In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming, speaks to 19-year-old Caoimhe Flanagan. She discusses farming a 40-cow suckler herd, being an ag student at Waterford Institute of Technology and working part-time at Gort Mart.
“I could not imagine myself working in any other area; it was always going to be agriculture-related.”
Selecting a college course can be a rigorous process, but it was a straightforward procedure for suckler farmer Caoimhe Flanagan.
Farming has been a strong tradition in the 19-year-old’s family for at least five generations. She runs her family farm with her father, Colm and her brother, Conor, whilst studying a B.Sc in Agricultural Science at Waterford Institute of Technology and working part-time at Gort Mart.
Ag student/suckler farmer
The family farm 40 Limousin and Charolais breeding females with a Limousin stock bull, selling subsequent progeny as weanlings. They operate a split calving season, with 30 cows spring-calvers and the remainder being autumn-calvers.
“We feed meal for two months before sale. They usually average 350kgs in weight. We keep our own replacement heifers where we pick them from the best cows in the herd,” the south Galway native added.
“The land is in three separate divisions; we keep the autumn-calvers in one divide, as they are in-calf going out of the shed. Therefore, we can manage with one stock bull. For grazing, we work a paddock system, where we move cows weekly.”
Her responsibilities on her home farm include assisting her father with herding, feeding, tagging, dehorning, TB testing and other general animal husbandry duties.
“My favourite aspect of it would have to be springtime; I love the excitement of calving season.”
“At the minute, one of my neighbours who has a dairy farm is showing me the ropes when it comes to milking cows. I have got a lot of practice in over the last few months, and it is an area that I would like to be involved in in the future.”
“To be honest, I have always wanted to milk cows. I feel like I have learned a lot about grassland management as a result of this experience, as it is hugely important in a dairy enterprise.”
Furthermore, she has also been working in Gort Mart part-time for the past four years. “I started off doing work experience in transition year in school, and I have not looked back since.”
“In May 2020, we had to move our sales online due to COVID-19, which added a lot of extra work. I think buyers and sellers both adapted quite well to the situation.”
“Since then, it has been great to see buyers back socially distanced around the ring. It’s great to have interactions with both young and old on a sale night.”
Moreover, she said online sales have brought many new customers to the mart and can continue to grow its customer base.
“The mart is known for its outstanding quality stock, beef and sucklers, in particular. The mart also caters for clearance sales, which to date, have been a success. It has been a great learning experience with regard to the course I am doing,” she added.
“Thursdays are my favourite day of the week. I work with my dad and uncle in their business, where they specialise in manufacturing farm equipment. There is no shortage of work around here.”
Caoimhe began her studies at WIT in 2020 and will complete the four-year degree programme in 2024.
“I thought the course offered good opportunities for work experience and the subjects looked very interesting. The course in UCD also appealed to me, but I did not like the idea of moving to Dublin.”
“I have not yet completed placement; however, I do hope to travel and see other farming enterprises abroad as part of my placement down the line.”
“I am enjoying the course, but I look forward to the more practical elements that are to come in future semesters,” the ag student added.
The course is a mixture of science and practical agricultural modules designed to prepare candidates for all aspects of the industry.
“It was not the first year of college, I had imagined; that is for sure. It was difficult to sit in front of a laptop all day.”
“I think more times than not, Zoom was left playing in the background while tending to calving cows! Hopefully, things will be back to normal in September.”
Women in ag
“My biggest worry going into college doing an ag science course was that there would be very few girls. However, this was not the case as there are more females than males in my course.”
“I think more women are being encouraged into the sector at the minute. I have seen lots of examples of women doing great things in the sector both in the media and through my own experience.”
“Furthermore, I think it is important that the achievements of women in agriculture are recognised and promoted. It is important that younger girls see this and are encouraged themselves.
“Females should consider a career in agriculture for the same reason as males would; that it is an area they are passionate about and want to work in.”
“There are just as many women entering the agricultural sector as there are men.”
Grateful for farming roots
The Galway native intends to travel abroad and see farming enterprises in other countries when she attains her undergraduate degree. She will focus on completing her four years in college and hopes to “have a better idea of what path I want to take then”.
“It is early days, yet. I think it is difficult for young people to know what they want to do for the rest of their life at 17 or 18 years of age.”
“I think you just have to go for it. There is no point turning around down the road in a few years’ time, saying you should have done it. And if it is not for you, at least you have ruled it out,” she added.
“I am grateful that I have been able to grow up on a farm, and that I can gain experience in many different areas at the minute and learn from lots of experienced people in the sector.”
“I feel that climate change may have an impact on how we work, but overall, I am hopeful. There are plenty of young people, both males and females, who are enthusiastic about agriculture,” she concluded.
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