Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in converstion with agricultural science – animal science student, Ciara Geoghegan, in this week’s women in ag series. We discuss her dairy farming roots, studies at UCD – including PWE – and future ambitions.
“My name is Ciara Geoghegan, and I am 22-years-old. I am from East Clare, and our family home and farm are right beside Lough Derg.
My family has owned a dairy farming enterprise for at least seven generations going back to the 1700s.
Some of my earliest memories of helping on the farm were helping my grandfather back in the early 2000s when I would go around the farm in the wheelbarrow as he pushed me around while doing various jobs in which I would give him a hand.
Also, I loved helping my father, feeding calves, and learning how to milk the cows. It is safe to say that farming has been an interest instilled in me since I can remember.
Our family-run dairy farm is named Derg View Farm Ltd and is right beside Lough Derg in East Clare, along with the family home.
My father, Brian Geoghegan, runs the farm after being handed it down from his father, John Geoghegan.
My other three younger siblings and I help out on the farm with various jobs and responsibilities.
We also have one other full-time worker on the farm as well as other part-time workers. They come to work over the summer months to share the heavy workload during the silage season.
My father also runs a contracting business, producing bales during the summer.
Our herd comprises 156 Holstein-cross-British Friesian cows, milking on a spring calving-based system. British Friesians are the more predominant breed as they are the stockier and stronger of the two breeds while producing excellent solids.
We milk them through a 20-unit herringbone Pearson parlour. Also, we rear 42 replacement heifers and 45 replacement heifer calves on the farm.
We house two purebred Hereford bulls on the farm for use after AI (artificial insemination) has commenced.
The farm comprises 240-acres, with 120-acres for the milking grazing platform.
Grass management is very important, with grass measurement of the grazing platform being carried out every week.
We use PastureBase to input the results to find out our average grass cover along with other stats. This allows us to make optimal usage of supplementation with concentrates.
The most enjoyable part of farming for me is working with the cows and ensuring that we can provide the best care for them while optimising performance.
I love nothing more than being down in the pit milking cows. Ensuring early illness prevention is highly important on our farm. Therefore, we pride ourselves on our attentive nature with our stock.
The most challenging part of farming is the weather, as it determines what jobs we can carry out on any given day.
Grassland management and herd health:
It can also so greatly impact the production of grass, increasing the ease or difficulty of grass management.
I am very passionate about both grass management as well as ensuring adequate health and care for our herd.
This entails keeping an eye on SCC (somatic cell count) and mastitis management, for instance, early detection.
I believe that if cows are well taken care of, this will positively reflect in milk yields and solids, leaving both cows and farmers happier.
Therefore, my main responsibilities on the farm consist of milkings regularly throughout the week, grass measurements weekly, as well as caring for calf and heifer livestock, along with a variety of other duties.
I am currently a member of the ASA (Agricultural Science Association), which hosted mock interviews at the beginning of the year to prepare Agricultural students for once they graduate.
They also assist in various other career opportunities that are very beneficial for students that have reached the end of their time at college and are looking at starting their career in the agricultural industry.
Agricultural Science – Animal Science:
Currently, I am a fourth-year student attending University College Dublin, where I am studying agricultural science, specifying in animal science.
I enrolled in 2018 after the commencement of my Leaving Certificate. I am currently in my last year of college, having completed my final exams in May 2022.
Firstly, I selected this course as my first choice on my CAO as I had always had an interest in agriculture, from farming at home to then studying agriculture science in secondary school.
My teacher for this subject had such a passion that it ignited that interest to where I considered that this would be something I would love to go on and study further and now to pursue a career in the field.
UCD allowed me to foster my learning of the agricultural sector nationally and globally.
The ability to specialise in a specific area appealed to me as I have always been interested in the animal side of agriculture.
Studying a variety of areas within agriculture, such as nutrition, genetics, production, husbandry, and health practices, to name but a few really left me feeling prepared to enter a career in the sector after the commencement of my course.
Professional Work Experience:
I completed my work experience in third-year of my degree in the four areas of sheep, dairy, pigs, and beef.
