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‘I am proud to be the only female in the family that has made a career in agriculture’

Jessica Connolly may only be 22-years-old, but she is already making waves in the research world.

The Castleshane, Co. Monaghan native, who hails from a strong farming and equine-based background, has just completed her final-year exams, and has already secured a full-time position.

“I am a third-generation farmer, and I am proud to be the only female in the family that has made a career in agriculture.” she explained to Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming.

“My grandad, Benny, and granny, Teresa, have taught me everything I know about livestock, with my earliest memories being that of hand-rearing lambs in a box beside the AGA in the kitchen.”

“My grandad, Anthony, played a big part in my love for horses – I always had a pony growing up and we spent most weekends at shows or going hunting.”

“My mother, Geraldine, was always my biggest supporter and never missed a hunt or show in which I was competing.”

Sport horses

Benny ran a suckler-to-beef farm along with Teresa up until his passing. Since then, the family have taken the decision to lease the farm, due to other work commitments.

“Farming at home is minimal. I have recently got back into breeding sport horses, something which I am very excited about!”

Her first broodmare is due to foal down in February, to 5-star showjumper, Corporal VDL.

“Whilst breeding to foreign sport horses, we do try to keep Irish breeding in the mare’s bloodlines.”

“I am a huge fan of our Irish bloodlines and I believe that Irish Sport Horses are amongst the most talented in the world.”

“My grandfather, Anthony, is a keen breeder of Irish Draughts and Connemara ponies, so it’s nice to see the home-bred stock coming through!” added Jessica, who competed most weekends and hunted regularly before her third-level studies.

Dundalk Institute of Technology

She enrolled in Dundalk Institute of Technology’s BSc (Hons) in sustainable agriculture programme in 2016 and is due to graduate in November with a first-class honours degree.

“The year I was doing my Leaving Certificate, this course came into Dundalk as a level 8.”

“I really liked the modules the course provided and the practical experience that was offered through this course was second to none!”
“By studying in Dundalk, I could commute each day which was also a massive financial saving.”

She completed her first work placement at Cavanagh Free Range Eggs, in Newtownbutler, Co. Fermanagh. “John and Eileen run a fantastic business where they have their own hens and pack their own eggs! They sell to large retailers such as Asda and Tesco.”

The Monaghan native completed her second placement on a large-scale breeding unit at JMW Farms. “I worked in the farrowing rooms and loved every second!”

Research and development co-ordinator

Jessica moved to fill the position of research and development co-ordinator at JMW Farms LTD in June, just after she completed her final college exams.

“I run various research trials, and works closely with vets and nutritionists in the organising of trials, and then I actually have to go and carry out that trial and analyse the data gathered.”

She then has to relay this information back to company directors. “No day is the same, it all depends on the trial in question.”

“Generally, I am on-farm in the morning and I go back to the office in the afternoon to analyse data and plan other trials.”

“I love the fast-paced environment, and constantly learning new things. I like to think that by carrying out research, we are ahead of other pig producers and do things slightly better.”

“I am incredibly proud of the research I carry out, which makes it more than just a day-to-day job.”

Jessica admitted a major challenge is a consistent analysis of the pig industry as a whole, which is, she pointed out “necessary to always keep ahead of the game”.

“I try to keep in touch with all aspects of the business, from the breeding sites through to the finishing sites, in order to ensure all trial work is relevant to what is going on on-farm and that research results are achievable by our farmers.”

Future

Looking ahead, Jessica is beginning a masters in animal nutrition at the University of Glasgow in the coming weeks, with a view to specialising in swine nutrition.

As this is a part-time masters, she still plans to work full-time in research.  “At the moment, my ultimate goal is to become a swine nutritionist.”

“It’s good to always to have something to work towards, so as I progress in my career, my goals will too.”

Life is great as a young person in agriculture. There is a lot to do and even more to learn. Agriculture has taught me many life lessons. We must take the bad with the good and be open to change.”

“ I think the future is bright for Irish agriculture – There are a lot of young people coming through with new ideas and we are constantly making improvements to our farming systems.”

“We are globally in a good position, our grass-based production systems, paired with farmers who take great pride in their work, ensures that we will always have some of the best produce in the world.” Jessica concluded.

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