Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 October 2018

Opinion: It's not a sign of weakness for farm women to seek help indoors

Lorna Sixsmith with her children
Lorna Sixsmith with her children
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

There is an old joke about a farmer's wife who was milking a cow by hand when the time came for her to give birth to another baby. Apparently, she went into the house, delivered the baby and returned to finish milking the cow.

At the heart of humour is a grain of truth. Women on farms generally work very hard, and their contribution is often overlooked.

I recently attended a meeting on the specific challenges faced by women in farming, organised by South East Women in Farming Ireland, a fabulous group set up earlier this year, which is focused on personal empowerment.

Afterwards, I got an email from another attendee on the night, Ann Kehoe.

In the quarter of a century that I have been involved in Irish agricultural journalism, no woman farmer has shone more brightly than Ann.

In 1998, she was a member of the IFA Sheep Committee which put the spotlight on lambs being imported from outside the State, which ultimately led to the recovery of hundreds of thousands of pounds in VAT payments.

Then, in 2014, she spoke candidly about her battle with breast cancer.

She has also been heavily involved in the Green Energy Growers Association (GEGA), which promotes the growth of solid biofuels as a viable alternative to traditional fuels.

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Throughout all this, she has been an active sheep farmer, in Tipperary, with her husband Brian, and raised a family.

In her email, Ann asks: "Do we as farm women try to do everything - farm, mind children, cook, housework, office work, etc?" while women in other careers would hire help.

She herself says that it "never crossed my mind" to hire childcare like her female friends in other careers.

This is the point that she wanted to emphasise, that it never crossed her mind.

One of the young mums at the meeting described how she turns her car into a mobile entertainment centre. Seats are laid flat and her kids can colour, play with Lego, etc. When she wants, for example, to dose cattle, she parks it up beside the crush, secure in the knowledge that the kids are safe.

This is an example of the many innovative solutions that farm women come up with in terms of childcare.

These solutions are rightly to be admired.

But there are times when help is needed.

A farm woman would probably see nothing wrong in employing help for outdoor work but would likely baulk at getting help indoors.

Ann wonders whether "hearing of women out farming with one baby on their back and another in their womb makes other farm women feel overwhelmed or in some way lacking?"

It would be hard to argue against that. We set the standards for ourselves by what we see around us as the norm.

Many new farm mums fear that it would be seen as a sign of weakness to look for help. But surely the focus should be on encouraging farm women to enjoy and challenge themselves in their farming career?

This would obviously be more fulfilling personally but it's also possible that it would work out better financially in terms of developing the farm as well as family harmony.

One of Ireland's leading TV presenters, Miriam O'Callaghan, has openly spoken of how she could not do what she does without a lot of help.

Author Lorna Sixsmith, in her trio of tongue-in-cheek books on farm life, is also spreading the message that women don't have to try to do it all on their own. Perfect is not the norm.

It's okay for your house not to look like those in glossy magazines - clean wellies lined up at the back door, cat curled up on the rocking chair in front of the Aga and perfectly mannered kids.

Go on, farm women, give yourselves a break.

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