This week’s Women in Ag segment features 28-year-old Jennifer Dempsey, who discusses pig and poultry farming, Sealac and her Girl_about_the_farm Instagram and TikTok accounts.
Working in a pharmacy in London is a far cry from Jennifer Dempsey’s current commitments as a pig and poultry farmer and company director at Sealac.
She grew up on her family farm in Mayo before venturing to the UK, where she worked for four years. In recent years, she returned to Manulla to assist with establishing the family’s thriving seaweed company, Sealac Limited.
Her parents, Martin and Mhairi, are full-time pig and poultry farmers for the last thirty years, so farming has surrounded Jennifer’s life from a tender age.
“Some early farming memories are looking after piglets, trying to count chicks, and helping to spread shavings to bed the chicken houses.” the 28-year-old told That’s Farming.
“But one of my favourite memories revolve around the cows breaking out of the field on the morning of my sister’s communion, which meant we were late for mass! You could be sure if we were in a rush, the cows would break out.” Jennifer laughed.
The Mayo natives run a 220-sow unit, comprising pedigree Landraces, breeding replacements for a commercial unit, in Kiltimagh.
“We have the pleasure of dealing with piglets every day. We have a feeding system around the unit, but each pig is fed individually when they are in the farrowing houses; otherwise, we feed these in groups.” Jennifer explained.
“They are in open pens up until they are three days away from farrowing. We then move them into individual pens to keep them and their piglets safe for the next four weeks.”
“Once piglets are 28 days, we wean them and send them to the unit in Kildare. As we have a small unit, we do not have the space to keep them.”
“The most enjoyable aspect of farming for me is the pigs; every day is different. As we are a farrowing unit, you get to see new life and watch them grow. Each piglet has their own personality; they are nervous but curious, and curiosity always gets the better of them.”
“You never know what you would catch them doing. I also enjoy the sows, talking to them and giving them a scratch – they love a good scratch behind the ear!”
Besides, the Dempseys farm two 35,000-strong broiler houses, which are in Kiltimagh also. They grow them for 32-38 days before they are factory-ready, with each cycle 7-8-weeks in duration.
Their lifecycle is approximately five weeks, a period that provides a two-three week window to clean and disinfect houses before the new batch of chickens arrive.
Automation is to the fore on the poultry farm, with technology monitoring climate, feed, and weights.
“We closely monitor feeders and drinkers as a slight change could indicate a problem. Everything in the house is alarmed and connected to mobile phones. If you were to get an alarm morning, noon, or night, it will call each phone until someone has acknowledged it.”
“The most challenging part of farming for us would be time off. I suppose, like most farmers, this is something that has to be well planned.”
“I know with mam and dad they work seven-days-a-week, so to organise or plan anything, someone has to go and get the jobs done; the animals always come first.”
A typical day in her working life
Jenifer is a part-time farmer, with every day bringing new challenges and opportunities.
In the piggery, she is responsible for administering iron, weaning, tagging, vaccinating, serving, and general care of piglets, ensuring they are warm, feeding well and have electrolytes.
“Besides, at the chicken houses, my responsibilities are making sure the houses are at the correct temperature, they have feed and water, and the bedding is in good condition.”
Usually, her day begins with their seaweed business, and once she has her work completed there, she ventures to the pig or poultry farm.
“As my parents run the pig and poultry farm, I help out in the evenings and weekends. At the seaweed business, I pack up orders and send them out. Furthermore, I promote products online through various social media channels and deal with sales over the phone.”
“Often in the afternoons, I head over to the pig farm to help with administering iron, weaning, and serving, depending on the day. If my parents need me at the chicken farm, it is usually to walk and bed the chickens. So, as you can see, no two days are ever the same for me.”
The Dempseys established Sealac in 2016 and launched into the agricultural circles three years later with its wide range of products.
These include Good Gut Health, a seaweed powder for calves from birth and Seaweed Flake, for calves, cattle, and sheep.
Furthermore, its product range also includes Electrolyte Plus, a rehydration treatment with a blend of seaweed for calves, lambs, and foals; Sealix, a seaweed bucket lick, and Sealac 60 for horses.
They sell products through their growing online shop and selected agricultural stores.
“If I could turn back time, I would have moved home sooner and started the business earlier,” Jennifer admitted.
“The benefits of our products is to improve the overall health of animals naturally. We dry our seaweed at low temperatures to protect its natural sugars, polysaccharides, and vitamins, as some of them are heat sensitive. It can take up to five days for a batch of seaweed to dry.”
Instagram and women in ag
The 28-year-old enjoys the challenges that farming life brings and takes pride in identifying workable solutions for farmers and animals.
She provides an insight into her working life through her recently created Instagram and TikTok accounts. She joined the platforms under the Girl_about_the_farm handle earlier this year to “promote farming and show how rewarding it can be with an entertaining twist”.
The Mayo native revealed her TikTok account became an overnight viral success, with a poultry-related video amassing close to 500,000 views, respectively.
“I post day-to-day life on the farms. My target market is like-minded farmers and those with an interest in farming. My followers are based all over the world, not that I have too many, but it is growing every day.” Jennifer added.
“Being a woman in agriculture is 50% of the time being green from the seaweed and the other 50% smelling of pigs and chickens.”
“I am always treated the same as my male counterparts; maybe that is because I work on a family farm and you just get stuck in; we would never turn our hand away from a job.”
“I feel women are getting the recognition they deserve. I follow some inspiring female farmers online who are paving the path for younger upcoming female farmers.”
“A career in agriculture is very rewarding; it is a career like no other, the diversity of people you meet, and every day is a different day when it comes to the care of animals. There are some bad days but far more great ones.” Jennifer concluded.