“I have never looked back or thought twice about working in the agri-sector” - those are the words of women in agriculture ambassador and 2016 Queen of the Land, Karen Elliffe.
With a background rich in agricultural heritage, spanning five generations, the Streamstown, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath native learned the ropes from her grandmother, May.
“My Granny looked after me while my mother was at work so she had me out sitting up on the cow while she milked her for the house.” Karen Elliffe recalled.
“I also remember bottle feeding sick lambs in the kitchen when they were brought in to the range to warm up and revive them.”
An involvement with a local hunt club - Streamstown Harrier throughout her second-level studies influenced the Westmeath native’s initial career choice.
Karen set her sights on a career in the equine industry and gravitated towards University of Limerick’s Equine Science degree programme; graduated with a level-eight degree in 2013.
“I completed 8 months of work placement in Ballylinch Stud in Thomastown, Co.Kilkenny, which I thoroughly enjoyed and it was with a heavy heart that I had to leave.” Karen Elliffe told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
“While there, I was based on their yearling farm, focused on the preparation of yearlings for sales in Ireland, Newmarket and Deauville in France.”
Despite her success in the equine field, Karen had a desire to return to her farming roots to establish her own enterprise and embark on a new chapter.
The Green Certificate holder obtained her own independent herd number in 2013 as soon as she graduated from college and invested in a small number of beef finishers.
Karen purchases suitable Aberdeen Angus stores and finishes these in a grass-based production system in her own right on an out-farm and juggles this with the daily running of the home farm with her father.
The family are in the process of re-introducing sucklers to their holding which is a predominately a drystock enterprise with Angus; Limousin; Hereford and Belgian-Blue cattle.
“I love the freedom and independence of working on a farm. Even though it is challenging at times I really enjoy working outside.” Karen explained.
“I have always been animal-mad from an early age with lambs; dogs; ponies and calves so I have a huge passion for working with all types of animals.”
Macra na Feirme
Karen admitted that combatting rural isolation can be a major challenge, particularly for farmers due to the nature of the lifestyle.
To overcome this obstacle, Karen joined her Macra na Feirme in 2015 when she returned to the home farm following her third-level studies.
“The majority of my school/college friends were employed in Dublin and Galway. I had to travel one hour to go out and socialise.” Karen said.
She took the role as PRO during her first year with Macra and later claimed the prestigious 2016 Macra na Feirme Queen of the Land title.
“I attended numerous macro events including Mr.Personality Festival; Blue Jeans Festival; The Royal Rally in Meath; volleyball and bowling competitions.” Karen outlined.
In the last year, a new county executive has been established in Westmeath and Karen, a member of Ballinagore Macra is now serving her second year as Westmeath County Chairperson.
“Just over a year ago, we had only one active club in the county and now we are delighted to have four active clubs - Moate; Ballinagore; Bogside and Multy,” Karen explained.
The 28-year-old has since furthered her agricultural knowledge and skills through Macra na Feirme’s SkillsNet courses. In 2017/2018, she took part in the Young Beef Farmer Sustainability Programme in conjunction with Dawn Meats and Macra SkillsNet.
“It was a hugely beneficial program to visit BETTER Farms; participate in various grassland modules and learn about the supply chain of Irish beef.”
“I was invited to represent Macra and to sit in at a round-table beef meeting in the Department of Agriculture headquarters,” Karen added.
Women in Agriculture
Karen’s experience as a woman in agriculture has been “generally positive”, although she has experienced some negativity.
“There has been the odd comment here and there like at the mart I have been asked; "are you on school holidays?’”.
“To be honest I take any negativity on the chin. Stuff like that is more of a reflection of the person that comments instead of you.”
She encourages everyone to pursue their passion and interests.
“I would encourage anyone to follow their interests and start with a plan - be that going into partnership; going travelling to the US; Australia or New Zealand.”
Earmarking future visions, Karen’s short-term plan is to increase her herd to fifty cattle, while long-term she hopes to implement a more intensive grazing system on the home farm through the introduction of paddock grazing.
“Do something that you love and you won’t work a day in your life.”
“There will always be jobs and a place in the sector for those who are willing to put the head down and work.”If you are a woman in agriculture and you wish to share your story, email - email@example.com - and you may be featured next week.