In this week’s Student Focus series, That’s Farming, speaks to 22-year-old Jemma Wilson about dairy farming, student life during the Covid-19 pandemic and her chosen course, agriculture and environmental management.
At the age of 22, Jemma Wilson has vast agricultural-related experience under her belt, having grown up on a 50-cow farm and worked on a 15,000-strong dairy enterprise in Australia.
The Killykeen, County Cavan native, who previously completed a make-up artistry course, claims farming “is and always has been an integral part of my life”. She farms alongside her father, mother, Natasha, brother, Darragh, and sister Amy.
“My brother, Darragh, and I will be the third generation to farm here. My grandfather and grandmother, Jimmy and Tereasa, operated the farm, which my dad, Philip, now runs. Hopefully, between Darragh and I, we will carry on this tradition in years to come.” she told That’s Farming.
“My earliest memories of farming would be either standing in gaps or sitting in the tractor or jeep with daddy looking at sheep and cattle. These are memories that signify the start of my love for farming.”
“It is a hands-on affair here. Whether you are a neighbour, a cousin or a family friend just calling in for a mug of tea and a chat, you could, at any time, be called upon to stand in a gap, cover a pit, or goodness only knows what else.”
50-cow dairy herd
Together, the family farm 50 dairy cows, consisting of all-year-round Friesian and Friesian-crosses. The herd, which they milk through a 6-unit Fullwood parlour, is divided into two main calving blocks: from March to April and October to November.
According to co-op data, last year, the herd averaged 5,200L per cow at 3.4% protein and 4.17% butterfat from a concentrate input of 1.2T/cow. They take a traditional approach to grassland management and aim to graze full-time from April 1st, through to November 1st,
“We rear our own select replacements here but also buy in the odd few every year as numbers are increasing annually. Besides, we rear all calves until they reach 12-months-old and sell them then. We AI 20% of the herd, with two stock bulls, a Montbéliarde, and an Angus, serving the remainder.”
“I suppose my favourite part is being outdoors and listening to the suction of the clusters. I find that very therapeutic. Also, I enjoy seeing the farm slowly but surely improve and expand. But outside my own farm, I love seeing other ways of farming and other enterprises.”
“I am responsible for everything and anything; mainly milking, rearing replacements, feeding calves and cleaning sheds and cubicles.”
From make-up artistry to ag science
Jemma is keen to expand her dairy farming knowledge and recently availed of an opportunity to travel to a 15,000-cow dairy farm in Australia, as alluded to earlier. She departed Irish shores in January 2020, for six months, as part of her second-year third-level college placement.
The Cavan native enrolled in Mountbellew/GMIT’s agricultural science and environmental management degree programme in 2017, having deferred her course for a one-year period.
“I felt like this course, in particular, could open a variety of doors for me within the farming industry. At the time, I was not sure exactly what role I wanted to concentrate on within the farming industry.” the third-year student commented.
“Choosing agricultural science and environmental management was a no-brainer. Not many courses have such a wide variety of options. It was my first choice on the CAO.”
Australia and student life during Covid-19
“My highlight has to be going to Australia. I met so many different people from all over Ireland, making friends with them through college. Of course, I cannot forget to mention studying in Mountbellew; in general, the people there are great.”
“I am enjoying the course; it is meeting and exceeding my expectations. The course involves a broad scope of elements, namely animal science and welfare, grassland management, labs, microbiology, soil science and environmental issues.”
Jemma commented on Covid-19’s impact on student life and a move to remote learning. She admitted that remaining at home, especially at this time of year, can have its advantages. However, for her, the most challenging aspect has been the lack of socialisation with college friends.
“Student life during Covid-19 has been tough in ways but helpful in other ways. Wi-Fi issues and learning how to use a computer properly have been an experience.”
“I would not be much of a bookworm but, I get things completed. I would rather be out learning by doing than be inside studying, if I am honest. A routine is the only job.”
“There is so much involved in agriculture. It is not just the farming side of things; there is so much more to it than just grass, tractors, and livestock. There are so many job opportunities. No matter where you go in the world, there will always be opportunities for this sector for work.”
“I have found that no matter what occupation anybody goes into, there is always someone who will think you are insane. I completed a make-up artistry course before going to Mountbellew, and people would say, ‘you’re mad in the head’, and now I am farming, and some people still say I am still mad in the head.” she laughed.
“In the future, I hope to milk my own herd of cows. Career-wise, I would consider working in the dairy industry or carving a teaching career combined with part-time farming. Ideally, I would love to work overseas again to gain more industry experience, with New Zealand at the top of my bucket list.
“Farming helps me physically and mentally, getting out into the air and doing my job. It never feels like a chore. I enjoy every minute, the good and the bad. I am so content and happy with my chosen career path, and it 100% has shaped me to be the person I am today.” the agriculture and environmental management student concluded.