Linda Hanbidge grew up on her father’s sheep and dairy farm in West Wicklow near Baltinglass. with her three brothers - Niall, Warren, and Gordon. Her mother Rosemary owned and ran a bed and breakfast, where Linda would find herself helping her mother while her brothers helped to tend the farm.“It wasn’t that I wasn’t into the farming,” Linda told Marcella Connolly - That’s Farming, “It’s just that the three lads were there to help dad and I probably took a very stereotypical role by helping mam,” she said. Linda trained as a make-up artist for film and theatre at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. From there, she got a job with a youth organisation in Kilkenny called Young Irish Film Makers as an Outreach Co-ordinator.
After doing that for two-and-a-half years, the Arts Council let some people go in 2011 because of the recession. Linda returned home to decide what she was going to do from there.
Niall Hanbidge - Linda’s eldest brother - was returning home in August for his wedding and Linda said, “I’ll hang out at home and give my dad a hand for a few months and get the house prepped for the wedding”.
That left six months to decide. When Linda’s parents decided to travel to Australia in September for a wedding party, Linda suggested that she could give the farming “a lash”.
“September would be a quieter time here because we do winter milk so the 40% that we calved in the winter time would be dry.” smiled the 2017 Teagasc student of the year finalist.
Linda took to the farming so easily that when her parents came home, she simply asked if she could stay on but that was no problem for parents Alan and Rosemary.
"The bigger issue was more about asking my brother if he was willing to farm with me because Gordon was the intended farmer at that stage."
After that was agreed, Linda’s next problem was her then-boyfriend - George Cliffe - who had just built a house in Kilkenny. Linda laughed, “He had met a make-up artist who was working in Kilkenny, and now I was a dairy farmer living in West Wicklow!”
That wasn’t a problem for Linda’s now husband as he had also been brought up in West Wicklow and he has a sister living there still. “He moved up here and in 2012 and we took to farming seriously then,” said Linda.
Gordon, Linda’s youngest brother didn’t move back to the farm until last year after he completed college and seasonal work with a tillage farmer. Linda started a part-time course with Teagasc in 2012 and completed her Green Cert between Carlow and Wexford for three years.
On the Wicklow farm, Linda, Gordon, and their father calf 20% of their herd in the winter and 80% in the spring. According to Linda, “We calf for about eight weeks in the winter, from the middle of October to the middle of December."
"Then we stop for six to eight weeks and start again in the middle of January and then we calf for twelve weeks in the spring”.
The Autumn calvers are AI’d for six weeks and then they are cleaned up with the stock bull for three weeks. Linda said that “the others we serve for eight to nine weeks and then we put the bull with them for three weeks.”
Linda has nearly a full pedigree Montbéliarde herd. Originally a French Breed, they are quite distinctive to look at and they tend to be on the beefier side.This was what drew Alan to the breed before Linda joined the farm. “They’re good for milk solids, good for fertility and you get a valued bull calf so they are a great breed all round” insisted Linda.
Alan was looking for a cow that would be hearty and healthy and give him a good value for his beef calf. Linda agrees with her father and mentioned that they have the best of everything with this breed. The cows average at about 6,500 litres/year, while the solids are in the region 550 kg/year.
Linda explained why they chose a Hereford bull stock bull, “Dad has had a Hereford bull for the last 10 years anyway. He found that they were one of the quietest bulls to have”.
"The Hereford breed is known to calf down well, have a short gestation and they give a great beef calf to sell” according to Linda, who just last yearwas a finalist in the Macra and FBDs' Farmer of the year and won the Collaborative farming section. The former make-up artist has absolutely no regrets when she made the decision to stay on the family farm and believes that everything happens for a reason.
“Because we do some of the breeding ourselves, to watch heifers grow up, put them in-calve, watch them calf down, seeing how they milk, working outdoors and having my children here with me is amazing,” said a beaming Linda.
“It just didn’t make sense to go back to do anything else because I’m just so happy here”.
If you are a young farmer and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - with a short bio.