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HomeDairy‘Milking suits playing camogie’ – ag science student (22) at SETU Waterford
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Milking suits playing camogie’ – ag science student (22) at SETU Waterford

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Muireann Kelly (22) from Danesfort, in Kilkenny, in this week’s Student Focus series.

“My father, Finbarr, runs the home farm, but I suppose it is a family affair as between myself and my younger brother, Paddy, we both give him a hand along the way.

My sister, Ailbhe, can also be roped in at the odd time to give a hand. The farming system at home is all dairy.

We rear our own replacement heifers and sell all bull calves. We sow a few acres of maize every year to buffer feed the cows in the summer months.

Our farm suffers from serious droughts each year, so the maize helps maintain milk quality and keep production levels high during these droughts.

I got my first job away from the home farm when I was about 16, in a petrol station.

I immediately knew that kind of work just was not for me. However,I only lasted a few weeks there, so dad got me a job milking cows for a local dairy farmer.

I did not look back since, as every weekend and summer since I have milked for a few different dairy farmers around.

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It does not feel like you are working at all; I find that time flies. Any farmer I have worked for has always been easygoing.

I play camogie with Danesfort, so milking suits camogie as you would usually be finished milking in time for a match or training and if you are tight for time, it is a nice excuse to leave before washing up.

Agricultural science at SETU Waterford

From that first milking job onwards, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture.

I am in my fourth- year of agricultural science at SETU Waterford. I chose this course as I had heard it gives you a great mix of both practical elements and theory.

The second semester of second year is mainly based out in Kildalton, doing practical classes.

Our year group was unfortunate, as due to Covid-19, we completed our second year of college during lockdowns, so these practical classes were done online.

Despite only living 30 minutes away from the college, I still live down in Waterford, so I do not miss out on any fun.

I suppose I am very fortunate I have the best of both worlds, really, as I would often go home during the week for a nice home-cooked dinner or training, and then I would be back down to Waterford the following evening for a night out.

I would definitely recommend agricultural science in Waterford to anyone who is unsure about what course to choose.

It is a very broad programme that could lead you in any direction afterwards.

Each year varies, I suppose, and first year can scare away a lot of people as it is all science-based, and some modules can be quite difficult – given the nature of the course discipline.

You would spend most of your week in the labs and doing lab reports.

Once you get through first year, there are more agricultural modules incorporated, which makes them more difficult modules easier to manage as you have a balance of ag modules and science-based ones.

The points race

If you do not get the points for agricultural science in Waterford, you have the option to do the level 7 agriculture course, which is a 3-year degree.

There is an opportunity to do an add-on year, then after those three years, to obtain a level 8 degree in land management.

If you are really passionate about a certain course, I definitely would not let the points scare you away from the course.

There will always be another route to get yourself into the same, if not a similar, line of work.

For our placement in semester two of third year, we had the option of completing industry or on-farm placement.

I completed my 12-week work placement beginning in January 2022 at Tirlán, Ireland.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we were not allowed to go abroad to New Zealand or anywhere along the lines of that.

At the time, I was very peeved as I had heard about how the year groups ahead of us had the opportunity to go out abroad for their placement, and I felt hard done by that I could not go.

Looking back now, I am so glad I had to stay in Ireland and that I chose the industrial placement option.

Through my placement, I learned that there is way more to farming than just milking cows.

I got the opportunity to work with the milk supply team, where I got to understand the end-to-end milk supply, and meet different farmers and people in the agricultural sector in Ireland.

Summer job in Tirlán

Once my 12-week placement was completed, I got a summer job in Tirlan, Belview, where I worked in the milk powder lab and also as part of the milk quality team.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tirlán, and I feel confident now when entering any job interviews knowing that I have that experience on my side.

People keep asking me what my plan is once I graduate this year, and honestly, I have no plan.

Travelling is definitely on my bucket list for some stage. I suppose I will see what jobs are out there once I graduate, and I will play it by ear after that.

Women in Agriculture

There are slightly more females in my year in college than males. This is great to see that more women are beginning to pursue careers in agriculture as we are just as capable as the men are.

I did some relief milking before. When I was sent out to a farmer that did not know me, I think they would be sort of wary of me and looking at me thinking ‘she won’t be able for this’.

But once you would do one milking for them and prove yourself, they will have full faith in you.

I was never really offended by this initial lack of belief. I knew I just had to prove I was capable, and then there would be no issues afterwards.

Moreover, I suppose some male farmers will have it in the back of their heads that women would not be as suited to physical work.

Despite this, I think there is a constant improvement in the amount of respect women in agriculture have today, and this respect and admiration will continue to grow.”

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