In this week’s Student Focus segment, That’s Farming, speaks to suckler farmer and Connemara pony breeder, Laura Heavey. She studied a four-year degree and worked on a dairy farm before beginning her veterinary nursing studies.
It is never too late to pursue your dream career, and Laura Heavey is a testament to that.
The 28-year-old, hails from a suckler farm in Athenry, Co Galway, that has been in her family for over two centuries.
She is involved in its running, whilst working full-time in a medical device factory (evening-based position) and studying a veterinary nursing degree.
Speaking to That’s Farming about her agricultural background, she said:
“I have always been on the farm from a young age just soaking it all in and learning as I have been growing.”
“Some of my earliest farming memories include receiving my first suck calf, aptly named Suckey, at around age five. I fed the calf every morning before school and every evening when I got home.”
“Going with my dad while he was relief milking and getting to help with feeding cows in the parlour by shovelling meal into the hoppers and feeding calves after milking are also some standout memories for me,” she added.
Undergraduate studies and dairy farm position
In the last year, she began working towards achieving her life-long dream of becoming a veterinary nurse.
After completing her Leaving Certificate in 2011, she enrolled in an equine science course before later deciding against pursuing this.
The following year, she accepted a place in the BSc in agriculture and environmental management degree that Mountbellew Agricultural College delivers in conjunction with GMIT.
“It was during this course that I did work experience on a dairy farm and realised I have a love of milking and all that it entails,” she revealed.
On completion of her four years between the two educational providers, she secured a position on a dairy farm in Athy, Co Kildare.
She remained here from November 2016 to July 2018 before returning home to begin working evening shifts with her current employer whilst running the family farm during the day.
Mature student route
“It is only last year at 27 that I decided to bite the bullet and follow my dream of becoming a veterinary nurse.”
“I applied as a mature student. When I did my Leaving Certificate, I had applied for both vet nursing and equine science but ended up going for equine science.”
She is currently studying a BSc in veterinary nursing at Athlone Institute of Technology and hopes to graduate in 2023. As part of her studies, she is completing a work placement with Railway Vets in Loughrea.
The three-year course contains a mixture of companion and large animal husbandry, anatomy and physiology, lab techniques, placements and nursing for companion, large and equine animals.
“I hope to enter the veterinary nursing field in the equine sphere when I graduate. I am quite interested in this area of the nursing field with my interest in breeding ponies.”
“Life as a student during Covid has been somewhat different to my previous college experience. Back then, I was on campus every day.”
“In a way, it was a good thing. I could still be home during calving season to keep an eye on the cows. I could have the laptop set up and be watching lectures while observing cows in the calving pens.”
“The learning experience was challenging as concentrating on a screen for so many hours a week can be difficult. However, the lecturers made it as stress-free and interesting as could be done for everyone.”
Despite her college and work commitments over the past decade, the Galway native has maintained her interest in the family farm.
She also owns 10 cows and calves, 5 replacement heifers, some bob lambs and 8 Connemara ponies that she breeds.
Collectively, the family, her father, Mike and brother, Aidan, run a 30-cow suckler farm, comprising mainly of first-cross Angus cows with some Hereford and Charolais influence.
They run a Charolais stock bull with the herd and AI maiden heifers to Limousin sires.
“I enjoy being able to watch offspring, be that a calf, lamb or foal, from birth until it is time for them to be sold or join the herd as a breeding cow or, in the case of ponies, watch them start their careers.”
“I am responsible for paperwork, tagging and registering calves and calving any cows. These include the ones that decide to calve when I get home from work at night. Besides, I also have sole responsibility for the ponies I breed,” she added.
Women in ag
“I do not feel as if I am treated any differently to my male counterparts. Anyone I have met has been supportive of women pursuing careers in the agricultural industry.”
“I feel now with social media and other platforms where women in agriculture are actively showing their daily lives, that recognition is definitely being observed more for us at farm and industry level.”
“Encouragement from a young age is key. Allowing females from farming or non-farming backgrounds to avail of opportunities to experience the industry, be that in processing plants, in veterinary practices, or areas they feel they would like to learn about, will allow them to decide if this industry is something they would like to pursue a career in or not.”
“I think females should consider a career in agriculture as it is a very rewarding field. We are being considered more for a wider range of jobs that equal our male counterparts. This proves we can do the same as them if not better in some areas.”
In the future, Laura hopes to expand suckler cow numbers to 45 and establish a pedigree Charolais herd.
“My ultimate goal is to hopefully one day have a farm of my own with my own cows and still be breeding my Connemaras.”
“I have never thought of travelling as I have always been a real home bird. Even when I was living and working in Kildare, I would check-in at home every day for fear I would miss anything major happening.”
“If I could turn back the clock, I would not do anything differently. If I did, I would not be where I am now. I am glad I have made the choices I have; they led me to realise that I love working with animals. It is what I want to do with my life.”
“It has been like a rollercoaster, fun and scary at the same time, but rewarding and fulfilling,” she concluded.