Darina Gowen says she is living her dream on a 960-cow farm in the South Island of New Zealand.
The Ballyhooly, Co. Cork native is completing placement overseas as part of her studies – a Level-6 Advanced Certificate in Agriculture (Dairy Herd Management) at Clonakilty Agricultural College.
Students who complete a Level-5 Certificate in Agriculture can enrol in this programme which aims to ensure that candidates acquire technical and managerial skills to work at farm or industry-level.
The majority of candidates complete a practical learning period in Ireland; however, Darina opted to undertake this module abroad.
“I’m a home bird but I always said I’d go to New Zealand. I took the plunge and it is definitely the highlight of my career to date.” Darina Gowen told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
The 22-year-old is gaining “incredible lifelong skills and knowledge” whilst working on the large-scale enterprise where she will remain for a sixteen-week period.
“The cows are split into two herds; cups are usually on 4:15 am and then we finish up for breakfast at 8 am.
“At 9:15 am, we have a 15-minute meeting with the team discussing the performance of the cows and grassland management, then we’re doing different jobs for the day.”
“Cups are back on for evening milking at 1:20 pm and then we finished up between 4:30- 5:00 pm.”
The fifth-generation farmer hopes to bring newfound knowledge and experiences back home to positively shape the future of her family dairy farm.
The Gowens – Darina, her father and brother – farm 130 spring-calving pedigree Holstein cows.
They breed all their own replacements - heifer calves are sent to a contract rearer when they are eight-weeks-old and return at the point of calving, while bull calves are sold at three to four-weeks of age.
Darina’s responsibilities include milking cows and grassland management amongst other general animal husbandry tasks.
“Some of my earliest memories include feeding calves with my nana, who has since taken a back seat in the calf rearing department.”
“I was always out on the farm with my dad from a very young age; I was never one to play with dolls I just loved being in the yard.” She added.
Women in Ag
Darina said that she is well-respected and therefore is not treated differently to her male counterparts in the sector.
“It’s all about the mindset you have a woman in agriculture” Darina explained.
“Sometimes us women just have to prove that we’re well capable of doing what men can do.”
“It’s great that there are lots of women coming into the sector but a lot of our work goes unnoticed.” She added.
She said she is extremely fortunate that she can work alongside her father. “We are always learning from each other; every day is completely different.”
“I’m lucky I have a very good family, friends and neighbours that are only a phone call away if an issue arises."
Darina - who is set to complete her studies in June - intends to return to New Zealand next year.
She hopes to form a farm partnership with her father thereafter and is considering sharemilking or establishing a second herd.
“I’m excited to see where the next few years will bring me.”
“I love what I do and I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else,” Darina concluded.
To share your story, email – firstname.lastname@example.org – with a short bio.