Shane is one 22 year old who’s journey into agriculture was a less than conventional path to say the least.
The Carlow native now works as a Pig Research Assistant at UCD’s prestigious Lyons Research Farm. He is helping manage the pig facility on the farm, a job he thoroughly enjoys.
Unlike most of our other featured farmers, Shane hasn’t exactly a huge farming background. His relations and neighbours have farms at home which he admits to having only a minor, occasional role in. He does though admit that this is where his interest in Agriculture first developed.
“I’m not from a farm but I am from the countryside. We’re surrounded by all types of farms at home and I loved giving a hand when I was younger and during placement last year”, Shane said.
It might come as a surprise though that Shane didn’t follow up by studying horses, as that’s where his interests lied throughout his school life. Instead his interest leaned his attention towards the pig industry.
“I was never actually on a pig farm until my professional work experience last year. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, once I got used to the smell”, he added.
Shane always wanted to study Animal Science in UCD, but missed out by a measly 5 points in his leaving cert, meaning he had to find another avenue into his dream course. He attended Waterford I.T for 3 years and now holds a level 7 degree in Ag Science from Waterford I.T and a level 8 in Animal Science from UCD.
Having previously worked for ABP and Enfer labs, Shane completed ten weeks researching with Teagasc, four of which were spent with pigs under the supervision of Dr. Keelin O’Driscoll. Due to the fact that Moorepark were still constructing their new state of the art research facility at that time, he was based on a commercial farm in Birr. This enabled him to develop his love for the sector. He currently focuses his studies on pig nutrition and health, something he really enjoys.
Shane is also a member of the ASA (Agricultural Science Association) where he attends numerous conferences. He is also a first time committee member of the Annual Tullow Agricultural Show. This year, as he was trying to balance final year, among other things, he couldn’t fully commit his time, but hopes he can for next year’s show.
“It’s great to get involved in local events such as agricultural shows. You meet so many people. I’ll be involved again next year and hopefully have more time to contribute”, he stated.
He currently works alongside the head of pig research in UCD, Prof. John O’Doherty. They study many areas of pig nutrition and health including seaweed extracts and its potential to improve pig performance. Different compounds can be extracted from seaweed and then added to the feed, to give extra benefits to the pigs.
“Seaweed is showing really good results, just look at the research”, added Shane.
He is only in the job since June of this year, but loves every bit of it.
When he first decided agriculture was for him:
“I was very interested in horses when I was younger and I was going to study Equine Science initially”, said Shane.
“From advice I had gotten at the time, I decided I wouldn’t pigeon hole myself so I decided to study Animal Science and now look, I’m working with pigs”, he added.
After enjoying his pig placement so much Shane decided one of his final year electives had to be advanced swine production, which helped him really develop his knowledge in all things pig.
“I found the system so easy and the research fascinating”, he explained.
“Not being from a farming background always led me to ask questions and I found pigs to be the most interesting so I thought it would be the best shout for me”, he stated.
When he’s not on trial he is responsible for the upkeep of the facilities. This includes cleaning the pig houses, equipment, yards and research stores.
While on trial, he, along with the student on trial, is responsible for the daily monitoring of the pigs. They buy their pigs in from a trusted supplier. They then usually offer different diets to the pigs and monitor their progress and growth. During this time the pigs are weighed weekly and feacal scored to examine how well each diet is being digested. Like the majority of commercial farms, they deal with Large white crossed with Landrace pigs and can facilitate both weaner and finisher trials.
“It’s a busy job. Because it’s a research facility simple tasks can take that bit longer. Everything is monitored so you’re forced to become very organised” he says.
With many different diets, feeding can take a long time as each pen has its own specific diet, he explains. Feacal scoring is also carried out each morning and evening. This is done along with the cleaning out of each pen, to keep up to strict hygiene measures. The pigs, after monitoring, are then fed again each evening.
Challenges for Youth:
For young farmers looking to get into the industry, himself included, Shane did admit there is a lot of challenges.
“Capital cost and land mobility are big issues facing young farmers, I think”, said Shane.
He did add that he is aware of the schemes available such as the young farmer schemes and TAMS, but says for a young man coming from college it’s hard to get set up.
He also said that because of his lack of a farming background, people prejudged him on that basis. Questioning why he got himself into the industry in the first place.
“Because I’m not from a farm, people would have asked me 'why are you bothering?'”, said Shane.
Shane has big plans for the future, always wanting to expand his knowledge of the industry. He hopes to soon start a masters degree upon completion of his undergraduate degree. He then hopes to carry on with his studies and complete a PHD. These he hopes to complete in UCD.
“Research is what I’m really passionate about. I have experience now and know what it takes but I suppose it all depends on funding and my competition”, he laughed.
One cannot doubt Shane’s dedication as he has already completed five years at third level, with a possible five more in the pipeline. Therefore it’s only logical to think he will prove successful in his bid.
“I’m a bit of a Van Wilder”, he joked, in a reference to the movie character who spent 8 years in college.
Shane hopes he will lead to a continued career in research or someday maybe even a role as a lecturer. Such is Shane’s thirst for knowledge; he is always looking to learn.
Advice for others:
“I suppose I’d tell them that nothing is impossible and there’s ways around everything”, said Shane.
“Stick to your guns and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise”, he continued.
“And enjoy what you do, it’s pointless otherwise”, he explained.
He referenced people questioning his motives behind his career choice, even whilst on placement, but says there are so many opportunities in the industry that it would be silly not to pursue a career in agriculture.
“I realise farming is the backbone of Agriculture, but there are so many other opportunities from studying or pursuing a career in Ag. I always loved animals so it was a no-brainer for me really. Plus there is agriculture everywhere in the world. That’s what kind of kept me going”, he added.
He was going to drop out after his first year, but as he says himself he “stuck it out”, which he is delighted about now. He also took time to mention the great courses, services and facilities on offer in both WIT and UCD, which he says helped him greatly.
“They both have their advantages and I think I benefitted from going to both”, said Shane.
He now says he is glad he didn’t get the extra five points required for UCD first time and who knows where he would be today if he had.
When questioned on challenges facing the industry as a whole, he did acknowledge Brexit worries and food security, though he has a great attitude towards life's challenges.
“With challenges come opportunities”, said the researcher.
He added that current labour shortages are a major problem affecting the industry at the moment, but says this could be rectified by farmers handing over some responsibility to their offspring and the younger generations. He said this could be helped by putting on offer a retirement fund for farmer, to help encourage older farmers to hand over the reins.
He loves what he does as he has always loved animals, while he has a great thirst for knowledge.
“I love my job because the people are so passionate about what they do. I would be a very obsessive person...and everyone here is obsessed with their topic of study”, he concluded.
This is perhaps why Shane has slotted seamlessly into his relatively new role as a research assistant.
Young, determined and having worked so hard already to get where he is today. Shane Maher never gave up on his dreams and is destined for a bright future in the industry. There is no doubt he will continue his excellent work for years to come.