In her opening address, Ciara Lynch, outgoing president of Dairy Women Ireland (DWI) said, ‘Amazing things happen when a group of women come together’. This set the tone for the DWI second annual conference which took place in the Killashee Hotel on Saturday 25 November, the theme of which was: ‘Cultivating Health and Success’. The event facilitated a day of knowledge transfer amongst women in-volved in dairy farming from different parts of the country.
Developing on farm roles
With over 200 attendees, the first panel of the day chaired by Aidan Brennan, Dairy Editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, saw an open and honest conversation about women strategically developing their role to fulfil their goals, both on and off farm.
Sitting on the panel were two couples, both farming in partnership, in different capacities. Elaine and Patrick Hickey are from dairy farms in Co Kilkenny. In 2006, they moved to Westmeath where they purchased their own dairy farm. With four young children Eva (11), twin boys Paddy and John (8) and Emma (2), life is very busy. Elaine spoke about the decision she made to leave her job as a primary school teacher and become a full-time farmer eight years ago. They also talked about finding their roles on the farm while raising a young family. “Our business and family were growing in tandem and I wanted to be there at home for both, I wanted to have no regrets later on in life,” said Elaine.
Also on the panel were Siobhan and Mitchell Hayes who are farming in Blarney, Co Cork. They spoke about the need for open and honest communicatio when it comes to farm finances and decision making especially when things go wrong.
‘Every cloud has a silver lining, try and see the good even when things are rough because every mistake is an opportunity for learning,” said Siobhan.
She emphasised the importance for both partners to check in on each other after a long working day and making time in the evenings to sit and catch up.
She is working off farm as a midwife in Cork University Mater Hospital in the area of Pregnancy Loss and Gynaecology. This has allowed her to bring home the skills she uses in midwifery and apply them to the farm.
“There is a lot of crossover. My observation skills are high so I am very good at calf management, especially spotting a sick calf or one that’s not thriving. I am highly aware of infection control, hygiene and cross contamination,” explained Siobhan.
Discussing the challenges that come with moving onto the family farm, the Hayes’ emphasised the importance of building a house ‘out of eyesight’. It is essential that you cannot see your in-laws if you are looking out of your kitchen window.
“For the privacy of both couples,” says Siobhan. “I don’t want to know what my in-laws are doing daily but if they are in my view, I can’t help but see what they are at. I think for optimum relationships its better for both houses to have their privacy. If you are out of sight, you are out of mind.”
Other talks that took place during the day focused on accounting and policy options for dairy business as well as the importance of staying healthy. Breakout sessions focused on: antimicrobial resistance; marrying into a dairy farm; family farm succession; and life empowerment.
One of the attendees was Margaret Keane, a full-time dairy farmer from Carrick on Suir, Co Waterford. She said, “It was an excellent conference well worth attending. The breakout sessions were very interesting, it was difficult to choose between them. I went to the family farm succession talk. The main take away message I took from that was open communication and that it is never too early to start talking.”
Closing the conference, Mary Kingston, incoming President of DWI said that in previous meetings, she observed that some of the issues women in dairy are facing include lack of confidence to get involved and difficulty in finding their place on the farm.
“That’s the main emphasis, for us to provide women with the confidence, education and tools to find their space. They have a huge amount of value they can add if they have the opportunity to give it,” said Mary.