Managing 130 cows, training her 10-month-old puppy Nell and attending Macra meetings are run-of-the-mill activities for 25-year-old Laura Cable from Yorkshire, who moved to West Cork last September.
The hardy young woman moved to Ireland after meeting her partner John Forde on a dairy farm in New Zealand in 2016.
Laura told the Evening Echo, she had no intention of moving back from New Zealand until she met John, who is from Dunmanway.
John moved home to finish his degree in Dairy Business at University College Dublin (UCD) and Laura travelled back to her hometown in Yorkshire where she grew up.
“I was raised on a beef and sheep farm. We have butcher shops at home. I studied Agriculture and Livestock Science at Nottingham University and got a scholarship to go to New Zealand where I met John.
Although John is not from a farming background, he was following a career in agriculture and used to spend his summers working on a farm in Clonakilty.
When John went back to college, someone was needed to manage the farm and Laura took on the challenge.
“I moved over in September 2017. I do all the milking myself, I manage the grass, calve the cows in springtime and feed the calves, general dairy farm work.”
Laura said she also does a bit of tractor driving, cleaning sheds, breeding the animals and ordering and managing the feed and bedding supplies.
Since coming to Ireland, Laura remarked that she has dealt with two red weather warnings within six months as well as the ongoing fodder crisis.
“We were not massively affected by the fodder crisis. It was always a worry, but we were quite lucky, we had a lot of reserve feed behind us, we had a good summer so we had a lot of feed. We just got through by the skin of our teeth.”
Laura said they had just six bales left to feed 130 cows, which is a day’s feed, when she let the animals out to grass.
“That was all that was left over to feed the cows when the grass hit the point that the cows could go out all the time. It was touch and go for awhile.” During Storm Ophelia, Laura said she nearly lost the roof of a shed as well as losing power and water., but it was nothing compared to Storm Emma.
“We managed to locate a generator so it wasn’t too bad and the cows only went a day without being milked.
“Storm Emma was awful, we had snow drifts about five foot high as we are perched on top of a hill. The cows were inside with no water and there were cows calving at the time.” Things got so bad, Laura has to leave her accommodation on the farm and stay in a hotel in Clonakilty.
“It was a fair challenge to come back and make sure everything was okay. We were leaving cows calving unassisted for 18 hours, but luckily they looked after themselves and managed fine. So we got away with it.”
Discussing her love for farming, Laura said it is not a job you can do unless you are passionate about it.
“If you didn’t love dairy farming it would probably be the most miserable profession you could be in, but I have always loved animals, I have worked on a farm since I could just about walk. I was brought up doing it.
“Things have got to be done in rain, sunshine, snow so that passion has to be there.”
Laura said she has no doubts that farming is the perfect career for her. “I definitely want to be a farmer for the rest of my life. Years ago, I thought about being a vet but didn’t get the grades, and farming was a good second option. I am very happy with the way it worked out in the end anyway. I don’t think I could have done the vet life at all.”
Milking 130 cows in a 14 unit parlour keeps Laura pretty busy, taking an hour and a half twice a day. “It never bothers me that it has to be done, I just work my plans around it.” Laura said she often surprises people with her choice of career but she has no doubts it is the one for her.
“Anyone else that comes to the farm always asks who is in charge and they are always surprised when they hear it is me. They say things like: “Oh Jesus you are some woman - I don’t know how you manage!” Laura said the only thing she sometimes struggles with is strength and there is always a way around it.
“Sometimes strength is an issue, but there is always a way around what I am trying to do. Machinery can help or there is another way of doing it. You have to think outside the box, if you don’t have the strength to do something, there is usually a way around it or there is always someone around to help out if I need it as well.”
The resilient young woman said as a female, she feels she has some advantages over male farmers, such as having a greater intuition and empathy with the animals.
“I think, as a woman, you have better attention to detail and you can empathise a bit more. For example, you take your time with calving cows, because you understand a bit what they are going through.
“I think female farmers have a different kind of love for their animals. All farmers love their animals, but female farmers have a special bond.”
At the moment Laura is also teaching her puppy Hell basic commands so that one day he will be able to help her on the farm with the animals.
“Hell is a blue mill collie dog and she keeps me company on the farm. She will be trained eventually to help with the cows.”
This week (23-27 April) Laura took over the Twitter account @IrelandsFarmers showcasing the work she does and on the farm and giving people an insight into her daily life.
Chatting about living in West Cork, Laura said the hardest thing for her was moving over and not knowing anyone.
“I knew John’s family and some of his friends but general people I didn’t really know. I joined the local Macra group which has got me getting out and meeting people.” Laura said she really enjoys living in Clonakilty which she described as a beautiful part of the country.
“There is a possibility I will stay here. There was talk of going back to New Zealand when John is finished his degree, but it depends on the opportunities that turn up and there are plenty here.”