Louise O’ Connor is a third-generation farmer, a UCD Agricultural Science - Animal Science student and a keen horse rider from Ballyhea which is located just outside the town of Charleville in Co. Cork.
The 22-year-old is involved in the running of her 70-acre family farm - a spring-calving herd of 50 Friesian cows with a small number of beef calves and a horse.
The loss of rented ground resulted in the family reducing the herd size from 65 cows; however, they took this as an opportunity to cull the lowest performing cows. Placing an emphasis on fertility and milk solids when selecting AI sires, the herd's EBI jumped from €92 in 2017 to €110 in 2018.
Louise's father is the main driver of the system, while her mother plays a major role in managing and feeding the calves and her younger sister Rachel - a first-year of Biological and Chemical Sciences student at UCC - helps when required.
"I was feeding calves from when I could walk and my childhood memories consist of going fencing with my dad and running across bales with my sister." Louise O'Connor told Catherina Cunnane - That's Farming.
She also has an interest in horse riding - a passion that she shares with her sister; the duo had a few ponies throughout their childhood where they were involved in the pony club and competed in show-jumping and eventing in local competitions.
Louise recently developed an interest in the sport of dressage; she is a member of North Munster Dressage and trains with Tara Oliver in Limerick. Louise and her last horse qualified for the National Winter Championships in Cavan in April 2017.
“In 2018, I decided to sell that horse which I owned for five years to get an older horse; however, my friend was selling a Connemara pony so I ended up with a young 5-year-old pony again," Louise explained.
“The plan for this Templebready Fear Bui son is to train him at my own pace and compete him in competitions but horse riding is only a hobby so I never take it too seriously.” She added.
This striking passion for agriculture influenced the Cork native's decision to study Agricultural Science - Animal Science at University College Dublin (UCD) - a four-year degree programme that she began in 2015.
"I remember deciding that agricultural science in UCD was the course for me during early February 2015 as the CAO was closing," Louise said.
"We were in the middle of calving season and I knew it was the area I wanted to study."
"After the mocks, I didn’t think I would get the points for UCD and I started looking at journalism and media courses but when the last day to change the CAO form arrived, I switched to putting Agriculture in UCD up on top again." She added.
Louise completed the PWE (Professional Work Experience) component of this degree programme on various dairy; beef; sheep and pig enterprises.
She undertook a sheep placement with Suffolk breeders - Arthur and Patrick O'Keeffe in Mallow, followed by placement on John Hanrahan's pig farm in Granagh, Co, Limerick.
From there, Louise ventured to the dairy farm of Pat, Olive and Denise Weeks in Kilfinane, Co. Limerick and she then spent a period at Roundhill Limousins, Fedamore, Co. Limerick - owned by Dr. Doreen and Timothy Corridan.
During her third year of university, Louise was also a member of the UCD Great Agri-Food debating team which won the debate competition hosted by Dawn Meats last year.
"This experience caused me to get elected as the Debating Officer for the 2018/2019 UCD AgSoc this year," Louise revealed.
Her role is to assist in organising events for the debating team to practice their skills before competitions and organising and other AgSoc charity events this year; Louise organised a debate between UCD’s Agsoc and Lawsoc; the event attracted a full attendance and raised funds for AgSoc's chosen charities.
Women in Ag
Louise’s experience as a woman in agriculture has been “very positive” to date. Since she was young, she has volunteered for Charleville Agricultural Show and has helped out in the show office for the last two years.
“This has really opened my eyes to the amount of involvement and work that’s done by women in this and other shows including the Ploughing Championships,” Louise said.
“All the show committee members treat each other equally and the women involved in it are all an inspiration in their own right as there is a mixture of entrepreneurs and farm managers and more among them.”
Louise is of the opinion that the rising number of women in agriculture is changing the mindset of some people and encouraging more females into the sector.
“I think the big challenge for most farmers, especially the older generation is the language used when talking about farming.”
“The words such as “him” and “his farm” are used even as generalisation which makes it difficult for women to be taken seriously and discourages them,” Louise explained.
“One example I have experienced countless of times is when I have been talking to people about inheriting and taking over the farm, I get asked if I have any brothers as if they would automatically get priority if they existed.”
She stressed that attitudes need to change and people need to realise that women are just as entitled to farm as their male counterparts.
Set to graduate in August of this year, Louise may consider a graduate programme as a step into the corporate world.
“I would like to be involved in the farm at home but I don’t want to tie myself down yet full-time as I want to learn and gain experience in the industry side of agriculture.” She outlined.
As for the farm, the family is making plans to increase their cow numbers over the next two years - a goal that will be achieved by retaining all heifer calves and out-sourcing replacements.
They are also placing a stronger focus on grass management through the use of grass measurement and have a few under-performing fields earmarked for reseeding; there are plans to upgrade the milking parlour in the future.
If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and you may be featured on That's Farming next week.