Readers may recall Emma McCormack’s appearance on That’s Farming, as she featured as part of our popular Women in Ag series in March of this year.
At the time, the 22-year-old Agriculture student at Waterford IT, was completing work placement on a large-scale grass-based dairy farm on Scottish soil.
Just months later, the Westmeath native has since hung up the wellies and ventured to New York City - far away from cows and green lush pastures, although her striking passion for agriculture remains.
As part of a new weekly Student Update series, Emma will document her adventures every Sunday morning - here is her first submission.
Dairy Farming in Scotland
Back in March, I was working on a large scale Scottish grass-based dairy farm. Covered from head to toe in cow dung all day every day; up at 4am and with just a few days off each month, I was happy out.
It was a tough 5 months, mostly thanks to the weather, but I regret none of it. If I didn't love dairy farming as much, I'd have bailed out after a few weeks. There was a solid team of people and we pulled each other through snow drifts,; frozen milking parlours; 16-hour days; calving 500 heifers in under 12-weeks; sick animals; chilblains; night shifts, suspected Lyme’s disease (which was an utter false alarm!) and a long winter of having cows in sheds. If it wasn't for the craic and positivity within the team, some days we may have given up.
I won't lie, it was hard - but it really built me up so much as a person. Every farmer needs to experience a long, difficult winter in order to be prepared for the next one.
A Steep Learning Curve
The whole experience has made me love farming even more. The farm itself was a dream. A brand new set-up. Shiny new sheds; automatic scrapers; a very high tech Massey Ferguson 165 and a 54 bail Milfos rotary parlour, fresh from the factory. The focus was always on the livestock - keeping them comfortable and content.
There were cows as far as you could see. It was a business that had been recently set up, built from the ground up. It goes to show you can come from absolutely nothing and still make a Steve Jobs of yourself.
In the beginning, I wondered if I was crazy or insane, as I painfully pulled myself from my bed before the sun had even begun to show its face. I'd open Snapchats from classmates soaking up the glorious sunshine in New Zealand in 30 degrees of heat while I struggled to feel my fingers and toes in minus 7 degrees.
“A very focused mindset”
However, I bet I learned more on work placement that the vast majority of Irish students of agriculture who have ever travelled abroad for the experience. Not only did I learn about growing grass, looking after cows and calves; quality milk production; efficiency; profitability and success but also a lot about myself and what I want from life. I'm returning to my third year of college in Waterford IT in a very focused mindset with the finish line getting closer.
I had the time of my life in Scotland and I cannot recommend it enough, for anyone who wants to do some really enjoyable dairy farming and learn how you can climb as high as you want in life if you want it badly enough.
New York City
I find myself now, 2 months later, happily settled into life in New York City; I work in the office of a large construction company in Long Island City. It's taken a lot of adjusting.
I haven't lost the farming bug, but I'm merely broadening my horizon. Physically, I am not working as hard - I sit in an office all day doing accounts, however, my brain is still doing the work.
I miss farming a lot, but this is temporary. Whenever I question why I'm here I remind myself of a great quote; "success happens outside the comfort zone". I still go to work at 5 am but there are no cows waiting in the yard.
Most Irish farmers pay an accountant to come in and tell them whether they are scraping by or working at a loss. Not to mention the fact that they are relying heavily on grants and money from the government. Although I do believe that the Irish government is utterly corrupt, I don't ever want to be in such a dependent position. I want to enjoy farming and the profits it can provide, rather than struggling by each year.
So why would I pay someone to tell me something I can sit down and tell myself?
I've learned this spring that a focus on monthly budgets and planning ahead of any potential downturns are a basic no-brainer, to make it in this game. I do find the paperwork side of farming a little tedious - but it's not that difficult to keep on top of it all. It just has to be done or you become a non-profit organisation.
So while I am living here, I hope to visit a few American farms and see how things operate here. At the end of August, I'll head home briefly, before flying to Scotland for a weekend, to catch up with all of the happenings at Nether Garrel farm. Then I'll have to bite the bullet and get back to the books.
New Zealand is certainly still on the cards, perhaps next summer, and I'd like to come back to America to work in another state, within agriculture - as well as plenty of other destinations before settling down anywhere for good.
It's been fantastic to move here and really step out of my comfort zone, leaving the wet gear and wellies aside for a while, to learn something new in a totally new environment. I'm itching to get the boots back on, though!
We are small-scale drystock farming at home, but I have always been interested in a conversion to milk in the future also - if I can ever convince my daddy that it's the way forward!