Louise Crowley, dairy farmer at Tullovin Castle Farm in conversation with Mary McCarthy
Cows, not cowed
Myself and my dad run the farm together and have 150 milking cows. He would shoot me if he knew half of what I put up on Instagram. There are a lot of women farmers on social media and we have useful group chats.
If I have a problem, I can post I am having a bad day and seek advice. Usually, someone will answer the same thing happened to them and we share solutions; every farmer goes through similar issues.
I find younger farmers are willing to share their difficulties; my father's generation have the 'tell nobody, say nothing' attitude. They don't want the neighbours to know.
When I did my Junior Cert, I was certain farming was for me. It was lucky for my father John as there was not a hope either of my younger sisters wanted to go into farming - they went into hospitality and make-up.
From an early age, I was always stuck in the yard, getting involved. After my Leaving, I did a two-year course at Pallaskenry agricultural college, near our farm in Croom, and in 2018 I graduated from a degree in ag science at Cork Institute of Technology which saw me work on a farm in New Zealand in 2017.
I remember the career guidance teacher at school wondering would I not go to a 'proper' college. People do not realise how technical farming is; you need a lot of specialist knowledge in different areas.
Queen of the land
My Dad’s aunt bought the farm originally, so I’m the third generation of our family to work on the farm following in my Dad’s footsteps.
We cover each other on alternative weekends so one of us gets a proper break. It is really busy now but when it slows I will spend three or four weeks working for a silage contractor - the seventh year I have done it and I will be out from 7am to 11pm. A few years ago, a local contractor had his two daughters working, but generally women don't get involved in this type of work.
When you go in for your tea breaks, everyone expects you are the girlfriend or daughter and are surprised when you tell them it's you driving the tractor or trailer. For a few hours, it's faces at the window looking out at you but very quickly they get used to me.
Milk in the tank
I've been a member of Macra na Feirme for three years and am county secretary for Limerick and also for our local group. There is a huge social life, with something on every evening if you want, such as bowling, soccer, drama and nights out.
Our club in Croom has 80 members, of which only 10 are farmers. There are nurses, teachers, guards - it's a lot of fun and a great social outlet for young rural people.
After my 12-hour day on the farm, the last thing I want to do is go to meetings, but every single time I am glad I go along. I find it is a complete break away from the yard, from my current problems, and I come back with a refreshed mentality. I am also a member of the IFA - though you are supposed to be 35. I love being involved and somehow it seems the busier I am, the more I can manage.
I am also secretary of the local Vintage Club - I joined when I was 12. There are lots of social events throughout the year and we host a harvest day in August. Many of the members are my dad's age but they take no notice of the age gap and everyone is friends.
I broke some ribs recently when a cow caught me in the milking parlour and there were so many farmers looking to offer a hand. The community around you makes you feel supported.
No spilt milk
At the moment, we have 290 animals, and the aim to have up to 200 milking cows in the next two to three years.
You are always planning ahead with a five-year plan, a 10-year plan.
I do wonder if I have a family, would my children want to go into farming?
I would hope so, but I would not force it, as if your heart isn't set on becoming a farmer, you won't make a good run of it. In the past, many sons would have been handed the farm, even if they did not want it, when the daughter would have been more suitable. It can be tricky with siblings - it works until they have their own families.
The joys of spring
Like all farms, we are taking precautions with coronavirus and the gates are shut except for milk collections and feed delivery, though all our work is going on as normal.
My Grand Aunt lives with us so we are very aware of needing to protect her.
I hope attitudes will change toward farmers now. We get a lot of unfair blame for causing pollution and carbon emissions. We are told people don't want our milk but this pandemic has shown they clearly do. Milk is one of the first things to disappear from the shelves and there is huge demand right now.
I could spend every waking minute working but that is no way to live life. At a point in the evening, I try to prioritise what absolutely needs to be done and then leave what can keep for tomorrow.
I have no regrets; of course when cattle break out, milk prices drop or disease strikes, I think why on Earth am I killing myself? Then there is the lovely spring day when you let a calf out of the paddock to run in the fields for the first time and the joy of that. Then it's worth it.
Louise was speaking on behalf of Meat and Dairy Facts.