Eva Hayes may be just 20 years old, but she has already worked in New Zealand for nine months on dairy farms.
Coming from a small dairy farm in Kilrush, Co. Clare, Eva grew up with farming as a huge part of her life. Right now, she’s studying Agricultural Science in Waterford IT as a Level 8 course.
On top of her knowledge of calves, she’s developing a thesis on seaweed’s effects on methane production in cattle.
“Since I was small, I just loved farming. I’m lucky that I found my passion very early in life; even when I was Communion-age I would say I want to be a farmer when I grow up!”
Eva loves animals, and this compassion paired with years of shadowing her father and listening to the knowledge he had meant that agricultural science was a perfect fit. For Eva, it’s the thrill of working on the farm that she enjoys most.
It was for her college course that Eva had to travel to New Zealand on placement. Here, on an 800-cow automatic dairy farm, she learned a vast amount of information on the inner workings of large operations; she even learned how to ride a motorbike!
“The first herd was milked at 5am, so you’d leave in the morning at 4.30am. We’d be finished at 9am and have breakfast; then we’d work for two hours and have lunch.”
The sheer size of the farm meant that Eva was exposed to much more experiences than she would have seen at home in Clare.
“After the few months were up, I was asked to stay on till July, and then moved to a bigger farm for calving for six weeks. There were 1,500 cows here and it wasn’t as automatic as the other farm. I worked in calf-rearing, and the owner could see that I had knowledge of springers.
“From working so much at home, they were actually surprised at how much I knew without me realising. In New Zealand, I saw so many new things; there were awkward calvings that I never saw at home. We had one calf inside out, even,” explained Eva to That’s Farming.
“One thing I found hard over there was the fact that not all calves can be kept. It’s a hard thing to accept, since we would have had pet calves at home.”
Being a woman in agriculture, Eva has had her fair share of challenges. The biggest one is being respected as a female worker:
“It’s harder to be taken seriously, especially in Ireland. In New Zealand, they actually take women more seriously and are willing to take more on. They actually like women to work on their farms sometimes because they believe they’re gentler and have a more caring nature working with animals.
“Sometimes when calves won’t suck, they find that women can be more patient. There definitely are more women coming into agriculture which is great. There are 13 girls in my course, and I think education is a huge part of it,” says Eva.
Back at her home farm in Kilrush, her father has 60 British Friesian cows. Since they’re located near the ocean, seaweed has always been featured on the Hayes’ farm. It was in college that Eva decided to focus on its benefits for her studies.
“My dad has been using seaweed as feed for years. I had heard that it can decrease the amount of methane produced by cattle, so that’s the focus of my thesis. You’d let them eat the seaweed with no other feed in front of them, to make sure they eat it. We use one part seaweed, five parts normal feed.”
Seaweed is reported to be very high in nutrients, especially selenium. It’s believed that adding it to the animals' diet will reduce methane production by up to 70%. It’s also supposed to prevent cattle from being seasick while they’re on boats to be exported too.
“I wouldn’t have the equipment to properly measure the methane, but what I’m doing is analysing dung samples to see if there’s decreased levels. I also want to examine the change it has on colostrum, and fatty acids in milk. People who sell seaweed do claim that it has these effects.”
Eva and her father collect fresh seaweed from their local strand every day or every two days, and it’s counted as a traditional activity.
For traditional farming however, Eva believes that modern technology will be changing things in the future. She says it will play a major part, especially drones, milking robots, and automatic rotary parlours.
In May, Eva will be finished fourth year of her Agricultural Science degree, and right now it’s hard to know what the future holds.
“I don’t know at the moment where I’ll be, but maybe lab work with Teagasc could be an option. I’m also thinking of agri-teaching, so biology or ag-science.”
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