Niamh Murphy may only be 19-years-old, but the ambitious UCD student is working her way towards attaining her dream job and establishing her own flock of sheep.
Growing up on a sheep and suckler farm in the heart of Ballytiglea, Borris, Co. Carlow instilled a love of the land in her from a tender age.
“Both on my mother, Julie and father, Tom, sides of the family have always farmed. My dad, a third-generation farmer, grew up on a dairy farm but at the age of 18, inherited our farm from his uncle, Alec Doyle, in 1984.”
“My earliest farming memories are sitting beside my dad on the tractor either turning hay or hedge-cutting. The arrival of our two Jacob ewes, Minnie, and Moe, is a fond memory of mine.”
Suckler and sheep enterprise
Tom oversees the operation of the 100-acre family farm with the help of Niamh and her sister, Aoife, while he also runs a contracting firm.
They farm 44 suckler cows and their calves and run between 120 and 150 ewes each year; they also have 3 horses and a young foal.
Their suckler cows are predominantly Limousin-crosses, with some Belted Galloways and Herefords.
“Our sucklers are on a grass-based system which we find is best when trying to fatten animals. We use a Limousine bull to produce excellent offspring for finishing.”
“Our method is beef to sale or slaughter. We finish and sell them from 18-24-months of age. Each year, we keep a number for replacements based on docility, star rating and general appearance/size.”
In terms of their sheep enterprise, they have Suffolk-crosses and Texel-crosses, with Blue Texels, Texels and Charollais being their ram breeds of choice.
They mostly slaughter lambs starting from May to late fall. They retain some as replacements, but generally purchase ewe lambs and hoggets. They feed lambs ad-lib to increase weights for slaughter for a higher kill-out percentage.
“The most enjoyable aspect of farming is being outdoors and spending time with my dad. It is a break from the busy Dublin lifestyle at the weekends and serves as a learning curve every time I am on the farm.”
“I must admit I rather the sheep over the sucklers as I find they are much easier to handle and there is less of a risk factor associated with them.”
“I do not find much challenging due to the extra hands available to help on the farm if necessary. Probably, the only challenge I face is proving my capabilities as a woman in agriculture to people outside of our farm.”
She is currently looking to establish her own flock of Zwartbles or Kerry Hill. “I just love the originality of their striking markings and colour.”
“I think they would bring great variety to our existing flock and will hopefully produce greater offspring.”
While she is not on-farm, Niamh can be found at University College Dublin where she is studying The BAgrSc Animal Science degree programme.
“From when the CAO opened, UCD was always my first choice due to its renowned reputation in agricultural science.”
“I have always loved science, particularly biology, the interest in doing a science-based course was always a runner.”
“I took on agricultural science in fifth-year. It was my favourite subject – I had a brilliant teacher Mrs. Olivia O’ Brien in Presentation Secondary School Thurles.”
A major player in selecting this course was her work experience for LCVP which she completed in Teagasc Oakpark Advisory offices in Carlow.
Following this experience, she realised that this was her preferred discipline, which resulted in her placing the course as her first CAO option, an offer which she accepted without hesitation.
“I am really enjoying the course so far. I cannot wait to get into my specialised area of study this year as I did general for first-year.”
“Although it was challenging at the beginning, I still breezed through. I preferred the second semester material more than the first, so it was a pity we missed out on labs and practicals due to the current pandemic.”
“This course has surpassed my expectations and continues to broaden my knowledge.”
Now going into second-year, the Carlow native is set to complete her Professional Work Experience module next year.
“I have not really given much thought into placement, although I do know I want to go abroad possibly New Zealand or America to get a change from the Irish farming scenery.”
“I think it would be very interesting to see their farm systems and to broaden my own knowledge of different farming-types.”
Once she completes her undergraduate studies, Niamh has expressed an interest in carving out a career in the areas of advisory, animal nutrition or securing a laboratory-based position.
“There are endless opportunities in this sector from advisory jobs, banking, teaching, and marketing just to name a few.”
“From my own experience, I know people automatically think ‘the big farmer from the country’ when in places such as Dublin; this perception needs to be ironed out and given a clean slate so people can realise there’s a lot more to agriculture than they think.”
Niamh said she feel as though she is treated the same most of the time as her male counterparts, but on a number of occasions, she said she had to prove herself in the agri sector.
“In recent years, I have noticed an increase in recognition for women in agriculture, but it still falls short of what the men receive.”
“It seems when you are a woman, your capabilities may be questioned which, in my opinion, is ridiculous. Everyone should be equal in any sector until proven different.”
“I am constantly learning and being exposed to new opportunities both at home and in college. I have never been happier as I know what I want and roughly where I want to go.” the 19-year-old concluded.
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