Ashling Ní Chualáin in conversation with Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in this week’s women in ag segment. The Co Wexford farmer discusses growing a farm from scratch and breeding rare breed goats, pigs and poultry.
“My name is Ashling Ní Chualáin, and I am from Ballynagrallagh, Adamstown, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.
My parents help out with the running of Fraochoileain Farm. I would be unable to run it without them.
“My dad, Organelle, farmed on their mixed enterprise (sheep, cattle and fishing; they had shares in an island for lambs) in Connemara. My mother’s father (my grandad) also grew up on a farm, but we all moved around.
Careers took my parents in different directions; my dad is a secondary school teacher (woodwork & metalwork, which comes in very handy when stuff needs to be built and designed for the farm), and my mother is a technical writer; so our Facebook posts are very well-written.
We lived in a house with a big back garden, but my passion for animals grew and grew. We bought more land, and that is how the farm became what it is now.
I have always been interested in farming; from a very young age, I was always interested in animals.
As I am an only child, I found great company in animals. As cliché as this sounds, I always felt safe and connected with animals, not just domestic pets.
I always had a great interest in the farming stories my dad and grandad had to tell. During the first lockdown, I got pet lambs, and, from there, I have been obsessed.
I am doing my Leaving Cert this year. My mam and dad help me out a lot. My parents are essential to the farm, and without them, the farm would not have grown so much.
We have a 3-acre farm. As we do not have much land, we have designed paddocks to use everything to its full potential.
We ventured into farming just over a year ago now and farm in our own right.
Firstly, we only have three pigs, and it was a dream come true for me to own them.
We have pedigree KuneKune pigs – two females and one male. I have selected this breed for its character and cuteness. Also, they are a well-behaved breed and live long, healthy lives.
Our smallholding started with five chickens we bought from a lady who was moving back to Australia. They were these fabulous bantams. They were the perfect starter set for us.
I remember I was in about fifth class at the time. I was so incredibly excited. We then got a few good laying hens (Polymath Rock and Copper Marans), and bred our precious, French Favorelles hens and rosters.
These hens are our favourite breed, and while they are sometimes daft as a brush, we love them so much. They seem to be the breed that is most in demand for hatching eggs and chicks when we hatch them ourselves.
One of the beauties about this breed is that you know whether it is male or female by or before three-days-old. The males produce their black win feathers first. We have over 12 different chicken breeds on the farm, four breeds of ducks, and Toulouse geese.
In my opinion, we have one of the most spectacular duck breeds on our farm. The Cayuga duck has the most amazing black feathers with a glossy emerald sheen. They are stunning and lay this fabulous light blue-coloured egg.
I think we opt for the rare breeds out of pure love for the beauty and individuality of rare breeds and the fact that we love having unusual animals on the farm.
We have an honesty box on the road where we have hen and duck eggs for sale.
Our goats are part of the family. I call them my children. Their personalities amaze me every day; some are kind and love hugs! Some are the boss of the group; others only like you for food. They are all individuals, just like people.
Here on the farm, we focus on the welfare and the health and happiness of an animal.
After that, it is all a plus. I do not see them as just animals to feed in the morning and evening. I see them as animals that have changed our family life. They are so important to the farm.
In saying that, I do try my best to ensure that all my animals, not just my goats, are top quality.
My Pygmy goats are my true passion. The breed fascinates me. We also have a Pagora; a Pygmy crossed with an Angora, which is extremely rare. Rare breeds are very interesting, but there is also a niche in the market, which helps come sale time.
We have 25 goats on the farm and hope to grow to 35 does in the next five years.
A love of the land
My objective is to learn and grow the farm for the love of what I am doing and not for money.
Farming gives me an escape from the real world. As someone who struggles with mental health, I do not enjoy school; the farm is my happy place.
I feel myself completely. It is where I always want to be. Being around animals makes me feel good. I love watching them grow too.
The worst part about farming is not the debt you might be in. It is not the stress of keeping everything going.
It is when you lose an animal, whether it is through it passing away or having to sell one, that you are very attached to and feel close to.
Starting a farm from scratch
My farming venture so far has been difficult. I am not going to sugarcoat it. It has been very hard.
Starting up a farm is hard, but I cannot think about the struggles. My parents are helping me every step of the way and help take the weight off my shoulders. Honestly, I could not ask for better support.
The biggest challenge I have had to overcome would be proving to everyone that I can make this work. I feel like I will be doing that for a very long time from not growing up on a farm.
I find the mental and physical drain hard, along with weather. People may admit it or not, but there is also an emotional drain.
Also, I have had some very negative encounters with the farm I am trying to build. However, I cannot focus on that. If I did, it would hold me back.
Women in agriculture
I feel like the recognition for women in agriculture is much better than it used to be. We have to talk about that too. It should not always be negative. It is also important to remember how far the industry has come.
There will always be barriers in every industry. If you want to achieve something enough, you will make it work and not listen to what people say or what bridges you have to cross to get there.
Being a woman in ag can be challenging. However, in my eyes, that does not matter. If I love it, the passion outweighs the negatives.
My long-term plans would be to buy more land and expand into pedigree sheep breeding, and hopefully allow my dad to retire earlier.
Short-term, I plan to keep growing slowly every year in goat numbers and get the farm name more widely known.
In five years, I want to have larger stock numbers with a focused approach to environmental friendliness.
The future of farming in Ireland is a very controversial topic. However, in my opinion, it needs to change.
We need to find a way to farm that is profitable but still environmentally friendly. What that is, I do not know, but together we need to figure it out soon,” the Wexford farmer concluded.
To share your story like this Wexford farmer, email – [email protected]