Michaela Cox (22), Killashee, Co. Longford began working in the agricultural sector when she was 15-years-old in what is now known as Aurivo.
She gained invaluable practical agricultural knowledge in this firm whilst working on a part-time basis for two years during weekends and summers.
While Michaela doesn’t live on a farm, she grew up surrounded by farming enterprises, living between an uncle and a cousin - both of whom farm.
“My family do not farm currently, but traditionally they did – both sets of my grandparents farmed; however, an uncle on either side took on the farm and both of my parents left farming behind them.”
“Childhood friends also came from farms, so parts of my summers were spent filling in gaps in hedges; moving cattle and bottle feeding the pet lambs.” Michael Cox told Catherina Cunnane - That’s Farming.
Filling in her CAO was difficult, as the Longford native was very unsure what she wanted to do, but she had a desire to work with animals at some level.
Michaela was torn about doing veterinary science, so she spoke to a guidance counsellor in her secondary school who told her about Animal Science in UCD.
“I still put Veterinary down as my first choice, with Animal Science as my second, but I didn’t get the points for veterinary”
“At the time, I was gutted but now, looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get it the course,” Michael revealed.
In 2014, she enrolled in Animal Science at University College Dublin (UCD); she regards her 16-week placement in third-year as the most enjoyable aspect of this four-year degree programme.
Michaela began her PWE (Professional Work Experience) module on Willie Fox’s sheep farm in Co. Westmeath where she was involved in all aspects from lambing, to footcare; feeding; herding; and dosing.
“During my 4 weeks, RTÉ news also came out and used Willie’s farm as a base for George Lee to interview IFA Sheep National Chairman - Sean Dennehy and Willie on Easter lamb production.”
“I was interviewed to give a student’s perspective and it was aired on the 9 o’clock news - this was probably my favourite PWE.” Michael outlined.
She completed her beef PWE in Rawdon Estate, Longford under Brian Jordan - farm manager.
“It was here that I learned how to drive a tractor; teleporter and a quad. It was also here that I learned how to tag and dehorn calves – simple tasks that I had never done before!”
Michaela then ventured to the Connaughton’s dairy farm in Newtowncashel Longford - a family-run dairy where she helped to milk; heat detect; herd; and feed animals.
She finished up in Donal Brady’s piggery in Carrickboy - a placement that was rather different in the sense that everything worked to a much more rigid schedule.
She spent the majority of her time in the farrowing houses; setting up boxes and red lights for piglets; tail docking; ear clipping; administering iron injections; vaccinating and weaning.
“Every day was planned out and every week was the same; it was like a military operation. The organisational skills in running this farm were incredible.”
“I loved those 16 weeks. What really stood out; however, was the community spirit evident in the farming community. I worked with some incredible people.” Michael said.
Michaela graduated from Animal Science on September 3rd and on September 10th, she attended her first lecture in her next degree – MSc Wildlife Management and Conservation - a one-year taught masters with a research thesis component in the School of Agriculture in UCD.
“Coming towards the end of my undergrad, I had so many options and job opportunities I didn’t know which way to look. Once again, all I really knew was I wanted it to be animal-based.”
“Many people think of wildlife and agriculture as entirely separate but that isn’t true. With over 60% of Ireland’s land being used for agriculture, wildlife management and conservation have to also be carried out on farms.”
“I’m weeks into this course and really enjoying it; I like looking at the overlap and interaction agriculture has with our wildlife,” Michaela added.
Women in Ag
Overall, Michaela’s experience as a woman in the agricultural industry has been positive and said that often some people are surprised more so than negative.
“At the start of my placements, I had people offering to carry things for me all the time and offering to do things that looked too hard.”
“After a few days, they stopped once they saw that I was capable – I don’t know if that’s down to being a female or a student though,” Michael stressed.
Looking forward to the future, Michaela is keeping all her options open, with no set plans in place.
“My short-term plan is to do well in my masters and graduate, and that’s kind of where it stops!I’m going to see where this year takes me and work from there.” Michaela laughed.
“5 or 6 years ago I would have never thought I would do an agriculture degree, having no direct involvement, and 2 years ago I would have laughed if you’d told me I would be heading straight into a Masters on wildlife!”
Travelling is a possibility and something that Michaela would like to do; she believes that education never truly finishes and feels that a Masters will put an end to her formal education, for at least a while, although she may consider a PhD in the future.
Michaela said that her agriculture degree has opened more doors than she could have ever imagined. She would recommend agriculture as a career due to the diversity that exists within the sector including teaching; management; business; research; journalism and marketing.”
“Agriculture is an industry faced with many challenges; there’s no denying that, between emissions and climate change; welfare and public perception, but with all challenges come opportunities.”
“Agriculture is an innovative and dynamic sector, it’s exciting to work in.” - Michaela Cox concluded.
If you are a third-level student and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and you may be featured on That’s Farming next week.