Women in Ag: Meet I.C.B.F Geneticist Margaret Kelleher


Catherina meets Margaret Kelleher, a lady making waves in the Bovine Genetics circles.

Women in Ag: Meet I.C.B.F Geneticist Margaret Kelleher

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  • 2 years ago

Catherina meets Margaret Kelleher, a lady making waves in the Bovine Genetics circles.

It has taken Glanmire-Cork native, Margaret Kelleher close to one decade’s worth of education to find her dream job.

Although some may look upon this as a considerable period, it has been time well spent for Dr. Kelleher, who boasts a job regarded as more than a little out of the ordinary.

The Cork woman has been working as a Geneticist for the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (I.C.B.F.) for the past two years now.

Running routine genetic evaluations, contributing to the maintenance and improvement of evaluations, creating technical presentations and lecturing Agricultural students of Cork Institute of Technology, are all left in the capable hands of the Cork woman.

Aside from her work commitments, Margaret has also managed to obtain some time aside to establish her own Aberdeen Angus commercial cattle herd.

How her admirable success story came about, is one that leaves many in wonder.

Finding the perfect career

Hailing from a well-established dairy farm, Margaret couldn’t but follow in the footsteps of her farming mother, father and brother.

Always intrigued by the Agricultural sector, Margaret was left wondering how she could merge her academic choices to her love for farming, a decision all our youth are faced with.

‘When I was seventeen I didn’t really know about the many opportunities within Agriculture. If I wasn’t going to be a farmer, I thought there was no other option available.

With Science and Maths identified as her strong disciplines, Margaret completed her Honours Bachelor Degree in Science in NUI Maynooth.

She managed to juggle a working and education life simultaneously and spent seven years working for Rathcormac-based Agricultural contractor Martin Healy, on a part-time basis.

With responsibilities including spreading fertiliser, mowing and drawing silage, hauling grain and stock management, Margaret’s interest took her bravely to the other side of the waters in 2009.

A trip across the waters

‘I always wanted to go to New Zealand for a year, as soon as I finished second level. After my undergraduate, I felt the time was right.’ Margaret explained.

Following the visitation of numerous farms, North and South Island, Margaret returned to further her education by completing a Masters in London.

Yet again juggling another busy schedule, Ms. Kelleher studied her Green Cert, which forced alarm bells to start ringing in her head.

Decision-making

‘I researched many options and was successful in my application for a PhD position advertised by Teagasc Moorepark on developing a new index to inform culling and retention decisions on Irish dairy farms. This was a fantastic opportunity for me, as I got involved in many projects in Moorepark,’ Margaret explained.

Margaret, possessing a Pedigree Holstein background, set the ball rolling by becoming involved in the Ballydague crossbreeding study.

From there, she became involved with the establishment of Next Generation Herd which involved purchasing and managing the top EBI heifers in the country.

In order to gather the wealth of knowledge that she has to her name today, Margaret travelled the home and jump of the Irish sea to learn the ropes from world leading institutions.

‘I focused on animal breeding and genetics with tremendous guidance from Donagh Berry (Teagasc) for the next 3 years. I spent some time studying livestock genetics in Wagenginen, the Netherlands, returned to New Zealand in 2013 to work with Peter Amer (Abacusbio Ltd) and worked with Ross Evans and Francis Kearney (ICBF) during the PhD.’ She explained.

COW Index

From just the discovery of a job advertisement to intensive study, Margaret has commenced paving paths of familiarity in the Bovine Genetics circles.

Farmers may be familiar with COW index.

Margaret is the lady held responsible for taking this project from a research stage from her time spent at Teagasc right to a commercial pilot phase with ICBF.

‘My intentions are to introduce it this year. I piloted the COW index with 83 herds last October and November. The pilot went extremely well with 98% of respondents saying that they want the COW index for their herd from now on. We are working on integrating this new service into our database and are testing our interfaces at present.’ She explained.

Changing the Industry

This new tool combines multiple sources of information into one value per dairy female (a dairy female only index) to identify the expected profit potential of a cow for her remaining lifetime.

The COW index ranks females using genetic merit (estimated breeding values and hybrid vigour), cow-centric performance measures (e.g. milk recording yields) and current states (i.e. lactation number, calving date, and predicted calving date from available inseminations or pregnancy diagnosis).

Macra na Feirme

While Margaret has a busy agenda to follow, time is also set aside and she has recently been bitten by the Macra na Feirme bug, where she served as the P.R.O. for the Mitchelstown branch last year.

She has been involved in the organisation’s most popular competitions, taking home the silverware.

Fuelled with enthusiasm, once involved, Margaret hit the ground running.

Her winning streak goes as far as scooping a national, first, second and third prize in the dairy stock-judging, Queen of the Land and Know your Ag competitions.

‘It’s a great way to meet like-minded people and it’s where I met Brendan who is also from a farming background. Brendan is always happy to help with the farming duties at home on the dairy farm’ Margaret explained.

Advice

As someone who has travelled the world, with many qualifications deeply rooted in her portfolio, Margaret is an ideal person to share many wise words of wisdom.

‘My advice to any young person is to follow your passion and develop your strengths. You do not need to know your eventual career but you do need to equip yourself with the right skills so that you have options. And then you are in the position to work at something you enjoy.’ She explained.

Future Plans

Currently working in an interesting and exciting role, Margaret won’t be hanging up her boots anytime soon.

Her sights will continue to be set on bringing the COW index to our Irish farms and we have no doubt that the 2017 calendar won’t close until she continues to fulfil her next mission.

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