In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Claire Bolger, who is pursuing a career in agriculture, despite not being born into a farm. She is a student at DkIT and works as a relief milker and milk recorder.
Getting your feet on the first rung of the farming career ladder is no easy feat. However, having no previous agricultural-related experience under her belt did not deter Claire Bolger from carving a career in the field.
Although she was not born into a farm, the 21-year-old spent time with her grandmother on a Wexford-based dairy farm throughout her childhood.
The Philipstown, Dunleer, County Louth native, told That’s Farming:
“I always knew, somewhere along the line, I would like to work with livestock. Granny and I had endless days of exploring down there; it was somewhere I just adored to go from a very young age.”
“I think that is how my interest in farming was sparked. I picked up agricultural science for my Leaving Certificate, and I knew it was for me. From then on, it was my number one subject, and I knew I wanted to do it in college.”
“Growing up, my parents both loved their jobs and still do. They are two of the hardest working people I know, and if they taught me anything, it is to do what you love. I think their work ethic made me want a career in something I loved.”
Claire is a second-year BSc (Hons) in sustainable agriculture/agri-food production student at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk.
This course was initially her “first and only option” after completing her Leaving Certificate in 2018. “I fell short one point from my degree course,” she explained.
She then enrolled at Ballyhaise Agricultural College to complete her Green Certificate and achieved a level 5 in agriculture before re-applying for the course through the CAO. As a result of this, she was offered a place in DKIT in September 2019.
“DkIT is only a short drive up the road from me, and Ballyhaise is a one-hour spin over the road. I think the fact I could still stay at home was an important factor for me.”
“Also, I learn by doing, so our Ballyhaise practicals and our labs help immensely. I also opted for DkIT over the other degree programmes as there is a much smaller year group, which has made us tight-knit, and it is nice to know everyone by name.
Claire is currently working on Frank Clare’s 200-cow cross-bred dairy farm in Lobinstown, County Meath. She previously completed her level 5 placement on this enterprise, and now, her primary role is calf rearing. “I have gained so many skills working here from calving cows, noticing ill health in stock, driving tractors (a work in progress) and grassland management, the list goes on.”
“The course, in general, is great. Apart from the educational aspect, my highlight has to be making friends. Pre-Covid, we certainly made the most of student nights out. However, I have made a great group of friends for life, and I am very grateful for that.”
“Some of the modules can be tricky, but that is all part of it. Covid has made it quite difficult from a social aspect as it is difficult to sit at home, but luckily with the practical side of our course, we have had a few days out in Ballyhaise.”
“First and second-year have been quite practical; you spend a lot of time in Ballyhaise out on the farm. There is a lot of theory also from business modules to maths.” added the DkIt AgSoc member, who helped raise €6,000 for charities as part of a virtual mega agricultural raffle.
Relief milker and milk recorder
Claire juggles her studies with relief milking work and a position with Progressive Genetics as a contract milk recorder. She began relief milking in summer 2019 through FRS, while she moved to fill the latter role in March 2020.
However, through her role with Progressive Genetics, she is primarily based in Meath, covering areas including Slane, Carnaross, Kells, Ballinlough, and Tara.
She explained that each recorder is assigned herds on a handset, which contains the farmer’s name, location, herd number/size, and recording due date. Based on communication between the client and milk recorder, they earmark a date that best suits to record both morning and evening.
Based on herd sizes, the milk recorder brings the corresponding number of bottles. Each cow has an individual bottle with a barcode which they scan on the handset during the recording.
“This records the cow’s yield, and the sample, once tested, provides the farmer with information on each cow’s protein, butterfat, cell count etc.”
“Milk recording for half of my herds is all-year-around, and the other half do not do winter milk. It is nice coming into the winter to have a bit of a break. I have found myself milking on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, so I am never completely brought to a halt.” the relief milker added.
A typical day in the life and satisfaction
Currently, for Claire, college is mostly from 9 am-3 pm/5 pm Monday to Friday, while both her jobs, as a relief milker and milk recorder, have early working hours. She usually milks or milk records before college and again after, while her weekends are “usually jam-packed with one or the other”.
Springtime is always a difficult time for her to keep on top of college and work simultaneously, so planning is essential.
”At the moment on placement, we start milking at 7 am. I then feed calves, and work varies from bedding, grass measuring, vaccinating animals, and overall herd health checks. We then milk again at about 3:30 and feed calves again. I spend my weekends off milk recording.”
“I am doing 12 days on 2 days off at my placement. My two days off entail milk recording, so at present, I do not get a whole pile of time off!”
“They are both great jobs to get out and see what is out there. Going to different farms, it is great to see different systems, parlours etc. Meeting lots of different people as well has been great; everyone has a different story, and it is nice to hear different opinions on different aspects of the industry.”
“My Green Cert placement was my first time working on a farm. There was a lot to learn, but I caught on quite quickly. From then on, I felt comfortable applying through FRS and haven’t looked back since.
“I think if you can learn the basics, there shouldn’t be an issue getting a job. Farmers are very helpful; every day is a school day, and you might find yourself teaching them a thing or two,” she added.
Although Claire is not set on any particular career, the dairy farming enthusiast hopes to spend a season in New Zealand, at some point, Covid-19 depending; however, she is “just going to see how the next year goes first”.
“I was very hung up for a year or so on whether or not to pursue a career myself because I had no experience and cared how other people would think as I didn’t come from a farming background. It has been the best decision I have ever made, and I cannot see myself doing anything else.”
“I think what is for you won’t pass you! Had you told a younger version of myself, I would be milking cows, I would have laughed at you! It is a great industry with great people.” Claire concluded.