‘Working in the agri industry is great and more women are joining’

“It’s great working in the agri-industry and more women are joining.” That’s the view of Kelly Stephenson who recently joined Progressive Genetics, working in milk recording support.

This mainly involves liaising with farmers who have issues with Somatic Cell Count (SCC) and helping achieve a greater benefit from other milk recording data.

She has also worked in a variety of other areas such as milk pregnancy testing and, to a lesser extent, the new AgriNet herd app.

The west Wicklow woman was previously employed by Dawn Meats. “It was an excellent place to learn about the beef industry, and it’s true what they say – the real education starts after college,” she said.

“Working in the meat industry was fairly tough; it’s a career very few women choose. However, it was an excellent experience.

As one of my previous bosses told me: ‘Never box yourself in for being a woman. If you work hard enough you can do anything you want.’

“Progressive Genetics has a great mix of men and women, plus there is a real positive attitude around the place, so there is never a moment you doubt your abilities,” she said.

Kelly studied animal and crop production in UCD, qualifying in 2015. She then started with Dawn Meats on its trainee manager graduate programme.

Kelly, who is from the Glen of Imaal, rents a farm with her fiance, PJ McGrath, in Baltinglass. “We started renting this farm in 2016; we now have 50-odd sucklers. This year we’ll calve 20 limousins, 15 aubracs and 20 commercial cows,” she said.

“The biggest obstacle I come across is probably on-farm when dealing with farmers when selling pedigree stock, as they don’t always take me seriously unless I prove I know my stuff.

Growing up, her family kept Highland cattle and a few suckler cows as a hobby. “I bought my first calves – whitehead heifers – when I was 14, from a local dairy farmer.

“I kept one of these and that was my start into suckler farming. A couple of years later I met my fiance PJ, who is from a dairy farm; that’s when the suckler herd really took off.”

The couple chose aubracs primarily for ease of maintenance. “We first got them around seven years ago. We were both starting college and needed a breed that was low-maintenance, doing the job themselves. Realistically our families were looking after our stock the majority of the time, as we were away in college, which we’re very thankful for.”

On the introduction of the limousins, which are more recent, Kelly said: “PJ had always wanted limousins growing up. I suppose it came from admiring his uncle’s well-renowned Curraghree herd. The first Limousin came three years ago as a 21st gift I bought for PJ and the herd has grown from there.

“We both work full-time so we need cattle that are easy to manage and both breeds have worked really well for us. We plan to increase our pedigree numbers over the next few years by focusing on a few superior families we have, flushing these cows to create an elite foundation herd.

“Practically everything to date has been bought in and we all well know most people don’t sell their best,” said Kelly.

The couple hope to expand their farm in the coming years but both plan on keeping their jobs. “The big question we are always asked is whether we will go into dairy cows. I would like to say we will and we have plans in place for the possibility of going into dairying.

“However, we will take our time and continue to expand our sucklers for another couple of years and see how things are going – especially with those that got into it over the last few years,” said Kelly.

For any women thinking of going into the industry, her advice is to complete an ag course and then just go for it.

The great thing about a lot of the ag courses is that they cover a broad range of topics, opening doors to a lot of jobs – not just in the agri-industry.

“If you work hard and are capable it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman or a man, if you’re good enough for the job, you’re good enough.”