“I’m known as 'the wee girl who sells the dose’,” explained Erica Thom (23) who opened the doors to her own animal health and farm supplies shop in June 2018, which she runs with the help of her mother, Noreen.
The 23-year-old grew up on a dairy farm in Tobermore which her grandfather, Rennie, purchased in 1966; in 2004, her father, Eric and her brother Richard took the reins of Killynumber Farm — which is now home to a 100-cow dairy herd.
“I am grateful to have been brought up with this attitude, to now utilise in my own business and farm development.” the third-generation farmer told Catherina Cunnane — That’s Farming.
Erica graduated from Greenmount College in 2016 with a Foundation Degree in Agriculture and Technology; she also completed her AMTRA exams at the college and qualified as an R-SQP.
When Erica was 19-years-old, she secured a position as a sales assistant in a small local chemist which had farm supplies. “I looked after the stock, ordering and stacking shelves and also helped the customers with what they needed.”
“I wanted to open my own business because of the way I got on with my customers and that I found that farmers tend to like to only deal with one person and it was a privilege for me to be that person for many customers.”
“I also enjoyed learning about all the products and their purpose —I had the qualification so opening my own business seemed like the perfect fit.”
Killeen Animal Health
Killeen Animal Health – which is situated outside Bellaghy in County Londonderry — specialises in dosing products, vaccinations and supplements for cattle and sheep.
It also carries a range of workwear, hard-wear and electric fencing products and has a small equine and companion animal section.
“My interest in the dairy sector is also visible throughout the shop with parlour hygiene products, teat care and dairy spares such as liners, tubings and filters.”
Services provided in-store include a large animal clipper blade sharpening service, a PEL/Electro Power Electric Fencer Repair service and an ear-tag service as they are a stockist of Caisley cattle and sheep ear-tags.
The shop opens six days a week – Monday to Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm. “We run a late-night Wednesday and open from 10 am – 7 pm.”
“I decided to open late on a Wednesday and all-day Saturday as I wanted to cater for part-time farmers.”
“I get to meet new people all the time and have a soft spot for retail, so I do enjoy the shop work involved as well.”
A day in the life
Erica and her fiancé, Matthew — a building and joinery contractor — established their own 35-strong Friesian-cross herd in August 2018.
She rises before 7 am every morning to milk the herd and feed any calves; she aims to have all on-farm duties completed by 9 am. “This gives me an hour to run errands such as going to the bank/post office or going to visit my grandparents.”
She arrives at the shop at 10 am and undertakes a daily stocktake along with various other tasks.
“I put away orders that have just arrived including pallets of horse feed and lick buckets, answering and making phone calls, serving customers, sharpening clipper blades and of course, throwing a ball for Max — a job he gives many of the customers.”
Behind the shop scenes, Erica is required to complete paperwork such as VAT records, medical records and invoices. "Come 5 pm, the dinner has to be made and then it’s back up to milk the cows again.”
“Running a business restricts my social life a bit but every job is the same. I am lucky that I have very understanding friends.”
“It can get stressful at times like every business does, which is why I’m glad that we have the farm - I get a chance to forget about the shop for a while during milking,” she admitted.
Women in ag
Growing up Erica’s parents always treated her and her brother as equals and encouraged their abilities around the farm. “Growing up with this mindset, I wouldn’t have thought that there were people out there that did treat women in agriculture differently.”
“In my full-time agri sales job at the age of nineteen, I experienced a number of eye-opening incidents and was surprised to discover the manner in which some males addressed or acted towards their female counterparts.”
“Over time, building relationships and a bit of quick wit, people were soon happy enough to deal with me, so much so that they still buy stock off me to this day.”
Erica believes that the opening of her store did not come as a surprise to the local community. "I was flattered that some people wanted me to open the store sooner.”
“I would say people in the wider region probably are more surprised due to the fact that there are very little women with an agri-business.”
Looking ahead, Erica and Matthew have another busy year ahead as they prepare to tie the knot.
“Matthew proposed in the milking parlour in December 2018 and we are getting married in July 2020.” she explained.
“I plan to continue to develop and maintain the shop while buying in some new stock. We hope to increase our herd to fifty cows.”
“Life as a woman in agriculture is busy, but full of routine – I feel blessed knowing that I do a job or two I love and take a lot of satisfaction from,” Erica concluded.
If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story, email — email@example.com