“I never actually thought that I would end up physically farming,” explained Maighréad Barron.
The 25-year-old – who grew up on a 200-cow dairy farm in Ballinamult in Co. Waterford - took out a 15-year lease on a 100-acre dairy farm near Clonea last year.
“My love of dairying began at a young age; my father inherited the farm – which is steeped in family tradition - from my grandmother,” Maighréad told Catherina Cunnane – That’s Farming.
She graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) in 2016 with a degree in Dairy Business. She completed her Professional Work Experience (PWE) module at Canterbury Grasslands in New Zealand where she held the position of 2lC (second-in-command).
The Waterford native was invited to remain there in a managerial role; however, she decided to return home to complete her undergraduate studies.
“I enrolled in UCD with a view to working in the dairy industry; however, my six-month placement made me realise that I wanted to farm. I wouldn't be able to be inside at a desk all day every day” she added.
Maighréad began working as an assistant on a 1,000-cow dairy farm after she completed her four-year degree programme. “I always had it in my head that I would like to manage a farm, form a partnership or seek a share milking arrangement,” she added.
She remained there for twelve-months and moved to fill a similar position on an enterprise comprising of 500 cows – owned by one of her neighbours – whilst continuing to assist with the running of the family farm.
A leap of faith
With a desire to “gain more authority”, Mairead began farming in her own right in 2018. “My father stumbled advertisement in a paper stating that a farm was available for lease.”
“We put in an offer and the auctioneer informed us the following day that the farmer was happy to proceed.”
“It all happened very quickly – we weren’t expecting this for another four or five years,” she added.
80 British Friesian cows are served to Hereford and Limousin sires; all progeny are sold, while replacement heifers are sourced from Maighréad ’s home farm.
“The breeding plan will be changing next year – I may consider utilising dairy genetics and contract rearing,” she explained.
“I enjoy the farming lifestyle – you are outside in the fresh air every day. You don’t see much of the outside world during the calving and breeding seasons.”
“That’s what I have signed up for. You have the pleasure of bringing new life into the world and you can’t beat that.”
The young farmer admits that this progressive journey would not have been possible without the support of her parents.
“My parents had a good relationship with the bank; they had to put themselves up as guarantors along with some land as collateral.”
Women in Ag
The 2018 FBD/Macra na Feirme Land Mobility winner – who is secretary of Dungarvan Macra - said she questioned her own abilities as a young woman in agriculture when she embarked on this chapter.
“At the beginning, I wondered if I would be strong enough if something went wrong, such as experiencing a difficult calving case.”
“At the start, some people used to say to me ‘aren’t you a great little girl taking this on?’”
The 25-year-old said that her confidence has grown and her physical strength has increased over time. “There are plenty of aids there to help you and you can call on supportive neighbours.”
“In the year alone that I am here now, the farm has come on massively and people can see that I am well capable.”
“People are starting to appreciate and notice the efforts of women in agriculture over the last five years.”
Looking ahead, Maighréad’s main goals including increasing her herd size to 100 cows and focusing on grassland management.
“I would like to grow 12 to 14t DM/ha per year; the land is of good quality so this target can be reached.” "In four of five years’, time, I would like to purchase or lease another unit nearby. This farm is easy to manage because it has such a simple system.”
“There is no reason why I can’t manage this place and another place down the line.”
“Being settled here for the next fifteen years suit me down to the ground,” concluded Maighréad.
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