This week’s Women in Ag segment, features Nicole Martin, who reveals how her brother-in-law sparked her passion for agriculture.
“I was so scared to be a farmer after I left school that I ended up going to college to do something I never wanted a job in. After years of being in jobs I hated, I decided farming was what I wanted.”
Those are the words of Nicole Martin, who unearthed her passion for agriculture at the age of eleven, but took the scenic route into the industry.
Although the 24-year-old was not born into a farm family, the Ballymote, Co. Sligo native kept some poultry and aided her grandfather with his horses from a tender age.
But it was her brother-in-law that sparked her passion for farming.
“My older sister, Naomi, started going out with a farmer called Paddy. He is now my best friend and has taught me everything about the farming world,” she told That’s Farming.
“Naomi used to tell me about all the lambs and calves she saw on the farm, and I was mad to get going. So, I begged them to bring me out to the farm, and that ignited my passion.”
“I asked them to collect me from school to go farming, and every weekend I went farming. There was no stopping me.”
Veterinary and pig farming experience
When they got married, Nicole spent a considerable amount of time on the Ballymote-based 500-acre beef and sheep enterprise and undertook some machinery-related work.
She also spent time in his parent’s veterinary practice in Ballymote, where she gained invaluable practical experience on-call and performed administrative duties.
From there, she secured a position on a pig farm in Elphin, County Roscommon, where she helped to manage farrowing houses. “I had no experience with pigs, but I soon fell in love. After a year on the pig farm, I wanted to work outdoors again.”
In February 2020, just before Ireland’s first Covid-19 national lockdown was imposed, Nicole packed her bags and ventured to Callan, County Tipperary/ Kilkenny to begin working for Padraig, and Ena Collins and their son, Mark.
The family milk 430 dairy cows using a newly installed 60-bay rotary.
Again, this was another new experience for Nicole, as she had never milked cows previously until setting foot on their enterprise.
“I was very nervous, but they are lovely, genuine people and had great patience while training me in. It was quite daunting milking for the first time on a rotary, as everything moves very fast.”
“Mark and my colleague, Yoann, who both milked on rotaries in New Zealand, trained me in. They had great tips and techniques, but I still find it hard some days as it is quite high. I am 5ft 4″, so reaching kicking heifers is a challenge, but I never let it beat me.”
Cow-type, AI and grassland management
The family farm mainly Friesian-Jersey-crosses, due to their hardiness, high fertility, and ability to “turn grass into milk solids, and not just litres”.
Padraig and Mark operate a 100% AI system and inseminate all cows over 72 days to achieve a shorter breeding season.
Calving takes place from February 7th through to the end of April to maximise grassland utilisation. Furthermore, the Collins sell bull calves when they reach three weeks of age and retain all heifers as replacements. They send heifer calves to a contract-rearer when they are 6-weeks-old, and they return to the farm to calve down at 24-months.
“The herd is performing very well, putting about 6,000litres + into the tank daily. Grass management is vital on the farm. It is imperative to manage your grass right as it fills the tank at the end of the day.”
The family carry out a grass walk with a plate metre once-a-week and upload all data to Pasture Base. Nicole is involved in all aspects of the farm ranging from milking to calf-rearing, among other duties.
“I love dairy farming as it is so rewarding to see animals out in sunshine, eating grass and turning that into liquid gold. It is nice to have a bond with the cows in the parlour, too, because they see you twice-a-day!”
With her feet firmly on the agricultural career ladder, Nicole intends to spread her wings by studying agriculture at third-level before travelling to New Zealand to gain further dairying experience.
She has a burning desire to remain within the dairying circles and hopes to encourage people “to do what you love regardless of what anyone might say”.
“It is great to see an entire community of women farmers all over the world. I feel like we are finally being taken seriously because this is a full-time job. for most of us.”
“Thankfully, my family, friends, and girlfriend are so supportive. I do find it challenging sometimes being a woman in ag; I had to work very hard to get strong.”
“It is hard being a gay woman in ag because people always throw the same comments ‘have you got your husband yet?’ and although it means no harm, why do I need a husband?”
“I would never change my life as a woman in ag. I am very happy and proud of myself. Seeing the support from other women in ag on social media is so inspiring. In a world so bitter, ladies can come together and help each other succeed,” Nicole Martin concluded.