, stones to pick, topping to be done, or cows calving. There was always something happening, and every day felt like a school day where I was learning something new.
I was always a country girl at heart; I didn’t want to be anywhere else! We moved to the farm when I was 15, and it was a dream come true.
My love of cattle began at an early age. I believe I used part of my First Holy Communion money to purchase my first commercial bullock from the mart.
My brother and I were always encouraged to keep our own animals on the farm, and this was a great learning experience for us.
It taught us the value of money and gave us an insight into how a business works. I think people always believed that my father was buying the cattle for me, but this was not the case. Also, I was told that if I wanted something, I had to work for it.
Cork suckler farmer
I now farm part-time with my father as I also work as a preschool teacher locally. Over the years, we have grown from a commercial suckler herd to a herd of pedigree cattle and, for many years, focused solely on pedigree Aberdeen Angus.
However, in 2018, after admiring the breed for some time, I decided to purchase a pedigree beef Shorthorn maiden heifer.
This started my dream of owning a herd of pedigree Shorthorns. Life is short, so we decided to slowly reduce our Angus cattle and build up our herd of Beef Shorthorns.
In 2020, we registered the Kildee prefix with the Irish Shorthorn Society and registered our first pedigree Shorthorn calf.
I love being a member of the society; everyone has been so welcoming and are always on hand to offer advice. The Shorthorn breed makes fantastic mothers and are extremely docile and easy to manage.
We operate a suckler herd and aim to have a spring-calving system. We use all AI as it allows us to incorporate new bloodlines into our herd. This also gives us more options when selecting replacements.
When keeping replacements, we aim to have them calving at over 24 months. Of course, this can change if an animal needs more time to mature.
I think one of my favourite parts of farming is studying pedigrees and choosing which bulls to use.
I could spend hours researching and matching bulls to cows and have even been known to wake up in the middle of the night to look up a specific bull. There is something very sweet about getting a good match and looking at a good calf out in the field the following spring.
I find one of the biggest challenges as a farmer are increasing costs and lack of support, especially for the small family farm.
Some days, I wonder what will farming be like in 10 years, and that does worry me. However, I will keep doing what I love. Being on the farm and working with the animals are good for the body and mind.
Taking the farm’s reins
My father signed the farm over to me in early 2021, and I remember at the time feeling grateful, excited, and a little bit apprehensive.
I think as a female in a male-dominated area, there is a sense of needing to prove yourself. I think a lot of it comes down to having confidence in my own abilities and not being afraid to change things up a bit.
Growing up, I was told if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. This is what I try and live by. Honestly, I won’t always get things correct, but I am happy once I work hard and continue to learn.
I was never treated differently growing up. I was driving the tractor, carrying buckets, and moving cattle along with my father and brother.
You just got on with it and helped wherever you could. These days, it is wonderful to see more women in agriculture. It sets a great example for young girls who dream about this life too.
We plan to gradually build our pedigree herd over the next year or two, choosing specific bloodlines and types that hopefully work well on our farm.
There is always a bit of excitement involved in buying new stock and hoping you are making the correct decision.
We enjoy attending the Irish Shorthorn Society breed sales, where the standard of good quality animals is high.
Hopefully, we will have some ‘Kildee’ stock at the sales in 2022, and we can get the opportunity to meet more people.
Beef farming in Ireland
The last couple of years have been difficult, and I feel like we have missed out on certain aspects of farming.
It can be an isolating job at times, and I believe it is so important to reach out and check in on one another.
We are all in this sector for the love of it, and it is vital to look after each other.
I hope that the future of beef farming is a positive one. It is important to support Irish farmers, buy good Irish produce, and know where your food comes from.
I would love to get more involved in the breeding side of things, and I have been looking into different DIY AI courses.
The dream would be to work as a breeding advisor, so I also want to look into that. It is important to work hard and dream big!” the Cork suckler farmer concluded.
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