In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Saoirse McClelland, a part-time farmer, camogie player and a special educational needs teacher from Northern Ireland.
Farming, working as a special educational needs teacher, playing camogie and renovating a farmhouse, Saoirse McClelland is never idle.
The 26-year-old hails from a beef farm in Granemore in County Armagh in Northern Ireland but now resides in Draperstown with her other half, Aidan Coyle.
Together, the couple runs a 10-cow suckler herd, comprising Shorthorn and Simmental-crosses with a Limousin bull, and 30-ewe flock, consisting of Suffolk-crosses, and Texel-crosses, whilst working full-time off-farm.
“As a young girl, I was always there to help chase cattle and told to not let any cattle past me,” she told That’s Farming.
“As a young girl, this, at times, was a scary experience, but I think I have got used to it now. I loved going to the mart every Monday night with my daddy.”
“The most enjoyable aspect of farming for me is lambing time. Our lambing time falls around Easter, and with me being a teacher, I get around two weeks off work.”
“I spend my Easter holidays lambing sheep, and I enjoy having that time to take care of things around the farm when I can.”
“As farming with sheep is new to me, I have just found a real passion for them and am excited to continue with this part of farming in the future.”
Streamlining the enterprise
Due to the nature of their off-farm work commitments, the couple has streamlined their enterprise by focusing on easily managed breeds. Their Texel and sheep-crosses ewes produce lambs that are “very easy to keep and finished”.
“So, it keeps grass management right for us for our sheep and suckler cows. We rotate the sheep behind cows to get the most out of our land. This helps us to provide the best care for our animals as we both work a full-time job.”
“Farming begins at 7 pm every evening for us and the weekends. We would not be able to manage large numbers of livestock working full-time jobs.”
Moving away from home
Saoirse lived at home with her parents until March 2020, when she moved into Aidan’s mother’s home house, during the height of lockdown.
The old farmhouse had been occupied until May 2019, and the couple began a renovation project when they turned the key.
“We still are renovating it at the minute. We have taken our time and renovated the house room by room. I created an Instagram page as I wanted a place to show our renovation journey and get tips and ideas.”
“Honestly, I am so glad I created the account because I have enjoyed the renovation process even more than I did doing it by ourselves. I feel like it is a great community of people supporting and encouraging you when you need it the most.”
“This is how I then got into showing more of the farm life. I saw so many other farmers doing it. I thought it would be a great place for me to learn new things and hopefully, teach other farmers or people considering becoming farmers.”
Saoirse is now a one-hour drive to and from Lisanally Special School Armagh, where she has been working as a special educational needs teacher for close to three years. “It only took me 15 minutes to get to and from school from my home house in Granemore,” she explained.
She teaches children who require additional support, including physical disabilities, learning, emotional, behavioural and communication difficulties. Also, she teaches pupils with autism and ADHD and sensory impairments.
Her responsibilities include planning and teaching according to a pupil’s educational needs and assessing, recording, and reporting on the development, progress, and attainment of students.
She is also responsible for promoting the general progress and wellbeing of pupils and communicating and consulting with parents and guardians.
Typical day in the life
“A typical day of mine would be waking up at 6.30 am to get dressed and ready for work. I would check on the farm animals that are in the shed, sheep that have been lambing, cows calving etc.”
“Then I drive to work and usually arrive at around 8.15 am. I get myself organised for that day, print out resources and gather up other teaching resources for lessons.”
“Then my teaching day is 8.45 am until 3.30 pm. After that, I prepare anything that I need for the next day, writing pupil observations and completing any other paperwork.”
“Then, I drive back and usually get home around 6/6.30pm. After, I check on all the animals quickly to make sure they are all ok and make dinner.”
“After dinner, I would feed the animals (sheep, cows, lambs, calves, ducks and chicks) and ensure that everything on the farm is ok. If I have camogie training with St. Mary’s Granemore, then I drive home to my parents’ house, get dinner, and head off to Granemore GFC football pitch.”
“After training, l drive back to Draperstown, and it is usually around 10 pm until I am home. Aidan will have all the farming done by then,” added the former Granemore football player.
“It can be difficult as I feel like all I do is work, train and farm. But I still manage it all, which is the main thing.”
“Aidan and I spend every evening and weekends farming, which can be a lot at times. We enjoy doing it together and seeing things go well.”
Reflecting on the last year, Saoirse described lockdown as an “experience”.
Firstly, because they moved in together at the beginning of the lockdown, which was “quick and nobody knew what would happen”.
“We thought it would be a great idea to move in when the government announced the first lockdown because I was off work and could spend a lot of time renovating our house and looking after the farm.”
“I am not sure if it were lockdown or working with sheep for the first time in my life and Aidan showing me the ropes around the farm, which gave me a love for it. It could be a mixture of both.”
Saoirse returned to school at the end of August 2020 and has been working ever since, which has allowed her to fall into a set working routine again.
“Lockdown has not impacted me that much since then. I have been working every day and farming in the evenings and weekends.”
“Lockdown gave me a chance to spend more time on the farm, learning and experiencing farm life in greater detail.”
Women in ag
Having taken a more active role on the farm over the last year, her experience as a woman in the sector has been positive.
She cites her partner’s encouragement as the main driver behind her involvement.
“Aidan knows I am capable and able to complete the same tasks that he can. This is great as when I am around other males in relation to farming, they see how Aidan treats me, and they give me the same respect.”
“I think on many farms, women are being recognised for the role that they play, particularly women that showcase their work on social media.”
“This gives people who are farmers/non-farmers the chance to see what exactly women are doing on the farm, and people respect that and praise their hard work. It is great to see women supporting other women in agriculture.”
“Women should trust in their own abilities and do not let size, age or gender stop them from doing something that they want to do.”
The 26-year-old hopes to continue to document her farming journey on her 2,500-strong Instagram page. “I feel like I have helped other women who farm and also women that want to get more involved in farming just like how I have done.”
“Showcasing my farming venture on social media platforms has provided me with an opportunity to create videos, document anything that has been going on and showing my daily activities.”
“My friends and family cannot believe how involved I am within the farming. It was not something that I thought I would enjoy that much, but here I am; I do not think I will ever not enjoy it.”
“I have loved learning everything about sheep farming and then teaching others and passing on the knowledge I have to other people,” Saoirse concluded.
The couple plan to develop their farm further, with a new approach to grassland management and improved handling facilities to pave the way for expansion on the suckler and sheep farming front.
You can follow Saoirse on Instagram by clicking here.
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