When Galway farmer, Mona O’Donoghue-Concannon last year won the Corrib Oil Women in Farming Awards, it changed the way people see her as a farmer.
Mona was nominated for the award by her partner and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) – of which she is the first female vice-president.
After completing a business degree in university, Mona spent some years travelling until her return to Ireland, where she worked both in childcare and business until she met her husband in 2006.
After her mother sadly passed away in 2008, it was arranged that Mona would look after her brother Mark, who suffered an acquired brain injury after a car accident.
She needed a career that would accommodate an income and Mark’s care, so together with her husband Shay and brother, the three of them went into partnership on the family farm. Her 15-year-old daughter Ella also does her part in running the farm.
They milk 40 Shorthorn, British Friesian and Montbéliarde cows through a 10-unit herringbone parlour. They own another 40 suckler cows, mainly Shorthorns. The family keep their calves and rear all their own replacements.
Speaking about how her experience as a woman in agriculture would be different from her husband’s experiences, she said, “Well, I’m usually one of the only women that will show up at meetings and I’m usually one of the only women in the mart, but in general, I suppose it’s the way that I treat the animals. They’re like family”.
Indeed, they are, Mona has names for each one and they are so used to her company that she can enter a field of 40 animals and get the three cows she wants and split them from the herd with ease.
“I suppose that I would be a lot gentler with the animals, as I look at them differently. I know what their purpose is, and I know the end product, but I feel that they can have a good life with us, and still have their purpose” explained Mona.
The Galway woman and her two business partners share the workload andMona finds that she works mostly with the smaller animals such as the replacements along with caring for the horses and donkeys that reside on the homestead.
She is well capable of milking cows and driving the tractor, and will do so if it’s required; however, her husband was reared on a dairy farm, so the milking suits him better.
Indeed, it was Mona who established the suckler herd into the farm in 2009, as Shay was only dairying at the time. They decided in the first year that they were married, that they would AI their dairy cows to Limousin and Charolais sires.
From there, they kept all the calves, which had never been done on their farm before. “I feel that if you give calves good attention, they will be of good temperament in the milking parlour later on,” said Mona.
Since she won the award, Mona feels that a lot of things in her life has changed. “It feels like there’s greater recognition for what I do from an outsider’s point of view.”
“People just thought that I was ‘helping out’ until I won the award and people realised that I am the farmer” she added.
Mona’s opportunities opened in other ways too; being made the Connacht-Ulster Vice-President of the ICSA. “Winning the award definitely helped my application when the role came up,” she enthused.
“Everyone was being encouraging and telling me to go for it. I don’t think that that would have been the case if I hadn’t won the award,” she added.
Mona says that she would encourage people to vote for women who they know that work on farms as they might not be receiving the appropriate recognition.
“Especially for the men that’s out there working on their farms, they should just sit down with their significant others and evaluate exactly what women do on the farm. A lot of good women are there in the background”.
Mona is also a member of West Women in Farming Ireland (WWFI) which was established three years ago and has about 200 members. It is an information transfer group where women can exchange ideas and call each other for support.
Mona wanted to stress the point that “I’m not doing anything better or different to anyone else. I’m just an ordinary person doing a bit of farming and I want to encourage more women to be out there.”
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