I’m from Virginia, Co Cavan. This farm was bought by my grandad about 60 years ago. He died seven years later – my dad was four at the time. It was a mixed farm then with dairy, beef, potatoes, oats and barley.

There was a herd of 12 British Friesians, milked twice a day by hand initially. The dairy cows were sold when quotas were introduced. The barley, oats and potatoes faded out and my dad continued on the suckler herd.

When I was in fifth year in school, I decided to buy my own dairy beef calves, that I would feed before school. My father decided to buy a few more with me and then decided to phase out the sucklers as a result. We were happy with how we were getting on with the dairy beef stock.

We’ve been building the dairy calf-to-beef enterprise with Belgian Blues as the main breed. It’s been a lot better in terms of progression, success and profit. It definitely has been more refreshing that we’re moving forward.

Sophie Bell farms in Virginia, Co Cavan.

My parents work full time and I do too, so it’s a busy household. We do as much as we can at the weekend and the evening time but it’s great to not have to worry about a cow calving.

As a child I wasn’t that interested in the farm. I had my own little passions, interests and hobbies. It was only when I bought those calves in fifth year that I really got into it.

I took an interest then and it just progressed into something more. The passion grew for it and I went to college to do agricultural and animal science. So, it only started during my teenage years, really.

Ag science

I realised I wanted to study agriculture after school when I started ag science in fifth year. It was one of my favourite subjects and the teacher was really passionate about it. I always started the homework with that first.

I went to Harper Adams University in England. I loved it. I’m always asked: “Why did you go over there?” It gave me a lot of independence and it was great to get out on my own and experience new things.

It was a big deal

I was 18 and I had never really been away from home before. Only maybe once or twice to the Gaeltacht. It was a big deal. Obviously I was nervous to start with but after the first week I felt at home because I was with like-minded people. They made it very easy to settle in.

While I was in college over there my part-time job was working on a dairy farm. It was lovely to have the practical side of it as well as the theory in college. Being taught all that stuff was great because nothing beats that practical experience.

I always wanted to milk and it was a woman who taught me to do it. She was great, very encouraging. It was nice to have a female role model. I just felt very comfortable and it was easy to get on with her. If she can do it, I can do it.

With COVID, a lot of my last year in college was spent at home

Even though I enjoyed the university experience, I’m much more of a practical person. I love working, getting out there and doing my own thing.

I finished college at the start of June and then I started working in Agri-Aware as the social media and events officer two weeks after that. With COVID, a lot of my last year in college was spent at home.

Social media

I started my social media pages around the same time I went to college. I was posting agricultural stuff. Around the time I started college I was very consistent with it and people liked what they saw. It sort of grew and it’s still growing.

My Instagram has 16.5k followers now

While I was working on the dairy farm I would have posted what I got up to there. Day-to-day things like a little blog. My Instagram has 16.5k followers now.

I think it’s mainly farmers who follow me. Hopefully there are some non-farmers out there learning about agriculture and what it’s like in real life. But I think it’s mainly young people in the farming sector but I would hope there’s more than that though.

You can feel isolated at times in farming and it’s very good to have the phone to pick up and chat on social media to other people with the same interest. It’s a great form of networking and getting to know other people.

I would get a few comments about how I look and dress but not a whole pile, thankfully. I think if you’re not knee deep in dung always there’d be questions asked a bit about how you dress and stuff. I do find it a form of self-care in the morning to wake up, brush the hair and put on a bit of makeup.

Everyone should be allowed to dress and look how they want to

It makes me feel good, I feel setup for the day and it only takes 10 minutes.

I definitely think it should be more normal to dress however you want to dress as a farmer. I don’t remember it ever being a rule that if you’re a farmer you shouldn’t get dolled up. Everyone should be allowed to dress and look how they want to.

As for farming being attractive to young people, obviously it depends on how CAP plays out. It’s a bit uncertain at the moment, I guess. It’s an attractive industry though. There are obviously some downsides to it but I think more and more people are becoming interested in it.

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