21-year-old Rebecca Ryan once had her sights set on a career in childcare, but was later drawn back to her strong farming heritage.
The fourth-generation farmer now helps run a 130-dairy cow herd and a 330-strong beef cattle enterprise in Moathill, Naul, Co. Dublin.
The farm was purchased by her great grandfather and grandfather, George Ryan, in 1950.
As a child, she eagerly watched farming family members and provided a helping hand when needed. “I used to watch my father milking cows while I would ask him many questions,” she explained to That’s Farming.
“My oldest and fondest memories are bottle-feeding newborn lambs and calves and looking after any animal that needed extra nurturing.”
“From a young age, I wanted to be a farmer just like my dad and grandad.” the 21-year-old added.
Rebecca also attended local livestock marts every Monday and Tuesday throughout her childhood. “I purchased my first-ever calf at the mart for €80 - the little Hereford heifer that developed into a fine animal,” said Rebecca, who explained that this planted the seed for her love of all things farming.
Rebecca runs a dairy and beef farm alongside her father, Barry, her older sister, Jennifer, and cousin Ciaran.
They have a variety of breeds in their dairy herd including Friesians, British Friesians, Rotbunts, Montbeliardes, and Norwegian Red-crosses, which run with a team of Limousins, Charolais and Angus bulls.
“We would raise the heifer calves to beef, and sell our bull calves as weanlings to my uncle who rears them for beef.”
The herd calves all-year-round with calving cameras installed in sheds to monitor activity.
Rebecca oversees milking, machinery work and other general daily tasks, while Jennifer is responsible for record-keeping. “I love working alongside my family; it is rewarding when all the hard work pays off.”
“When you see your favourite heifer having her first calf and rearing her calf and watching all them thrive into healthy happy animals, that’s what I like the most.”
“I would find the record-keeping aspect challenging so I leave that side of things to my sister, as I like to get stuck into more hands-on work around the yard.” Rebecca added.
After completing her Leaving Certificate in 2016, Rebecca completed a childcare course. Working in different farmyards and at home influenced her decision to revert back to farming, her first love.
She studied a level five certificate in agriculture at Teagasc Ballyhaise Agricultural College, before beginning a level six advanced certificate in dairy herd management 2017.
Set to graduate this September, Rebecca completed work placement on a tillage and dry stock farm in Co. Meath during her studies.
“The highlight of the course was the opportunity to visit many farms. I have found the course really beneficial - I was learning new things and bringing new ideas back to our farm,” she said.
Women in agriculture
Rebecca believes there is equality but she would like to see more women entering the agricultural sector.
“We still need more women in agriculture as we no longer live in an age where the term farmer is seen as just a male-dominated profession.”
“There are so many women in agriculture that excel in their roles with many opportunities waiting for them.”
Rebecca does not find life as a woman in this sector challenging. “I think as a woman working around mostly men, you push yourself to work the hardest you can and you learn that if you put your mind to it you can do it.”
“There will always be someone who will think that you’re not as capable for the job as a man in farming but it is always fun showing them that determination and hard work can get any job done.”
Next year, Rebecca plans to upskill further by completing a DIY AI course.
She intends to travel to New Zealand for a year to gain valuable agricultural experience which she then plans to incorporate into the running of her family farm.
“I feel very proud to be farming just like my father and his father. It’s just a lovely way to live, although it is not easy to do.”
“ I feel so blessed to have grown up on such a beautiful farm, respecting land, and understanding how to nurture nature.”
One thing she will always remember is her granddad telling her, “If you look after the cows, the cows will look after you”,
Interview conducted by Catherina Cunnane
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