31-year-old North Cork native, Evelyn Drake took the scenic route into Agriculture.
Evelyn who has strong dairy farming blood, identified her true passion after she graduated with a BSc in Biological and Chemical Science with a Major in Human Physiology in 2009 and returned home from Australia in 2011.
Evelyn took on a role as a Farm Management Advisor for the UK and Ireland with Lely in 2014, where she worked for close to four years travelling across Ireland; the UK and the Netherlands. She provided training and advice on both grass-based and indoor Robotic Milking systems with a focus on herd health; milk quality; breeding and grass and feed management.
“I looked into Agri courses while working and completed the Distance Greencert Level-5 and Level-6 higher diplomas in Clonakilty in 2015; I took on an MBS in Co-operative and Social Enterprise from UCC finishing in 2018 with a dissertation on Post Quota Ireland.” Evelyn Drake told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
When the opportunity of a PhD in Bull Fertility arose in Moorepark, Evelyn embraced the opportunity and commenced her full-time PhD in Moorepark through UCD in February 2018. The Cork-native’s academic studies focus on developing strategies to identify high and low phenotypic fertility traits both in conventional and sexed semen. The course incorporates lab-based research including IVF and semen analysis as well as on-farm field trials.
This particular aspect of bovine genetics and reproduction stems from the success of her family farm which spans at least seven-generations.
The Drakes operate a spring calving high-EBI pedigree Holstein Friesian herd in the heart of North Cork. Here, they place a heavy emphasis on targeted breeding which is reflected in their position on a national scale, being in the top 1% of herds for EBI.
The family also bred the current number 5 bull on the Active list Olcastletown Ronaldo (FR2298) and Olcastletown Phantom (OPH) who is also on the active bull list - a renowned daughter-proven sire.
A mixture of Dairy and Beef AI (Aberdeen-Angus; Hereford; Belgian-Blue; Speckle Park; Salers and Belted Galloway), as well as two backup stock bulls- an Aberdeen Angus and a home-bred Holstein Friesian, combine to form the backbone of the farm’s breeding programme.
This year, their policy was to breed any cow under 150 EBI to a beef sire unless she displayed exceptional production figures as they are striving to breed a small number of replacements. In order to maintain their IHFA pedigree status, the Drakes utilise a number of pedigree genomic sires that are balanced for fertility and milk traits.
“We use a large panel of bulls as you take some risk with unproven genomic bulls however in our experience the rate of genetic gain in each generation is worth it over daughter proven. We also use sexed semen when available particularly for heifers.” Evelyn said.
“For us, it’s not about using the top EBI sires but using bulls who will improve specific traits in our own herd in line with our own breeding goals. We also take into account classification and physical traits when matching cows to bulls.” Evelyn highlighted.
Women in Ag
Evelyn who is also a member of numerous Agricultural organisations including ASA; Macra na Feirme; IHFA and is also a Cellcheck Level-2 advisor admits that being a woman in Agriculture has never been an issue for her. She follows a simple philosophy and believes in “standing up for yourself, as it can be a bit of a boy’s club.”
“Don’t underestimate or doubt yourself. Don’t worry about others preconceptions of you. Work hard and believe in yourself and seize every opportunity given to you. I would also advise anyone starting out in the industry to travel, see other systems and give yourself a better overall understanding.”
Looking forward to the future, Evelyn’s main priority is to work towards finishing her PhD and from there, the world is her oyster. She will continue to carve out a successful career path as a woman in the Agricultural industry and has a dream to take the reins of the family-run dairy farm sometime in the future.
“I would like to work with Bull Fertility, be it through research or in an advisory capacity.”
“By the time I’m finished my studies I’ll have a FETAC level-5 and 6 awards; a BSc; an MBS and a PhD but I don’t plan to stop there,” Evelyn concluded.
If you are a woman in Agriculture and you want to share your story, get in touch – email firstname.lastname@example.org and you may just be featured on That’s Farming next week.