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From a suckler enterprise in Cavan to an 800-cow dairy farm in New Zealand

Sarah Smith may have been born and raised on a suckler enterprise in the heart of Cavan, but she is making waves in the dairy industry overseas.

The 23-year-old graduated from Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT)/ Ballyhaise in 2019 with a BSc (Hons) in sustainable agriculture.

She began her studies at Ballyhaise Agricultural College in 2015, with the intention of obtaining her Green Cert and entering the working world thereafter.

“I thought the year in Ballyhaise was the best thing I have ever done. It made me realise what my passion really was, farming,” she explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.

“I then decided to complete interviews to get into the DkIT course and when they offered me a place, I accepted it which I am glad I did.”

Working overseas

After she completed her undergraduate studies, Smith ventured to England for harvest season. “I grew so much more confidence in my tractor driving abilities, learned about long hours and basic things like servicing a tractor.”

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“It was a 4,000-acre arable farm, but I was still glad that the farm owner had cows which I could go check every now and then, just to feel like home.”

New Zealand

The Cavan native is now currently based in New Zealand on an Irish-owned 800-cow dairy farm.

“I never wanted to travel before; it was not really my thing. Now that I am out here, I am delighted that I took a leap of faith. To get the experience of farming on a huge scale is the best way to learn.” she explained.

“The farm has a 50 rotary shed, a stocking rate of 3.6/Ha and an average of 510 kgs of milk solids per cow.”

“Since I arrived here, I have not stopped learning. I am learning about how to keep your cow in the best condition without over pushing them, lowering costs but increasing milk output and good grassland management practices.”

Her responsibilities on-farm include bringing herds in for milking, yard work, calf rearing, dosing, animal husbandry and other general farm maintenance tasks.

A current typical day sees their four-hour milking routine get underway at 4am. Sarah then completes any other designated tasks before starting the second milking at 1pm.

“The hours shorten as the season goes on. The season finishes in June over here, where one big day is dedicating to drying off cows.”

“Cows are then sent off to a run-off for the month and come back as they calve – they are brought over a week before they are due.”

The main challenges she encounters in New Zealand include harsh weather conditions and homesickness, but is adamant that the positives outweigh the negatives. “I love being able to farm all the time and enjoy working in the dairy industry.”

“My favourite part of my position on the farm is having various jobs and keeping busy so I can learn more and more.”

“I also enjoy my weekends off, where my boyfriend and I, Stephen O’Reilly, get to see New Zealand in all its beauty.”

Suckler farming

With Sarah now based overseas, her brothers, Christopher and Adrian, and mother, Josie, have stepped in to assist her father, Sean, with the running of their suckler farm.

The family farm Limousin, Simmental and Charolais commercial breeding females along with a Charolais stock bull as part of a suckling-to-weanling system.

“The average weight we would be hoping for in weanlings is 360-420 kgs for bulls and 320kg-380kg for heifers.”

“I think suckler farmers don’t get enough credit for what they do. A small farmer works just as hard as a bigger farmer, but they don’t receive the price they deserve for their animal.”

Women in ag

Inspired by both her grandmothers, who were farmers, Sarah said women have always been a part of agriculture for centuries.

“My two grandmothers milked the cows, fed the animals, and looked after everything on the farm.”

“They had and still have names on every animal on the farm. However, my Grannys would never have got the recognition of being apart of it but rather got the name farmers wife instead.”

“Nowadays, I do believe women get recognition and are treated more equal than those of the past.”

She said that social media is powerful in the way it which it highlights the presence of women across the sector, however, she revealed that there is still stigma around women farming – especially on larger-scale enterprises.

“Women seem to need to try harder than men to prove themselves constantly, which we can do.”

“It can be a struggle but once you enjoy your work, that is the main thing.”

“I believe that any person, male or female, who are considering going into farming should have a huge passion and interest for it.”

“The hours are long, the work can be difficult and bad days can occur. However, the strength to get through those bad days is what farming is all about.”

“Anyone going into agriculture needs to love what they are doing and always be willing to learn.”


Looking ahead, Sarah relishes the idea of either owning or managing a dairy farm or heifer rearing enterprise at some stage in the future.

“I enjoy the outdoors all the time, looking after our beautiful animals and the freedom of being able to make decisions in a business mind, even if they are not always the best.”

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