A Kildare-based calf rearer was recently name-checked on the cover of Elle magazine, which highlighted women who had worked through the pandemic.

“A lovely friend that I’ve made via Instagram nominated myself and a fellow dairy farmer Anna to the online campaign Elle magazine ran, asking for women working through the pandemic,” Alice Hodges told AgriLand.

Other professions that made the cover of the leading UK glossy fashion and lifestyle magazine included: paramedic; nurse; midwife; doctor; supermarket supply chain manager; supermarket worker; charity worker; teacher; counsellor; and Samaritans workers.

“It was incredibly sweet and extremely humbling to be selected. The front cover now sits framed on my wall,” the Kildare-based calf rearer said.

She grew up in Cheshire, in the north of England. “None of my family are involved in agriculture but I grew up in the countryside and my next door neighbours who I use to babysit for, were dairy farmers. I always knew I wanted to work with animals; I just wasn’t sure in what capacity,” Alice said.

“My neighbour Rob asked if I wanted to have a go milking one Sunday afternoon, and the rest is history. I loved it ever since. I always felt very natural and relaxed working with livestock. Despite it not being ‘in my blood’ I knew it was the right fit for me.”

Great combination

After leaving high school with GCSEs, Alice went on to study a diploma in agriculture at Reaseheath College.

“Reaseheath offered a three-year course, with one year in industry and a great combination of practical and theory-based learning opportunities.

I loved my time there and learned a lot. I decided I wanted to continue my studies and made the move down to the University of Reading, where I achieved a 2:1 in agricultural business management.

As part of her degree, she undertook a 12-month placement.

“I decided to go to New Zealand and spent my year working on a 1,500-cow dairy farm in Canterbury. This is also where I met my other half, Seán, who is originally from Louth.

“Sean was out there working as a 2IC on a nearby dairy farm, and we met through the local GAA club that had been set up over there. Seán was offered a job opportunity back home in Ireland, here in Kildare, and decided to come home for it,” said Alice.

“I still had another year of study left at Reading, and so I went back and finished my degree and then moved over to Kildare to be with Seán. As I didn’t have a family farm to go back to, I was going to need to look for a job post-university anyway so I decided to look for jobs over in Ireland,” she said.

‘Finding my feet’

“I’ve been in Kildare for almost two years now, and am just about finding my feet. I currently work as a calf rearer in the spring when there is the demand, and then spend the rest of the year relief milking across a number of farms.

This past spring I reared 350 calves, and I’m currently milking on two farms; one being 150 cows through a 16-a-side herringbone and the other being 350 cows through a 40-point rotary.

Alice is currently promoting AgriAware’s campaign to wash hands during Covid-19.

“AgriAware has done a great job in aiding the promotion of Irish agriculture, and I was more than happy to get involved with its hand washing campaign when it reached out to me via Instagram.

“I’ve also been involved with its farm safety week, and am looking forward to the upcoming #AgCredible ‘Why are you proud to farm?’ campaign running from September 15 to 17.

“I think the stigma around women in ag is slowly falling away, and I’m so glad to see it. Since I decided to go farming 10 years ago, I’ve always been surrounded by woman in the field and it’s always been a great confidence boost to see other woman reaching for the same goals as me,” said the Kildare-based calf rearer.

Social media

“I think the use of social media has been hugely beneficial in encouraging more women to enter the sector as it allows other women to see that they are more than capable of doing the jobs, and just because they’ve been historically male roles doesn’t mean a woman can’t do them too,” she said.

“It’s also nice to have that online connection to a group of people who are all in similar situations to yourself, who understand the ups and downs that go along with farming and who are more than happy to share in your successes and be there to help you through the hard times.

Farming can be quite an isolating profession which contributes to it having the highest rates of suicide of any profession here in Ireland. It’s so so important to look after your mental health and while, especially at the minute, it can be quite hard to meet up with friends and family in person, having a network of friends on your phone who get it, can be life changing.

“I initially started my Instagram as I was sick of seeing so much negativity surrounding agriculture, especially dairying.

“I wanted to do something to counter it all, and to be a voice of truth and transparency online, and hopefully be a source of education for those wanting to know more about where their food comes from,” said the Kildare-based calf rearer.

“The plan for the future is to one day be running a farm, alongside my other half, Seán. Whether that be through managing, leasing or share farming we’ll see.

“It can be trickier to be able so pursue exactly what you want when you don’t have your own land, but we know we have the drive, determination and the know-how to succeed.”