Growing up on a mixed farm with a thriving dairy enterprise; 1,500 turkeys and 100 sows, sowed the seed for Bernie Mac Carthy. The third-generation farmer hails from Crossbarry, Inishannon, Co. Cork.
Although she was always passionate about agriculture, Bernie pursued a professional career and trained as a nurse with a focus on intellectual disabilities at Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. Bernie later progressed to work with children at St. Mary’s Delvin, Co. Westmeath and returned as a staff nurse for three years after she qualified.
Bernie’s nursing career then led her to the Brothers of Charity, Glanmire, Co. Cork for close to three decades; she took early retirement approximately eight years ago to focus on the running of the farm.
Bernie swapped her nursing career to farm a herd of pedigree Aberdeen-Angus cattle with her partner Senator Paul Daly - Fianna Fail in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath.
“I can drive a tractor and feed the cattle silage, so farming as a female has never been an issue for me.” Bernie McCarthy told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
“My great neighbour, Brendan Daly always helps me out whenever I am stuck or when it comes to a challenging calving case.”
The Big Change
Bernie’s interest in the Aberdeen Angus breed was sparked close to five years ago and the foundational females of the Westmeath-based were acquired from Michael O’Leary’s highly-renowned Gigginstown herd.
“We purchase a lot of stock from Michael’s herd; we attend the sale that he hosts on his farm every year and usually buy two/three pedigree in-calf heifers,” Bernie explained.
“We normally buy a stock bull off Alan Cheney, a breeder who is based on the Tyrone/Fermanagh border,” Bernie added.
Over forty Aberdeen Angus cattle now dominate the Westmeath-based holding and the herd is officially registered with the Irish Aberdeen-Angus Society.
With a selective breeding policy at the fore, Bernie and her partner have set the standard high for their herd and sealed a deal for their first bull for breeding purposes in April of this year. They have intentions to put more high-end pedigree bulls under the hammer as the year progresses, with more available for sale in 2019.
“It is fantastic to get involved in the animals - to see a cow give birth and to watch the growth and development of that calf overtime.” Bernie highlighted.
“With farming, time is your own in a way, even though sometimes, you wouldn’t have enough time in the day to do everything that you have to do. You’re out in the fresh air daily - which is great for mental health.” Bernie explained.
Women in Ag
Bernie believes that mechanisation and technological advances have combined to make the lives of farmers easier; however, she reveals that one must gear towards improvements to tackle challenges and more specifically, those of a physical nature.
“I found it quite difficult to lift the calving gates, so I have now installed a new system where gates as easy to open and close,” Bernie said.
“People have always seen me as a farmer and they are all well used of me.” She stressed.
In a bid to become a more active member of the farming community, Bernie joined the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) four years ago. She has since been appointed as the secretary of the Westmeath branch and is also a member of the IFA Animal Health Committee. As part of this role, the Cork native attends bi-monthly meetings in the capital, along with juggling other commitments as chairperson of Kilbeggan Tidy Towns.
“The IFA is a great outlet and I have learned so much since I joined the organisation and started to attend meetings. All different commodity reports are available for sectors including forestry; livestock and animal health.” Bernie said.
Looking forward to the future, Bernie will continue to run the farm on a full-time basis and plans to increase her suckler cow base to 25-30 pedigree Aberdeen-Angus breeding females. She will also continue her involvement with the IFA and Kilbeggan Tidy Towns.
“I am going to focus on farming because it is not possible for me to juggle it with nursing, especially with a 12-hour shift or working days; or nights and/or weekends.”
“That may clash with a cow calving and their welfare comes first for me, personally,” Bernie concluded.
She is also gearing up to represent Westmeath in the Farmerette competition at the National Ploughing Championships later this year.If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story - get in touch - email firstname.lastname@example.org and you may just be featured on That’s Farming next week.