Caroline Burke studied a Level-5 Certificate in Agriculture and a Level-6 Advanced Certificate in Dairy Herd Management at Clonakilty Agricultural College, following the completion of her Leaving Certificate in 2008.
"These programmes gave me a great foundation, as they blended practical learning with theory-based modules. The college has a great network and I am still in daily contact with these friends." Caroline Burke told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
It was during this period while enhancing her knowledge that the Clonakilty, West Cork native became more interested in the exploration of Agriculture across the globe.
“After I finished my 6-month placement in New Zealand, I wanted to do more travelling before I return backed to the farm. I headed to England for four- months to do the harvest.”
Bitten by the travel bug, Caroline, a fifth-generation farmer ventured to Australia and spent twelve-months working with a contractor on a tillage farm.
She then secured a position on an 1100-dairy cow farm; progressed up the career ladder and became a farm manager.
After spending five years on Australian soil, Caroline weighed up her options - make the move back to Ireland or spend her life in Australia.
Caroline travelled back to her home soil in August-2015 and began a BSc in Agriculture at Cork Institue of Technology (CIT) as a mature student aged twenty-five.
“At first, I didn't know what to think going back to college after being out of it for so long.”
She completed work placement at Teagasc Office Clonakilty, as part of her second-year studies and is now in final-year.
“I enjoy the various modules that the course offers including financial management; accounting; biology; chemistry; maths; environmental science and professional sales.”
The 28-year-old juggles her studies with the running of a dairy farm, which comprises of 70 Holstein; British Friesian and Jersey cows.
Running the farm is a family affair for the Burkes, as Caroline; her father; mother; two sisters and two brothers are involved in its operation.
The Burkes retain between 20-25 replacements annually and sell the remainder of calves when they reach 1-month of age.
Caroline’s father oversees the running of the home farm - a 70-acre holding, while Caroline herself is at the helm of the 65-acre outfarm.
She takes charge of milking duties in the morning before she goes to college and in the evening when she returns.
Traditionally, up until 2016, the outfarm was used for a calf-to-beef production system; before the family opted to go dairying.
“My theory is to have enough cows that you can manage on your own; make a profit and have a life outside the milking parlour.”
“There's this theory that everyone thinks you have to have 200-300 cows to make money, but the truth is you can still make money with 60 cows, but only if it's done right!” Caroline said.
Being your own boss and dealing with mother nature are two of the most enjoyable aspects of being a farmer through Caroline’s eyes.
“Your cows become members of your family; you pick up on all their individual personalities - the order they come into the parlour and the one that knows when the fencer is plugged out,” Caroline said.
Caroline regards dealing with a series of inclement weather events presented by 2018 as the biggest challenge that she has faced since starting out in the industry.
“This year was just extremely tough. During the snow, cows fell; one broke her leg and mastitis was a major issue.”
“The drought followed and it was tough going - water and grass-wise, but I would take the drought any day if I was given a choice between that and the snow.”
“Thankfully, we got away without feeding bales but there was an increase in concentrate usage,” Caroline revealed.
The 28-year-old advises young people to visit different farms in various parts of the world/country before they return to home to farm, if the opportunity arises.
She is a firm believer in having an open-mind; embracing challenges and being open to change.
"My practical farming experience overseas gave me the green light. I was 100% sure that I wanted to go down this route. I would not have gained this knowledge from any book."
"Travelling has without a doubt changed my vision of agriculture and it's definitely something that I strongly encourage."
Looking forward, Caroline’s main goal is to continue to work towards finishing hrr degree programme which she will complete in May-2019.
She hopes to continue farming and push her stock numbers up to seventy cows while having an industry-related position, possibly in supply chain management or sales.
If you are a third-level student and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and you may be featured on That’s Farming next week.