That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Mackenzie Cummins in this week’s women in ag segment. They discuss her move to a smallholding in Mayo in the west of Ireland, farming sheep and goats and living sustainably and holistically.
“I am 23-year-old Mackenzie Cummins, originally from Huntington Beach, California. I have been living in Attymass, Co. Mayo for over two-and-a-half years.
I am a first-generation farmer. My parents were not farmers, but they grew up with chickens, ducks, pigs, and goats.
My mother wanted to be a farmer, but it was never a career or a real passion for my mother or father as they grew up. But I had an indescribable pull to farming before I ever experienced it.
I grew up in the city for most of my life before moving to the desert in Joshua Tree, CA. We had chickens for the first time, and I spent most of my afternoons working on a horse ranch.
My husband and I grew up in a big city: me in Orange County, CA, and him in Windsor, UK.
So, the village we ended up in is the polar opposite of our backgrounds.
We had planned on living on the east coast of the country, where we have family connections. However, we randomly ended up in a county we had never been to, on the opposite side of the country, in a tiny little farming village in County Mayo.
I moved here in March 2019 and to Attymass on April 28th, 2019.
My move to Ireland was the most unexpected timing. I always say that Ireland chose us, that Attymass chose me.
There is no why; it was just meant to be. And now, I have fallen in love with this country more than I ever thought was possible.
Life in Mayo
Contrary to popular belief or guess, we rent our current home on one-acre.
But we put all our own money and time into making it into what it is, clearing out the acre. Before, it was unusable and had been growing untouched for over 50 years.
What was usable was a front and side garden. What is now usable is 1.5-acres of soon to be grazing pasture for my sheep and goats.
To be honest, we did not fit in, and we were reminded of it regularly when we first arrived.
We were the youngest couple, with two different accents, no livestock, and no family connections to the area. So, what on earth could we possibly be doing here? I was quick to take heed and do what I could to fit in. Enter: farming.
Besides getting through our first winter, I would say the time it took to feel like I belonged truly was a big thing for me.
For a while, I felt a little bit like an outcast. If you think about it, I am the only female farmer in my village and the youngest farmer by 13 years.
So, to attempt to step into this “born into” way of life with not even an Irish accent to fall back on was intimidating, and I fought to be accepted for the entire first year I moved here.
The community, the people, the traditions, and the weather are all so different to my home country but in the most beautiful ways. Each one is unique, a distinct part of who I am and who I am becoming.
I thought Ireland was going to be a stepping-stone that had an expiry date. I did not expect to picture myself building a life here with no end date in sight. It got a hold on me, and I do not see myself leaving!
I would say now, as we are in winter, I face the daily challenge of what the winter season means for our livestock.
For me, it means taking preventative action in the form of holistic care to strengthen immune systems in attempts to avoid pneumonia, lice, pink eye, and respiratory infections in goats and sheep, keeping shelters weatherproofed, mud levels down, and hay feeders stocked.
I predominantly oversee the general care of animals, with help from my husband, Matthew.
My dream is one day to be able to work farming full-time and sell milk, cheese, meat, eggs, and the food we grow in the garden to neighbours and small local business.
But for now, my husband and I both work full-time and part-time jobs, and our farm acts as a hobby farm.
At the moment, I am building sheep and goat numbers. We have two purebred Pygmy does, for breeding and future showing purposes, one purebred Boer doeling, who we will breed as well, and one Toggenburg Pygmy cross, who is absolutely useless as a wether but easy on the eyes, so he gets to stick around.
Also, I have two Vendeen/Texel ewe lambs that will act as my two breeding ewes this year as I decide what other breeds to add in the near future.
My eyes are on a pair of Mayo Mule hoggets, possibly a couple of Cheviot ewes, and a dairy goat or two to add next year. I am excited to grow and improve my flock as I go along.
Living sustainably and holistically
For some reason, living sustainably and holistically is an overwhelming, almost off-putting topic nowadays. And I think that is as a result of a lack of education and discomfort with straying from what is within our comfort zone.
But living sustainably and holistically does not need to be this scary subject. It is quite simple but extremely powerful.
I want to show that side, to educate others on how truly easy it is to start living sustainably within our means, living holistically for our health.
It is the little things with a side of consistency that make the biggest difference not just for us and our family’s health, but for the health of our animals, our livestock, and the future generations of each.
Holistic living to me means appreciating the power of nature, plants, and the earth FIRST. Educating ourselves on how we can maximise the effectiveness of the plants that grow around us, learning about the ways they impact our body, is different systems, and our livestock’ systems as well.
The very herbs and spices that sit in our pantries and fridges can also be used to maintain parasite loads in our animals, keep lice and mites away, kick start rumens, and strengthen immune systems. I am constantly amazed by all the uses a clove of garlic has!
Plant-based products and social media
I have the privilege of working for a company that creates natural, plant-based products that have changed mine and my family’s lives this past year and who are blowing my mind in relation to my livestock’s health as well.
I get to share my experience, my story and then work hand in hand with other women and families who have the same passion and drive for holistic living and overall wellness.
My people are interested in essential oils or learning the steps to living a less toxic lifestyle. Let’s connect, send me a direct message on Instagram and walk this wellness journey together!
I am active across social media, but this is my main platform. I have a YouTube channel, and I have so many ideas for videos and then end up putting nothing out. Therefore, it is a little stagnant at the moment!
But you can find some of our journey and goat births on there for your viewing pleasure!
My goals are endless. I often have the next project or idea in mind before starting the first one!
Getting our new pasture finished and the goats and sheep out on it is at the top of my list. After that, I want to continue building my sheep flock, add more ducks, alpacas, donkeys, cattle, you name it, I want it.
What I like most about Ireland is the light. Something I have noticed about the west is that the light is never the same two days in a row.
That is something that has captivated me every day over the past two years. Even in the rain and gloom, the light is always different and takes my breath away.
Adapting to rain and being the only house with no open fire can be challenging.
If someone told me I would be a farmer in my earlier years, I would have said, “Where and when? I will be ready”.
Plans for the future are to expand the farm here in Mayo, sell homegrown and homemade products from the farm, and raise little ones to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from hard work and caring for animals.
No one else will ever live your life for you – that is the best piece of advice I have ever received. So, at the end of the day, do what makes you happy.
I could write a novel on the future of farming in Ireland. I would like to see female farmers continuing to be acknowledged by the world of agriculture, traditional methods challenged and expanded, and more light on holistic farming practices.”
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