As a mother of three girls, when I took the leap from working in retail to becoming a full-time farmer in late 2014, it certainly was daunting. I had just given birth to our youngest daughter Georgie and whilst I always loved animals, I had no farming experience. I can still remember milking my first cow and looking back now I believe it was determination, hard work and a passion for livestock that got me to where I am now.
On a few occasions I was told “your place is at home running the house, leave the farming to Pete”. Comments like that certainly knock you back, but we were adamant we would farm together and, in many ways, I look back knowing I showed the critics how wrong they were.
In the early days, many would drive into the farm yard and ask “Is the boss around?” but we surround ourselves with a team of suppliers who know we both make decisions so when they enter the yard now they deal with whichever one of us they find first.
There is no gender roles on the farm and when we see the girls growing up they would seriously question any gender imbalance or sexist comment. Our middle daughter Becky can quite confidently manage the farm on a daily basis and is no stranger to being in charge within the milking parlour knowing exactly when to delegate. Likewise, Chloe has a great work ethic and is confident in so many ways.
I believe the role of Women in agriculture has come so far in a short space of time. I know so many determined young female farmers but also many women who work in the broader agricultural industry and anyone that questions the role of women in agriculture certainly has their eyes closed.
That said, there is still progress to be made. The farm representative organisations really need to step up to the mark and whilst they say they welcome women, there is still an “old boys club” lingering. I for one have witnessed the sexist comments first-hand.
When I look at the UK, Minette Batters certainly has flown the flag for women in agriculture. She undoubtedly is one of the most credible and influential farm leaders which shows right through all she does at the NFU. It is time for Irish farm organisations to ensure the same is delivered here. On the home front, I look at Tara McCarthy, Alma Jordan, Ursula Kelly and many more knowing we have an abundance of determined influential women in our industry.
Having no gender roles at home certainly helped prepare me for living in a Massai community where it is a totally male dominated world. During my stay in Kenya the men constantly looked down on me fully believing I wouldn’t be able to complete daily tasks. That made me even more determined, but also helped me form an eternal bond with the women in that community in Maparasha as they looked on, watching me do things a woman had never been allowed to do.
Looking back now it gives me a sense of pride that the gender gap has narrowed significantly. I also gained great respect for the men who have put age old traditions to one side and embraced the strength of the women in their community.
While I am happiest spending the majority of my time in ‘wellies’ and overalls with the odd spatter of cow dung clung to my hair, I have to confess I do enjoy a few hours in Kal’s salon having my hair and makeup done before picking out a fab dress and heels to attend an event with Pete, or simply have a date night together. Those couple of hours relaxing in the salon whilst still chatting about farming certainly is relaxing.
I’ll leave you on this note. The gender divide will only exist if we accept it. Those strong women who went before us put in place change which has given us the ground to succeed. The power is in our hands to ensure the next generation knows no boundaries.