Emma Wharton (29) – who grew up in Cork City - purchased her first sheep from her uncle when she was 13-years-old.
“She cost me £50 and was my pride and joy,” she told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“I hoped she would have ewe lambs and I was disappointed for many years. Finally, she produced a ewe lamb; I still have some of her great-great grand-daughters.”
Although Emma did not grow up on a farm, her mother was raised on a drystock and tillage enterprise in Killeagh, East Cork and her father is from a dairy, suckler and sheep farm in Cahersiveen, South Kerry.
She spent her childhood floating between the two farms and this is how her passion for agriculture developed. “It was always going to be sheep for me - I just loved them!”
“My uncle and my parents thought that when I turned eighteen, the farm would be forgotten about, but I proved them all wrong,” she added.
The next chapter
The 29-year-old returned home to Co. Cork in 2017 after spending four years in Dublin and Kildare to progress her career in retail management.
“Even though I lived away, I often travelled up and down the motorway multiple times per week during the lambing season,” she explained.
Emma embarked on the next chapter by securing a full-time position as a retail manager and establishing a flock in her own right.
She sourced foundation females from renowned Texel breeders in Ireland and the UK after she applied for a flock number.
“When I finally got the letter to say my application had been approved, it was like winning the lotto.”
The farm is now home to pedigree Texels – which are registered under the Ballyhonock (EWG) prefix - and commercial ewes which are primarily Texel-crosses.
Her main objective is to produce quality ewe and ram lambs suitable for breeding purposes.
Emma has maintained her role in retail and completes all farm work in the evenings and during her days off. “I am lucky to have helping hands to call on when needed,” she admitted.
She maintains small numbers and synchronises ewes, which allows her to plan her work accordingly.
Commercials lamb down in January, while pedigrees lamb between the end of January to early February each year.
“Pedigree ewes are sponged around the end of August to help ensure a compact lambing period.” explained the Sheep Ireland member.
Ewes are scanned at approximately 65-75 days to establish litter sizes. Pedigree ewes are housed for lambing and are individually penned once lambs are born; all lambs are weighed at birth and tagged soon afterwards before being birth notified.
“Lambs are turned out to grass as soon as the weather allows. Weaning takes place from about 16-18-weeks-old.”
Shows and sales
In 2018, the 29-year-old entered a numbr of her sheep into society shows and sales. Making her debut on the show circuit, her entry came second in the ram lamb class in the South-West Championships at Charleville.
Emma’s exhibit was placed seventh in the novice ram lamb class at the society’s premier show and sale in Blessington.
“Reflecting on my first year showing, I couldn’t have been happier. I honestly did not expect to make the final line-up.”
“I am eagerly awaiting the first shows of the 2019 season which are due to kick-off shortly."
Women in Agriculture
Emma’s journey into agriculture required passion, determination, a strong worth ethic and a desire to succeed. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“I feel like I am not your typical women in agriculture – I was raised in Cork City, I did not grow up full-time on a farm and I didn’t attend ag college,”
“When I tell people I’m a sheep farmer, they sometimes have to do a double take.”
“It’s almost like they don’t believe that a young woman can be sheep farming on her own,” she explained.
Emma believes that social media has played a key role in raising the profile of women in agriculture; she joined Instagram under the - @the_sheep_diary – handle in 2017 with a view to promoting sheep farming and providing an insight into life as a sheep breeder.
“I post little day-to-day snippets of what’s going on with the sheep such as lambing, dosing, injecting, tagging and show prep.”
Looking ahead, the 29-year-old has ambitious plans for the future which include flushing her superior ewes, purchasing land and constructing sheds or facilities that will enhance her farming system.
“I also hope to increase numbers within my pedigree flock and to attend more shows and sales to raise my profile within the breed.”
Her ultimate goal is to farm full-time or to pursue a career within the agricultural sector at some stage.
“When I stand back and look at how far I have come in the last two years, I am very excited for what the future holds,” 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.