Moreover, I carried out my sheep placement in Wicklow with Ballycurry Farm Partnership. Here, I learned how a 400-sheep flock is managed through the lambing season.
Furthermore, I conducted my dairy placement in Tipperary on the O’Meara Dairy Partnership farm, where they were milking over 400 cows on a 40-unit herringbone DeLaval parlour.
I was exposed to a very high-producing and extremely efficient enterprise where I learned invaluable information. Here, I learned how grass measurement and PastureBase can optimise grassland.
Then, I brought this skill home, where my father and I started the practice on our own farm to better utilise our grazing platform.
I continue to work on this farm a year later, where they now operate on two farms, having added another 20-unit herringbone parlour on a separate farm, milking upwards of 500 cows across both farms.
Pig placement and industry
Besides, I completed pig placement in Clare on Kilfilum Ltd, where I was shown a farming system that was so vastly different from what I had experienced before.
Housing 1000 sows, this was a huge operation with strict routines in place. It was so fascinating to learn about the pig sector, which was so different from what I had learned previously.
My final placement was with Conroy Agri Supplies Ltd in Galway, that has a wide variety of enterprises, including rearing beef-dairy calves to weanlings before selling them on, dealing in beef stock, primarily heifers, as well as keeping some fattening stock.
They also had a flock of pedigree Zwartbles sheep that they often exhibited at agricultural shows and operate an agricultural supply company.
This was an excellent opportunity as it really allowed me to be flexible within my working role and learn a vast amount of information about a variety of areas.
I could not be happier with the choice of my university and course area; being able to meet a variety of people from different backgrounds while having a common interest in agriculture was incomparable.
Sitting in the common room of the ag building with a cup of tea and a snack only costing you €1 was unheard of in the big smoke of Dublin.
It was a place where friendships were built, and stress was released over upcoming deadlines and exams.
Covid-19 definitely threw some hurdles in the college experience as we had to adapt to an online way of learning that we had not previously been used to.
All third-year was through online learning, as that was when the pandemic was at its peak.
I was very grateful that we could still go on work experience and that was not too greatly affected.
I was also very glad to be able to return to on-campus learning for the final year of the course.
Women in Ag:
Although I believe the situation for women in ag has greatly improved over the last number of years, I do not think women are yet considered equal to their male counterparts.
Although I cannot yet speak for industry level, women definitely deserve more recognition at farm level.
Our strength and capability in doing jobs are usually underestimated. Nearly being 6ft tall myself, I have had many people perceive me as being weaker than I am and then being surprised when I can complete a job that they thought I was not capable of.
Encouraging women’s interest and ensuring that we can strive for more equality throughout the sector would definitely encourage more women to join the sector.
There are so many areas of agriculture that there is something for nearly everyone, whether it be at farm or industry level.
I would love to travel and see the agricultural industries at work over in Australia and New Zealand and see how their systems compare to our own here in Ireland.
My main interests within my studies have been around genetics and AI. Therefore, I would like to pursue a career in that field in the future.
My advice to any younger people interested in ag would be that you do not need to know what you are doing immediately.
Getting valuable experience within the sectors, you are interested in will help you the most in knowing what area of the industry to pursue.
A goal of mine has always been to help farmers improve their profitability and farm efficiency by the introduction of learning of newer technologies that they might not have had the interest in or the time in learning before that help them ultimately achieve their own goals.
I think this is highly important when talking about the progression of the agriculture sector from the ground up, as supporting our farmers means supporting the sector as a whole.
Being a young person in agriculture is a very exciting place to be as there are many opportunities in the sector.
There is a real change to be made now in terms of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions that will need many people to make that change happen.
The future of agriculture in Ireland is a fate that rests in many people’s hands with the surges in costs of inputs as well as climate change on the rise.
Keeping farming profitable may be a difficult task at present. However, it is needed as food supply is an ever-increasing demand globally.”
To share your story like this agricultural science student, email – [email protected]
See more women in ag profiles.