In this week’s Women in Ag series, That’s Farming, speaks to Elaine Kennedy about her Bachelor of Science (honours) in agricultural science studies at MTU and beef farming with her father.
Finding a career calling in life can be straightforward for some or a windy pathway for others.
Elaine Kennedy, who resides on a beef farm, did not have a concrete career plan in mind when it came to her Leaving Certificate year. Although the 19-year-old has always been interested in agriculture, she was hesitant to chase her first and foremost passion.
“My earliest farming memory was when I was about 6/ 7. My dad bought two Belgian Blue calves in spring. Ironically, I was terrified of cattle up until I was 7 or 8-years-old. I remember approaching these two calves and realising they were not as scary as I thought,” the Killeedy, Co. Limerick native, told That’s Farming.
”Unfortunately, one of them died due to pneumonia and seeing the calf being taken away is something I will never forget.”
“My father grew up on a dairy farm and always had an interest in farming. He then went on to buy his own farm, where he kept a few dry cattle. My great grandparents were dairy farmers and left the farm to my grandfather, who then left it to my uncle.”
“All through secondary school, I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise. In my sixth year, I researched various pathways but kept going back to everything to do with agriculture. It was like I could not see myself doing anything but agricultural science.”
“I was very laid back when it came to schoolwork, but I loved my agricultural science teacher, Ms Herbert; it made me more passionate about the subject.”
At the age of seventeen, this realisation led her to MTU, Tralee, Co. Kerry, where she is studying a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in agricultural science. She enrolled in the four-year degree programme directly after her Leaving Certificate and will graduate in 2023.
“I never like to be far from home, and the nearest ag course was in IT Tralee. I chose this course as it did not specifically go into one area. It covers nearly all aspects of agriculture that I wanted to learn about. Also, there is a variety of career opportunities for graduates.”
A twelve-week work placement module in third year (which students can complete overseas) is another central component of the course, which influenced her decision to opt for this pathway.
“The course is more challenging than I thought it would be. In first year, I struggled with all the science modules. I made a lot of new friends, and we all helped each other to get through it.”
“The course is very science-based and involves a lot of labs. In second year, staff at Clonakilty Agricultural College, deliver the course for a period, teaching practical skills like dehorning and grass measuring.”
Remote learning, baking and goals
Commenting on the switch to remote learning, she said: “I did not mind online classes initially, but it is not the same, and I am getting sick of it now. I learn a lot from my friends, and it is hard to ask them questions over the phone. One day my dad sat down and started watching the class online; he was fascinated at how it all worked.”
“My highlight to date was the fact we got the chance to go to Clonakilty once a week to learn practical skills. I thought we would not be able to do this due to Covid-19 restrictions. I was always excited about this part of the course ever since I started in 2019.”
“Honestly, I have always been a quiet and shy person. I was always worried about whether there would be girls doing my course in college or not,” the MTU student added.
“There are just under twenty females in my course, and we are treated no differently to the boys. Whenever I drive the tractor at home, I always get that look from people I don’t know, but it gives me a boost of confidence.”
Elaine, an only child, runs a beef finishing farm in Rathkeale, County Limerick, with her father, John, a part-time farmer.
In previous years, they only farmed Hereford and Angus cattle due to their easy fleshing abilities and have since expanded numbers and introduced some continental types to the holding.
The herd now comprises 50% Hereford and Angus, which they are awarded a 10c/kg bonus through beef breed schemes, with continentals making up the remainder.
They purchase heifer calves when they are two-weeks-old from local farmers each March and feed these milk replacer twice daily before reducing to once-a-day feeding ahead of turn out.
“We put them on grass six weeks later and keep most of them for two winters, definitely continentals, but whichever is ready for the factory before the second winter is finished as space can be tight in the shed, especially for nitrates.”
“We keep them until they are 18-24 months old, in which we take them to ABP in Rathkeale. Our target weight for Angus/ Hereford would be 500-550kgs, and the target weight for continentals would be 550-600kgs.”
“Sometimes we give the smaller-sized Hereford finishers to a butcher in Patrickswell as they have a smaller frame and would not grade as good in the factory.”
Elaine plays a varied role on the family farm and is most passionate about animal health. Her responsibilities in spring include calf rearing (overseeing milk replacer and concentrates), while during the summer period, she oversees the herd’s husbandry when her father is unavailable.
“We usually get a contractor to make bales of silage, but I would cut the grass before he comes. Other duties include helping with dosing. During the winter, I help clean out the sheds and feed silage.”
“I enjoy being on the tractor the most. Whether it is driving, loading cattle, mowing grass, spreading slurry, or even rolling, I love it all. My favourite time of year is spring when we buy calves. If you are having a bad day, they always put a smile on your face.”
“Some of the physical aspects I find challenging, like heavy lifting. I always try to adjust things like half the bucket of nuts, even if it takes me longer. Besides, I always find myself asking questions like what the vaccines are for and how they are administered.”
The road ahead
“I am not sure what I want to do after college, and it is a question I get asked weekly. I will travel with friends, but I will always come home. Besides, I would love to work in a job where I meet new people; I hate being stuck inside.”
“I will continue to have a few drystock as well as a job in the industry. To note I am in no rush to have my own herd and always buy a few off dad. Eventually, I would love to take over and know I don’t want to be a huge farmer. Besides, I want to continue baking. I make cakes, buns, cookies, cheesecakes and have recently started doing this for friends and family.”
“Growing up in the countryside gave me a great advantage as it made my passion for farming stronger. I always looked forward to going down to help on the farm as it gives me a sense of freedom,” she concluded.