“I’m a big believer in making your own destiny through hard graft and a wee bit of luck” – those were the words of Clodagh Hughes as she sat down with Catherina Cunnane for this week's women in agriculture segment.
The 40-year-old – who grew up on a dairy and beef farm – trained as a professional chef in Killybegs Culinary School, Co. Donegal after her Leaving Cert in 1997.
“From a young age, I had known what I wanted to do. Remember though, this was before girls would really be considered as pursuing farming as a career."
After she qualified, Clodagh – who lives on the Monaghan/Louth border near Inniskeen - worked in Dublin for three years before returning home to chef locally.
She enjoyed working in this field, despite the hard work and long hours; however, her life changed forever on Friday, September 3rd, 2010.
“While riding my motorbike, I had the misfortune to collide with a JCB digger who turned across my path causing me and my bike to be left in bits on the road.”
She sustained a fractured ankle, knee, pelvis, lower back, and was wheelchair-bound for several months. “It took two years of slow progress to get back to a reasonable level of fitness and strength.”
Due to the nature of the injuries Clodagh sustained, she has been unable to resume her career as a chef. “This upset me greatly and I struggled for a long time as to what my future would hold.”
“I’m not one to hang around and I hate being idle,” she explained.
After returning to third-level education, in an attempt to re-skill, she undertook a three-year veterinary nursing course which, unfortunately, due to her physical difficulties, she could not complete.
“However, it was around this time, spring 2016, that I had decided I wanted to buy a few ewe lambs and try my hand at sheep farming.”
“My husband Alan Duffy and I had built a house on his family land; there were a few acres I could rent.”
This marked the beginning of her ovine adventure; she purchased thirteen Texel-cross-Suffolk ewe lambs from a neighbouring farmer in October 2016.
She acquired a pedigree Charollais ram for his breed qualities as a terminal sire, the following year. “Two breeding seasons later and my flock is growing nicely.”
“Sheep are so much fun to work with and as for lambing, it’s an amazing time of the year – well worth the sleepless nights and crazy Irish weather.”
The 40-year-old runs the flock on her own and can manage most tasks but unfortunately, she struggles with some jobs.
“I do need help with the real heavy jobs like getting hay in and mucking out after lambing, which my husband helps with, and as a diesel fitter, he’s very good with machinery.”
“My father is a great help to me for any type of job and I also have a very good friend, Mickey Hoey, who has some sheep too and we help each other out,” she explained.
Clodagh had another surgery before Christmas 2018, which made this year’s lambing “a bit of a struggle”.
“At the minute, I’m happy to be managing the day-to-day running of the farm and in the home.”
“I still ride motorbikes and now participate as one of a small number of female amateur motorbike racers in Ireland,” she added.
Women in Ag
Growing up with her four brothers, Clodagh admits that she has no problem "dealing with male counterparts".
“It’s a bit tougher for women in some aspects of farming but I’ve experienced only support and positive attitudes.”
“If anything, I think women are welcomed more than we realise. In my opinion, women are gaining more confidence in agriculture; it’s becoming an attitude of yes, I can do this!”
Looking ahead, Clodagh has ambitious plans; she aims to expand her commercial flock and hopes to purchase additional pedigree Charollais ewes.
“I want to get my Green Cert as well; I feel it would be another string in my agricultural bow.”
She intends to utilise her own fleeces for producing some viable wool products in the future. “I’ve been researching natural wool washing methods, attended wool fairs and want to learn how to felt.”
“I’m fully committed to being a very active woman in agriculture and have no regrets with my career choice,” 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.