Growing up on a suckler-beef farm - which initially consisted of forty pedigree and commercial suckler cows - sowed the seed for Erica Coen (22).
Based in Mullagh, Co. Galway, the Coen family retained superior females as replacements and aimed to breed four and five-star progeny on their farm which has been within the family for over 150 years.
Erica completed a DIY AI course with Dunmasc Genetics and had a major input in the breeding programme on the farm.
“I was in a position to experiment with the cows and genetics; as everyone knows, breeding cattle is not a one size fits all job,” she told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
“My father was a block-layer initially, but when the recession hit, suckler farming became a full-time job for him.”
The Coens expanded the herd size to over sixty suckler cows and Erica became more involved in the farm at this point.
She began purchasing her own pedigree breeding heifers.“I used to bring my weanlings to shows and sales at local marts every September. I rarely left there without coming home with a prize.”
“My weanlings often outperformed my father’s, but you don’t bite the hand that feeds you so we shared the victory together.”
The family later reduced their herd to thirty suckler cows. Following this, Erica prioritised her studies – veterinary nursing at University College Dublin (UCD) – and her father returned to his trade.
“That was a very difficult time for my father and I. I wanted to be able to full-time farm, but I always thought that I would need an off-farm position.”
“Watching the cows that we reared and calved on the farm sell for half of what they were emotionally worth was tough.”
Erica then broadened her skills-set by branching into relief milking; she secured a weekend position on a local dairy enterprise while continuing to study and farm.
Despite their strong suckler farming tradition, the Coens have changed their system. “It’s 2019 and we have no cows on the farm. We have forty steers now which we purchased when they were 9-months-old and they will be finished at 24-months.”
“Dad is not around as much anymore. He could often leave the house at 6 am and may not return until 9 pm, so I have more responsibility.”
Erica farms on a daily basis and juggles this with a full-time off-farm position.
She finished her undergraduate studies in May 2018 and joined Chanelle – headquartered in Loughrea, Co. Galway - four months later as its business operations and intelligence lead.
“It’s farming from a desk really; I look after the efficient operations of stock, ensuring that stock is ordered and on the market.”
“I look at the seasonality of products; I review when farmers will require specific products and look at the unprecedented variables such as weather,” she added.
The Galway native said she enjoys the variety of her role. “I am based in the office most of the time, but we have filming days too."
"I work in close association with Ciarán Lenehan who creates short videos to provide farmers with advice and an insight into various diseases.”
“I get on well with my colleagues and my boss is very open-minded - he considers all ideas,” she added.
Women in Agriculture
Erica is of the opinion that women in agriculture are not receiving adequate recognition for their efforts.
“There is strength in numbers and for us to be recognised equally with our male counterparts, there needs to be more women in agriculture.”
“Removing the stigma or novelty of a woman who is serious about farming is extremely important.”
“We are no different to male farmers – we drive the same tractors, we wear the same wellies and calve the same cows.”
The Galway native admitted that while she has always been involved in farming, she was not taken seriously when she first began attending livestock marts with her father.
“Respect comes with time. The new generation of farmers are a lot more accepting of women being heavily involved at farm level.”
“If you have the passion, knowledge and everything else behind you, I don’t understand why you shouldn’t farm,” she added.
The 22-year-old is satisfied in her current position with Chanelle Group and continues to take pride in the family farm.
“Veterinary is still at the back of my mind, but I am less convinced that I need to be a vet to be happy.”
“I know someday that I will run a farm on top of my 9-5 job. I will definitely be venturing into suckler-beef farming again at some point,” 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.