When it comes to doing the heavy lifting, female farmers sometimes find themselves at a disadvantage; but one Co. Offaly farmer harnesses her dad’s innovation to come up with solutions.
Elaine Smyth (30) from Shinrone, who combines part-time veterinary nursing with running her own sheep enterprise, gets by on the heavy lifting with a little help from her dad, Brendan’s, inventions.
“My dad is a great inventor. His favourite saying is: ‘Necessity is the greatest inventor’ and it’s true. You don’t realise what you need until you need it,” said Elaine.
One example is a lamb creep feeder. This needs to be moved with machinery or muscle power because it’s very heavy. I don’t have a whole pile of muscle power or a tractor and didn’t want to invest so we improvised with what we had. Dad modified the feeder and put wheels and a tow bar onto it. He made a gadget that I could wench the feeder up onto the hitch of the jeep and tow it around the fields.
Elaine has approximately 100 breeding ewes, mainly Texel crosses, but she is hoping to increase the numbers year-on-year.
“I grew up on our drystock family farm here in Shinrone, Co. Offaly. From the minute I was able to walk, my wellies were on and I was brought outside on the farm.
“It was such a wonderful way to be raised. I was never one for being indoors and I’m still not. I’d rather be out and about in the fresh air enjoying nature while working in it,” said Elaine.
“One of my earliest memories was going outside one evening with my granny to feed some ewes and newborn lambs in a shed. I could never get close enough to the animals. I got too close this time though. I picked up a lamb for a cuddle but the ewe didn’t appreciate it as much as I did and pucked me.
“I landed flat on my bum in the shed. My granny always told me it was the red coat that I was wearing and the ewe must have thought I was a fox so she was protecting her lamb. I was intrigued about the way the animals thought from then on,” said Elaine.
After school, Elaine studied veterinary nursing in Athlone Institute of Technology and has been working in companion animal care since qualifying.
“I was working full-time but have chosen to take a step back from my career and focus more on the farm so now I’m working part-time as a vet nurse and the rest of my time is spent on the farm,” she said.
“Before I started farming myself there was rarely a weekend that I wouldn’t make it home to the farm to my parents to help out in some way. It wasn’t until recent years that I really begun to appreciate the farming lifestyle.
Yes it can be tough, mentally, physically and financially, like many careers, but there are also many positives like working so closely with nature and being able to enjoy a healthy outdoor lifestyle.
Elaine went into sheep farming because she really enjoys working with sheep.
“I find them much easier to handle than cattle and starting off I didn’t need to invest as much money and I hoped that I could make a profit from sheep more quickly that I would from cattle.”
Male farmers often do a double take when they see her at work, doing the heavy lifting.
“Most are shocked that a young lady is interested in agriculture. Why not? Women power! We need more young ladies to stand up and get involved in what they are passionate about if that’s what they’d like to do,” said Elaine.
“The males definitely outnumber the females when it comes to agriculture at the minute. When I was studying my Green Cert in Teagasc, there was approximately 10 ladies and 30 men. I’m confident that more and more ladies will choose to become more involved in farming in future years though.”
Her future plans are to improve my efficiency on the farm. “Once I’m happy that things are running efficiently then I will increase flock numbers,” she said.
“I love the lifestyle, working with nature and in nature and getting to enjoy that great miracle of birth with every new season. I like the fact that you are your own boss and you get out what you put in, just like any business. I’m quite a driven person so for me, setting targets for every year is what drives me forward.”
While rural isolation affects many farmers, young and old, Elaine doesn’t find it a problem. “I’ve always been a country girl so I know no different. This is normality for me. I don’t think I could survive in the city. Where would the sheep live!
“We must remember that it’s important to make time for ourselves. As farmers we’re often so busy taking care of the animals and putting them first that we forget to look after ourselves. We need to put time off for ourselves on that to-do list.”