In at the deep end - Fodder crisis and drought saw Queen of the Land Louise Crowley face a tough first year full-time farming
From the age of 16, Queen of the Land Louise Crowley knew she wanted to become a farmer. With this in mind, she decided against filling out a CAO form and instead attended Pallaskenry Agricultural College, a 20 minute drive from her family's dairy farm in Tullovin, Croom, Co Limerick.
Louise went on to complete a degree in Agricultural Science from Cork Institute of Technology, which she graduated from in 2018.
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While farmers entering into partnerships with their sons has been the norm for generations in Ireland, it's only in recent years that more farmers' daughters have been getting into the business with their parents.
As the eldest of three daughters, Louise says she was lucky her father John was always supportive of her desire to work on the home farm with him.
"Dad was always on board - that was never an issue. He backed me even when I was sceptical of myself and I questioned whether I could do it. I owe him everything," says the 24-year-old.
After four years of studying, in 2018 Louise finally returned home full-time to enter into partnership with her dad.
While her father kept 70 Holstein Friesian cows on their 167ac home farm, in an endeavour to support two incomes, Louise took out a loan with AIB and bought a 72ac holding nearby and constructed a new cubicle shed.
"We have managed to increase to 150 cows. I was hoping we would get to 170 by this year, but we had to cull 30 cows due to mastitis in the herd last summer, so that brought down the numbers," she says.
"It was hard having to cull them, but they had a high cell count so it had to be done. If I had to cull because I wasn't able to feed them, that would've been more soul destroying."
The enduring drought meant Louise had to buy in 400 bales of silage and the farm's feed bills skyrocketed.
"I definitely won't forget the first year I spent farming full time. It was great to have dad there because he has had so much experience in how to manage these type of events."
Louise says some people joked she would have to "wait until she got her own man" to become a farmer, but she feels that women are an integral part of farm life and always have been.
"There's a lot more women involved in farming, but they always were involved. Anybody can be a farmer - women are more than capable. The image of women in farming is definitely changing."
As reigning Queen of the Land, Louise says that the people who mock the competition as a 'lovely girls' contest don't understand what it is about.
"Anybody who has that opinion hasn't a clue about the competition. Yes, all the women involved are dressed up, but for most women, to have your hair and make-up done and be pampered for the weekend is a novelty," she points out.
"Every woman is there for a reason, whether it's to talk about farm safety or encourage women into farming. It can lead to lots of opportunities. It's such as positive thing."
One negative, however, has been the social media bullying Louise received after winning.
"I got some backlash on social media for wearing glasses and people saying I was forced into farming. I tried not to dwell on it or give it any attention."
Louise admits that balancing the role of Queen with farming wasn't easy, but said she wanted to give it her all as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"I'll never again be Queen of the Land, so I want to say at the end of it that I gave it my all and went to as many events as possible. Dad was great during calving - he did most of the night shifts as he knows this opportunity won't come for me again. Things will settle down next year."
Louise is no stranger to Macra events occupying her evenings. Two years ago, she was one of the founding members of Crecora Manister Croom Macra.
"We've 67 members now, so we are going from strength to strength. We set up a young farmers discussion group last year to encourage more young farmers to join, so that is going well for us."
Since setting up the club, Louise has become a model Macra member. Not only is she secretary of her club, she is county secretary of Limerick Macra and represented the county at the 2017 National Beef Stock Judging competition.
She also sits on Macra's National Agricultural Affairs Committee. She says she never intended to enter Queen of the Land and that winning was never on her mind.
"As club secretary, I was trying to persuade people to enter so it would've looked bad if I didn't enter myself. I couldn't believe that I got through the regional round. It's been the best thing I've ever done."
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