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Independent.ie

Sunday 11 December 2016

Top lady farmer can teach us all some lessons

Lady Farmer of the Year combines farming with family life and a teaching career

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

The Corrib Oil Lady Farmer of the Year, Anne Marie Byrnes O'Reilly, pictured with her husband Daniel at last week's Ploughing where she was announced as the inaugural winner of the competition
The Corrib Oil Lady Farmer of the Year, Anne Marie Byrnes O'Reilly, pictured with her husband Daniel at last week's Ploughing where she was announced as the inaugural winner of the competition
Joy Carton
Finalist Geraldine Faherty
Hannah Landers
Finalist Geraldine Herlihy

Ever tried to keep up an off-farm job and run a farm on three hours' sleep a night? Better again, ever had to work nights in a city and look after the family farm on an offshore island?

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These were just some of the extraordinary lengths that the finalists had to go to in the Lady Farmer of the Year competition that took place at the Ploughing Championships last week.

The initiative, organised by Corrib Oil, was developed to recognise the huge role women have always played in Irish farming.

Following both private and public interviews with a judging panel comprised of AgriAware's Richard Moran, the IFA's John Lynskey, and South Mayo Lamb Producers' Assumpta Mullin, Anne Marie Byrnes O'Reilly from Leitrim was chosen as the inaugural winner, scooping a prize worth €1,000 for her troubles.

Despite a busy role as a teacher in Ballyhaunis Community school and mother to two young children, Anne Marie finds time to manage the family farm at Drumsna near Carrick-on- Shannon.

However, she was well prepared for the role, having studied Agri Business in Mountbellew, where she first became involved in Macra.

Over the last number of years, she has undertaken a major farm development programme that saw her reclaim and reseed land, along with improving the breeding in the suckler herd.

No job on the farm is too much for this Leitrim woman, including "standing in the sales box at the mart trying to encourage the auctioneer to just get that euro extra".

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Despite a difficult labour when her most recent child was born in March, Anne Marie was back stacking bales in May. Plans are already afoot to increase the herd size to 25 cows and develop finishing systems for the weanlings.

"It was an absolute shock, with the quality of the candidates and the challenges that they have to overcome, but I'm thrilled with the win and already dreaming of a weekend away somewhere with Daniel," she said.

Meet the finalists: An island commute - three hours' sleep a night - milking 110 cows

Geraldine Faherty, Galway

Farming can be challenging at the best of times, but caring for animals on an island with no resident vet ratchets up the task another few notches. But it's one that this Galwegian has taken to since her late brother became hospitalised three years ago.

Some 15 years ago Geraldine faced having to leave the family homestead on Inis Meain when the post office that her family had run since the 1930s was closed down.

She found herself working night shifts in the sorting office in Galway City, with a typical night starting at 1am.

After clocking off in the morning, Geraldine gets at most two hours of sleep before heading on the ferry over to her beloved 32ac farm on the island.

The last number of years she has concentrated her efforts on clearing scrub, rebuilding walls and improving fencing. She has built up the herd to 12 cows and just purchased a stockbull.

She then gets another four or five hours sleep in the evening before heading out to the sorting office. While most stock are sold in the autumn to avoid the expensive winter finishing period, Geraldine says that her stock thrive better during the winter months, leaving them ready to sell in the spring.

"While the weather is wilder on the island, it's milder because of the sea.

"The soils are so thin that the grass often burns up during the summer, whereas there's plenty of feeding during the winter.

"We need a crane to get the stock into the boat for crossing to the mart on the mainland, and once we've got that far we really have to sell since it's really too expensive to bring them back home."

Despite the additional costs of getting stock to market, and limits on expansion, Geraldine remains committed to Inis Meain.

"While I would probably have more opportunity to expand the size of the farm if I was on the mainland, I can't ever see myself leaving the farm on the island. I'm out there every day and it means a lot to me," she said.

Geraldine Herlihy, Limerick

Married with three children near Bruree in east Limerick, Geraldine still finds time to milk cows every day and complete many of the day-to-day jobs on the 48 cow dairy farm while her husband works off-farm as a contract fencer.

"It depends from week to week how much Liam is around, but I'm out milking every morning regardless of whether he's there or not," she said.

The Herlihys hope to expand by 25pc over the coming years to take advantage of the end of quotas, possibly resulting in more work for the Limerick woman, but she seems to take it all in her stride.

"I love the work on the farm, so extra cows doesn't phase me. Provided the costs are at the right level, it should make sense," she said.

Hannah Landers, Kerry

While Margaret Thatcher was famous for only requiring four hours sleep per night, a Kerry woman has gone one step further by existing on just three hours per night.

It's probably the only reason she has been able to rear three children, work several days a week outside the farm as home help, and help her husband Paddy run the mixed dairy, beef and sheep farm at Gortatlea near Tralee.

While she milks every day and looks after all the paperwork, Hannah has also found time to take a lead role in her local Friesian Breeders club, getting the annual herds competition back running again in recent years.

Joy Carton, Cork

Ms Carton has succeeded in pulling off a five-fold increase in the size of the family's dairy herd in just over a decade, to the point where she now milks 110 cows daily.

Her husband, Kevin is a contractor who works long hours away from the farm, but this is no deterrent to Joy who hopes to continue the gradual expansion of the herd.

"We haven't been on a holiday in 10 years, partly because we're not really holiday people, but also because the money that could be spent on a holiday was probably an extra two cows in the herd and they all counted.

"Next spring we'll have 40 replacement heifers hopefully, so we're making great progress," she said.

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