Courtney McMullan’s love for farming stemmed from joining her local farmer’s club in 2013.
Although she does not hail from an agricultural background, the 20-year-old grew up in a rural area “surrounded by all things farming” and is now living her dream overseas.
After she finished her GCSEs and proceeded onto her A-Levels, agriculture was one of three modules that she studied. “For someone who never milked a cow before, having done a bit of relief milking here and there, I knew that cows are much easier to work with than people and to this day it’s a true statement!” she laughed.
“Two years later, I knew that I wanted to learn more so I chose CAFRE, Greenmount campus, and selected a foundation degree in agriculture and technology.”
Over 860 dairy cows
As part of her course, Courtney, who hails from the outskirts of Ballymoney, County Antrim, is now based in South Canterbury, New Zealand where she is completing placement at Pareora Dairy Farming Ltd.
She used a £1,000 bursary, which she was awarded from Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) during her first-year of her current degree programme, to contribute towards her travel costs.
“When I landed out here, I was working on a 40-aside herringbone shed for 8 months before shifting to the rotary shed.”
The dairy enterprise, which consists of a mix of Kiwi-crosses, Friesians, and Jerseys, is located on the south banks of the Pareora River.
868 animals are farmed in total – 850 milking and 18 carry-overs for the incoming season of 2020/2021.
The farm was converted to dairy in 2012 with cows now milked through a 60-bale rotary dairy shed. “The milking platform is fully irrigated, the majority by centre pivot with the blend being irrigated by gun, K-Line, Longlines and fixed grid. The farm has a flat to rolling contour.”
“The farm has a total area of 261.32ha, with a total of 236.56ha being effective. The current stocking rate is 3.6ha per cow.”
Cows calve throughout winter and early spring, with a view to drying-off in the middle-to-end-of-May with all stock heading to the run-off block for winter grazing.
“Cows are brought back home onto the dairy for the end of June to begin calving. Cows are milked twice-a-day at 5am and 2pm.”
“I love milkings and I also love finding out new and different ways of doing things on-farm and learning from others.”
Courtney’s responsibilities on-farm include pasture management, health and safety, practical farm operations, irrigation, milking, animal health and husbandry in the shed, paddock, and track, throughout calving and the breeding season.
“There is so much to learn from someone who is new into the industry. Cows don’t milk themselves and it takes a confident person to milk them properly with all the different things that you must consider from bringing them onto the platform to dismounting off the platform again.”
Gaining experience overseas
Courtney said the highlight of her course is being able to travel across the world to learn about various agricultural enterprises and practices.
“This course had everything I wanted to learn about in further depth, plus the hands-on once-a-week practicals.”
It also offers work placement opportunities in England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, and America.
“I always dreamed of coming out to New Zealand one day and when I saw that CAFRE had this opportunity, that set my heart in stone that I was for studying this course in the hope that I would make my dream come true and travel over 11,000 miles to New Zealand and I have done so.”
“There are many things that I can bring home from NZ to NI dairy farmers, in which hopefully, they will be able to listen to and think about to enhance an even more successful and profitable farm.”
Women in ag
“Farming is not a male-based job as many people think; us woman can do as good as job as any man could do.”
“Sometimes I do think farms are more successful with even just one female being onboard.”
“If there are no farmers, there would be no food, and no future (quote from Grassmen), which just shows why us young people are the future generation in agriculture and the importance of our role.”
Whilst discussing the upcoming generation of farmers, she drew attention to various social media accounts which provide a realistic insight into farming life and food production. “One particular account on Instagram that I follow is Anna Truesdale. The inspiration and positivity that she shares daily through her account is unreal.”
“She is a great ambassador for all us woman in ag. She knows her stuff and shows how women in agriculture are no different to men in agriculture.”
“There are so many people out there showcasing their journey in agriculture, but Anna is one to follow if you are considering a career in the ag industry.”
When she returns to her home soil, Courtney, who is set to graduate in 2021, intends to search for a position on a dairy farm.
“All being well after that, I would love to take on an honours degree. I would love to venture to Australia to see how they farm in the years to come also.”
“I would love to work up the ladder and hopefully become a dairy farm manager on a farm in Northern Ireland.”
“I am very lucky to have chosen the right decisions when I did as I would not be where am at today. We are students, we can be anything we want to be, we are women in ag.” the 20-year-old concluded.
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