Maeve O’Keeffe, a Ballynoe, Co. Cork native is powering ahead in the agricultural world.
The sixth-generation farmer runs a family-run 130-cow dairy herd in partnership with her parents; is the Founder and CEO of Inspect 4 and is also a 2015 Nuffield Scholar.
The seed for Maeve was sowed when she undertook a degree in Land Management, offered by Kildalton Agricultural College in conjunction with Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
As part of her three-month work placement module in second-year, Maeve opted to go overseas to explore the sector on a grander scale and ventured to a 1300-cow dairy farm in New Zealand.
An initial three months turned in an eighteen-month stay on Kiwi soil; Maeve deferred her course and returned the following year to complete the remaining two years of her level-eight degree programme.
“I learned how to hoof-trim the cows very rapidly in New Zealand. On the farms there, a standard upright crate was used."
" With seven staff on hand at all times, two people were available to tend to the lame cows,” Maeve said.
The knowledge that Maeve obtained overseas renewed her vision of Irish dairy farming practices, particularly her perspective on lameness; hoof trimming and other issues.
“When I came back to my own dairy farm in Cork, I was frustrated as I knew how to treat the cows but I didn’t have any equipment on the farm to handle the cows safely.” Maeve outlined.
“On one occasion, we put a cow in the crate; hoisted up her hind leg and she choked. I then thought that there must be a safer way of hoof trimming, both for the animal and the handler.”
Maeve embraced her innovative blood and with her father, brainstormed possible solutions, with a focus on safety and the minimisation of the job’s physical demands.
This gave rise to the game-changing ‘Inspect 4 turnover crate’, which was officially launched at Tullamore Show in the Innovation Arena in 2013 and was awarded a prestigious first prize. An online hoof-care shop has since been established within the last twelve months to accommodate for the growing needs of customers.
It was only when Maeve had to source guest speakers on lameness for an event as part of her role as the Secretary of Irish Cattle Foot Trimmers Association (ICFTA) that she became fully aware of the limited amount of work being conducted in Ireland in the area of hoof-care and lameness in dairy cows, despite advances overseas.
“It blew my mind when I realised that lameness is becoming a major problem as dairy cow herds are increasing and so too are issues with lameness as the grazing platform is also increasing.”
“With fantastic work being done in relation to other herd health issues, I felt that lameness and hoof-care were somewhat unexplored in Ireland.”
A desire to explore a larger stretch of the globe and a wish to increase her knowledge of hoof-care and lameness influenced Maeve’s decision to further her studies. She was successful in her application as a 2015 Nuffield Scholar and selected ‘Lameness in Dairy Cows” as her topic.
Maeve travelled overseas as the only delegate from Ireland to an International Lameness Conference in Denmark in 2016, which drew 182 hoof-trimmers from all around the world.
“It was a fantastic informative, networking event, as I met with hoof-trimmers from different countries and several suppliers of products,” Maeve noted.
Women in Ag
Maeve has miles of agricultural-related experience as a sixth-generation farmer; Land Management graduate; 2015 Nuffield Scholar; former secretary of the ICFTA; and CEO and founder of an agri-business, but despite this, she has faced several challenges as a woman in the sector.
“I don’t think I was treated the same at the start when I first entered the sector. I was the only female in my class in college.”
“Initially, people don’t take me seriously and it is only after I talk to them, that they realise I am a farmer.”
Maeve believes that change is occurring and more women are becoming involved in the sector as time progresses.
She stressed that physical challenges should not deter women from running a farm, as advances in the mechanisation and technology have eliminated and minimised challenges.
“I think you just have to brainstorm and innovate to find another way to do a job. There are a lot of things that you can do to make life easier on a farm and that is how our crate was born.” Maeve said.
Following on from her journey to New Zealand which she describes as “the best experience ever”, Maeve is keen to advise those involved in the sector, particularly the youth to avail of an opportunity to travel.
“Several people go to Ag college and return to the family farm straight away. You don’t get a chance to go again.”
Maeve is also of the opinion that improvements need to be made in the area of succession and inheritance and encourages parents of farm families to give equal opportunities to their children.
“Several people just automatically presume that the son will take over the farm. Why is that perception still there?”
She highlighted that parents should be open to change by allowing their children to have an input in the operation of the farm.
“I switched the herd from pedigree Holstein Friesians to a Jersey-cross herd, the time I was in New Zealand.”
“A lot of people wouldn’t have been open to allowing their daughter who was in a different country to change their herd,” Maeve added.
Looking forward to the future, Maeve who tied the knot with a fellow dairy farmer last year is currently in the process of amalgamating the two herds.
On the corporate front, the plan for the innovative Inspect 4 - animal handling crate is to grow the online shop; launch a new website and make their presence felt in international export markets, following years of extensive product research and development.
“If you have an interest in something, you are going to excel in it.” - Maeve O’Keeffe.
If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story, email - email@example.com - and you may be featured on That’s Farming next week.