The thorny issue of discrimination against women when it comes to inheriting the farm has kept Joe Duffy’s Liveline busy in recent times, but yesterday, one of the callers provoked a new level of fury by suggesting that it is “very unrealistic” for a woman to run a farm.
John, a farmer’s son, claimed that women did not have the strength to deal with aspects of farming such as calving cows or handling beet.
“It’s very unrealistic for a woman to run a farm. In terms of strength – pulling calves out of cattle or lifting tonnes of beet. There is no beet now, but all that kind of thing – it’s not particularly suitable to women,” he told Duffy.
His comments have been blasted by readers of the Irish Farmers Journal, and rightly so.
John’s notion that women are not physically capable of working on a farm is both chauvinistic and archaic.
Advances in technology have taken the grunt out of farming to an enormous extent.
When you have a New Holland T5.105 and a shear grab feeding silage, it really doesn’t matter whether the person in the cab is a Munster prop or a 5ft 3in girl. The job gets done.
Advances in technology have taken the grunt out of farming
Round bales, half-tonne fertiliser bags and half-tonne seed bags are all handled mechanically.
In the milking parlour, feeding is done at the press of a button and milk can be easily carted or piped from the dairy to the calf shed.
I can’t think of a single tillage job, from ploughing, sowing, rolling, spraying and fertilising to harvesting, that isn’t mechanised.
I’m afraid that if brute force and ignorance are the only skills a farmer has to handle a jack, then there’s a poor lookout for the calf
As for calving cows, I’m afraid that if brute force and ignorance are the only skills a farmer has to handle a jack, then there’s a poor lookout for the calf. Timing and technique are more important skills that all farmers need at calving.
But there are times when help is needed and, whether you are a man or woman, the nearest neighbour and the vet can always be called on.
And let’s not forget that there are many instances in which being a woman is a positive advantage on the farm.
The time-consuming and sometimes frustrating tasks of rearing calves and nurturing sick newborn lambs have always been a traditional job for women, while the smaller hands of the wife have saved many a badly-presented lamb at labour.
Worldwide, many large scale dairy farms employ only women in the milking parlour.
After hearing John’s remarks, I am so grateful I grew up with parents who encouraged all their children, both boys and girls, to work on the farm.
My father regularly used a female vet, taught me how to milk cows at 12 and encouraged me to work with the Farm Relief as a teenager. I drove tractors, helped cows calve down and ploughed fields without ever having to consider gender issues.
Growing up, I wasn’t subject to the closed mind of someone like John and I am very glad of it.
Irish farming would never survive or thrive with an attitude like that.