Grandparents’ wisdom is being embraced by a 23-year-old west Cork farmer, who recently graduated from Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) with a degree in agricultural science.

Nicole Keohane farms in Innishannon, alongside her grandparents, John and Anne Keohane.

“We run a dairy enterprise comprising just shy of 100 cows over a 40ha land base,” she said.

“I’m quite lucky to be surrounded by the wealth of knowledge they have built over the decades, and to this day I am still learning from them. I have two siblings – soon to be three – but neither of them have ever taken any interest in the farm as they have found their own passions,” said Nicole.

Fully qualified farmer

“My course included the Green Cert so I am a fully qualified farmer. I’m delighted that I choose WIT on my CAO application. It has afforded me so many opportunities during my years there, and I could not be more grateful.

“I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else, as I would never have met some of my best friends. [They] are extremely talented youngsters who have so much to offer to the agricultural sector,” she said.

Nicole combines farming with working as a sales advisor/trial coordinator with Animal Health Vision (AHV) International.

“Sales can be seen as a challenging job, but I’ve always been up for the challenge. I love my job, it allows to meet with new farmers every day, and to of course talk about cows.

“I’m always picking up on new bits of technologies or little hacks to make our lives easier at home. I’ve always embraced new, and more sustainable farming practices, which was how I came across AHV originally.

“I was keen to reduce our antibiotic usage on the farm in preparation for 2022, and to do our part for the industry. The AHV products have made all the difference for us, and I love to see other farmers having the same experience,” Nicole said.

“I didn’t milk my first cow until I was 16”

Growing up in Kinsale, she considered herself a ‘townie’, yet spent weekends on the farm feeding calves with her grandfather, building forts out of straw bales and generally revelling in country life.

“I didn’t milk my first cow until I was 16, but it was a whirlwind thereafter. I decided to study ag science for my Leaving Cert, and have just graduated with an honours degree. The morning of my online graduation, I was out milking,” said Nicole.

Covid-19 saw her forego her St. Patrick’s Day plans with other students as a final ‘blow out’, and she moved in with her grandparents for the final months of college to study and work on the farm.

“It was a challenging few months trying to find enough hours in the day,” she said.

“Since then, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be employed with AHV, and continue to farm at home. It would be nice to have the social life back into the mix again. Being 23 and not being able to do all things I should be doing such as festivals, nights out, weekends away etc, can be mentally taxing, but I’ve always tried to stay optimistic.”

Women in agriculture

“I love being a woman in the ag industry. My generation is very lucky. Some of the roadblocks that existed in decades past have, and are continually being  knocked down by strong women who have proceeded us. They have paved our way,” said Nicole.

“The gender balance in the industry is definitely changing. Agriculture courses have more and more women enrolling every year, particularly in WIT.

“A lot of the courses now have a fairly 50/50 split, with some even having more women than men. It’s a trend I love to see and hope will continue.

“Personally I’ve never faced barriers in the sector due to my gender. I am just as capable on the farm as any man, and the same goes with my off-farm job,” she added.

“When I walk into a yard I am judged by my capabilities and knowledge, not my gender, just as it should be.”

Future plans

“My plans for the future are pretty much centred around cows at the moment. I’m hopefully beginning my PhD in September, which of course will be focused on cows. This is an opportunity I am so blessed to have been awarded.

“I plan to continue working on the home farm in conjunction with my PhD. It may take a bit of juggling, but it’s where my passion and future lie,” Nicole concluded.