Aoife Doyle-O'Rourke – who grew up on a suckler and tillage farm in Ballymurn, Co. Wexford - worked in childcare before following her farming dream.
The 28-year-old developed a keen interest in her family farm and her father’s potato production business at a young age.
“I didn't always want to be a farmer; I wanted to be a teacher, but I never got around to filling out the application form.” she told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“The turning point came when my husband Shane took over his family farm. When we considered venturing into dairy, teaching went totally out of my head. I certainly don't regret my decision.” she explained.
She became interested in dairy farming when her parents and brother made the switch in 2015.
Aoife and her husband followed in hot pursuit, calving down high-EBI Friesian-X-Jersey heifers in a 6-week block between February and March 2019.
“We've also changed from a beef and sheep enterprise. Shane’s father was involved in dairying before giving it up 30 years ago.” she explained.
Forty cows now pass through an 8-unit parlour; the Wexford natives hope to increase the size of their spring-calving grass-based herd at a steady rate over the next year.
All bull calves are sold between 21-35-days-old, while heifers are retained as replacements.
Aoife enjoys being her own boss and the variety that dairy farming offers. “It's nice to get up in the morning, see the cows coming into the parlour and realise that hard work pays off.”
“It’s quite relaxing yet hectic at the same time but I love it,” she admitted.
The young farmer has a varied role on the enterprise, with duties ranging from milking and feeding to paperwork and machinery work. “I also do all of our own silage with the help from my father and brother.”
“I do mostly everything, bar calf rearing – that’s my husband’s forte; he is an amateur jockey.” she explained.
Aoife must be able to run the enterprise single-handedly as her husband is point-to-point racing at weekends and away schooling and riding work during the week; she also enlists the help of her father-in-law when necessary.
The couple aim to have their own point-to-point horses every year. “This year, we only had one which we part-owned with a friend of ours.”
“My father always bred a couple of National Hunt horses and still does. I met Shane through the racing scene.”
She admitted that the biggest challenge she has faced since becoming a new entrant dairy farmer is managing finance. “We didn’t want to start out with a massive overhead; we basically got into dairy without a loan.”
“We spent only what we had which was extremely challenging at times as there were certain things, we wanted but couldn’t afford.”
“We know these things will come with time, and right now, they're not a priority.”
Women in Ag
The Wexford woman said she was raised to believe that she could do anything a male can, and that's still instilled in her today.
“People can be quite old-fashioned, and I don’t understand why they still find it astonishing to see me mowing my own silage, baling it, stacking it, drawing it or driving a tractor.”
“Often people will come into the yard and ask me can they speak to the boss or call me the farmer’s wife. I correct them and tell them that I'm the farmer.”
“The mart is a male-denominated scene - it's not often you'd see a girl buying or selling stock,” she added.
The Wexford native advises her fellow women in agriculture to “have a thick skin and stand up for yourself”. “You're always going to be criticised but take what you can on the chin and don’t listen to the rest.”
“Make sure you have an excellent support group. I know that without my family and my close friends, I certainly wouldn't be in the position that I'm in today.”
“For any woman wanting to pursue a career in agriculture, please take the leap. If you don't try, you'll never know,” she added.
Looking ahead, Aoife and Shane would like to increase their stock numbers by 25% over the next year. “We also hope to install the extras that we couldn't this spring.”
Keen to up-skill and expand her knowledge base, Aoife intends to complete her Green Cert within the next year.
“At some stage, it would be good to get an opportunity to increase our acres, that would probably be the main goal; to purchase a piece of land either attached or close to the milking platform.”
“There's nothing I'd do differently; I don't think there's any point in looking back. We can only improve from here on in,” she concluded.
If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story, email – firstname.lastname@example.org – with a short bio.