Sarah Stewart is the ninth generation of her family to embrace the farming tradition; she grew up on a suckler; drystock and sheep farm in Ramelton, Co. Donegal.
“My late grandfather always had me out if it wasn't moving cattle, it was feeding the sheep.” Sarah Stewart told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
“Grandad’s love and his passion for it caught on to me at a young age which is how I have carried it through to today.”
The 26-year-old lives in Grange, Co. Sligo and runs the Benview Flock - which comprises of a mixture of cross-breds and pedigree Texels - in partnership with her partner.
25 pedigree ewes lamb in the early spring, while forty cross-bred ewes lambs form part of a mid-spring lambing system.
All ewes are naturally serviced by pedigree Texel rams (all on a leased/rented farm), with a view to retaining ewe lambs for breeding and selling rams.
“Lambing time is probably the most enjoyable time for me, all the late nights; early mornings; little sleep; bottle feeding lambs.”
“The hard work and time are worth it when you see the outcome of a new life,” Sarah explained.
Husbandry duties & Ag shows
Sarah’s responsibilities on the farm include sponging ewes; scanning ewes; housing stock; feeding; lambing; dosing and preparing for shows and sales.
Sarah exhibits pedigree Texels and cross-bred sheep at agricultural shows - an interest that has snowballed over the past three years.
“The recognition that farmers receive when showing sheep and seeing what their hard work has achieved is my favourite thing- genuine people getting recognised for what they love doing is what I enjoy the most.”
“The best award I have won was All-Ireland Pedigree ewe in Bonniconlon Show - next on my list is the All-Ireland Pedigree Texel Ewe!” Sarah added.
The Donegal native had hoped to study Agri-Business in Galway, but she was not in a position to fund the big move, so she headed for Sligo as this is where she wanted to establish her base for farming. She enrolled in I.T Sligo’s Bachelor of Business (Honours) degree programme and graduated in 2015.
“After graduating, I found myself out of college, no job and no money. I did some random jobs including babysitting; waitressing and working on the farm.” Sarah said.
Sarah began working as an Office Administrator (General and Insurance) at Western Forestry Co-op in April-2016 - 11-months after graduating.
“The Co-op gave me a position which wasn't what I originally applied for - I talked my way into a position created for me.”
“Since then, I have been given ample opportunities within the Co-op who are currently assisting with the completion of my APA (Insurance exams).”
The firm is headquartered in Sligo with regional offices in Ballinrobe Mart; Mayo and Mohill, Co. Leitrim.
Sarah is the first point of call in the office meaning that her role varies from providing insurance information to forest owner; preparing Forestry Knowledge Transfer meetings; organising field days; and engaging with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
“Each day is different, but the aspect I enjoy the most is the field/information days that we hold for farmers/forest owners. It is always a way to learn more and listen to other people's views,” Sarah said.
“The lack of knowledge about forestry brings great challenges as I have to inform the farming community about the positives.”
“I see the negativity first-hand but also see the positive experiences people have and how it has made a difference to their lives and livelihoods,” Sarah said.
Women in Ag
Sarah said that some of her experiences a woman in the farming sector have been off-putting. She said it can be challenging at times to be heard and taken seriously.
“I have been referred to as “a hothouse flower” before (too high-maintenance for a farmer), but I don't take anything too seriously and laughed it off.”
“Thankfully, times have moved on though in the last few years, and most people are only delighted to hear women are more involved in agriculture.” Sarah outlined.
The 26-year-old said there is still a perception that the son should get the farm and she believes that more work is needed in the area of raising awareness about farm succession and joint ownership involving a female.
Macra na Feirme
In addition to the aforementioned issues, Sarah identified isolation and loneliness as possible challenges for some farming community members.
“Farmers can become lonely and often have to deal with pressures on their own rather than having someone to talk to.”
After Sarah ventured to Sligo and finished her degree, many of her friends moved away; joining Benbulben Macra in 2016 allowed Sarah to meet like-minded people.
She took part in the 2018 Queen of the Land competition and was crowned the North Sligo Queen of the Show 2016.
Going forward, Sarah’s short-term plan is to complete the Green Certificate and travel is also on her bucket list. Her long-term goal is to build her pedigree flock and become more established in the pedigree field.
“The ultimate goal is to have my own farm of land, without having to depend on rented and leased land,” Sarah concluded.
“Don’t give up. If you have one bad year or experience, you're not going to have a bad lifetime! Take every experience as a lesson and learn as much as possible from it.”
If you are a woman in agriculture and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - and you may be featured on That’s Farming next week.
Image source: Sarah Stewart