Rachel Connolly may be a social care graduate, but she now has her sights set on full-time dairy farming.
The 23-year-old, who resides in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, does not hail from a farming background but has been an animal enthusiast from a tender age.
“I always had a huge interest in animals from an early age, then met my partner who grew up farming and continues to do so.” the 23-year-old told That’s Farming.
“My love for livestock started when I had to calf a cow by myself when himself was away at silage. I will never forget it; it was surreal. It sparked a huge interest for me. I haven’t looked back since.”
Dairy and suckler farming
Rachel and her partner, Sean, run a 75-strong herd of pedigree Holstein Friesians, Herefords and Limousins.
The farm is traditionally a suckler-beef enterprise, but in recent years, they have been preparing to venture into dairying. In spring 2021, they will milk a 50-cow herd in a newly built 12-unit Dairymaster parlour.
“Our pedigree Limousin and Hereford herds are growing each year. For me, the most enjoyable aspect would have to be calving or calf-rearing. I love seeing every animal thrive. It makes the job so worthwhile. Summer nights doing silage are great craic too.”
“Beef prices are disheartening and seem to be getting worse. Setting up our dairy enterprise was financially challenging and time-consuming.”
“Animal husbandry would be a huge passion of mine. It is so rewarding seeing animals thrive, especially rearing them from a young age. I have a keen interest in fertility management and genetics.”
Rachel plays a rather varied role on-farm with her responsibilities varying from paperwork to calf-rearing and machinery-related tasks.
“I manage the paperwork for the farm – I find the HerdWatch app a great help compared to the traditional way of doing things.”
“Calf rearing is also a huge part of my role along with animal husbandry. I give a hand with silage when needed along with spreading fertiliser, land levelling, fencing etc. It’s a versatile and rewarding role.”
Women in ag
The 23-year-old believes that there is a lack of recognition for the work that women contribute to farms. However, she said an attitude change has led to an improvement in recent years.
She stressed that women play a vital role in the agricultural industry in Ireland, and this deserves recognition.
“There is often a perception that because you are a woman, there’s a lack of knowledge, but that’s not the case. Also, not being physically strong enough for the job is often another perception, but anyone can find it a physically demanding role – not just women.”
“Every woman in agriculture that I know puts in 110% effort into the job – equal to all men in the industry – the gender barrier is slowing but surely starting to fade away.
“It’s great to see some women having lead roles in organisations and state agencies. It gives younger female encouragement to join the sector.”
“Women are starting to be considered as equals on the farm and not just ‘help’. It’s a lifestyle, not just a job and it’s a lovely one too.”
“Being a woman in the sector, you have to go above and beyond to prove yourself. It can be challenging, especially meeting people with negative attitudes/comments towards women in agriculture and undermining our abilities and strengths.”
“However, the career itself makes it all worthwhile. At the end of the day, whether you are male or female, farming is farming and if you work very hard and love the job that is all that matters.”
Looking ahead, Rachel intends to complete her Green Certificate and has plans to increase their herd size so she can become a full-time dairy farmer.
“Farming is unlike any other career – every season is different in farming. You have silage in summer, calving in spring, no two days are the same. It is great being your own boss too.”
“It can be difficult to break into the sector financially, but perseverance and passion for the sector are the main keys to succeeding. You must love it. It’s that simple.”
“Farming, as a young woman in Ireland, has shaped me into the strong, resilient, forward-thinking individual that I am today. This career has given me the grit and gumption to get up and go,” she concluded.