‘Life on a 2,500-cow dairy farm is hectic’: Waterford woman

Working on a 2,500-cow dairy farm based on a grazing platform of 830ha and milking through an 80-bale rotary parlour in New Zealand means life is hectic. But, it’s providing a Waterford woman with practical application for the knowledge built up over four years in college.

Lorna Power, from Lismore, originally wanted to travel to New Zealand for her work placement at the Waterford Institute of Technology. However, she chose to complete it much closer to home in FBA Laboratories Ltd, in Cappoquin, Co. Waterford instead.

“However, that longing I had to go to New Zealand never really went away.

It made perfect sense to go there once I had finished college as I wanted to gain more practical experience on a dairy farm and to travel. New Zealand allowed me to do both.

So, on June 26 of this year, Lorna and her boyfriend Sean, headed off.

New Zealand

“We arrived at Singletree Dairies in Ashburton a few days later. Singletree Dairies, part of Ashpouri Ltd, is co-owned and operated by Will and Kim Grayling. The time that we started on the farm was ideal because we got to see the dry season where the cows are kept off the farm on fodder beet.

“Then in late July / early August, calving started so we got to see the calving season, which is pretty hectic as there were 60 to 80 calving per day.

“We will also see the start of the breeding season before we go home which will be great to experience and learn about.”

Lorna’s main roles on the farm are calf rearing and milking.

“Our time here so far has been absolutely amazing. We are due to return home on October 28, at which point we will have been away for four months. We have spent our days off travelling around the South Island and the sights are out of this world. We are working long hours – up to 13 hours per day – so it’s hectic; but I am loving the work.

“Rearing calves is such a rewarding job when you see them going out to grass after you have reared them. The sheer scale of the farm is so different to farms at home which is great to have experienced. I have learned an incredible amount since being here.

What has interested me most here has been the emphasis put on grass management and nutrition. What I have learned about these areas will most certainly be coming home with me.

Growing up on a Farm

Lorna’s home farm is in Burgess Anchor, Lismore, Co. Waterford. “We operate a weanling to beef system, slaughtering at 24 to 28 months on a totally grass-based system. The farm is comprised of 80ac and is owned by my grandad, Tom Cahill. My house is situated on the farm border.

“We also have a small second yard where we keep our horses and a small number of breeding ewes. The farm is run by both my grandad and my mam, Daphne. My grandad bought what is now our main yard, over 50 years ago and built it up to what it is today. Over the years the farm has seen sheep, pigs and dairy cows but has been a dry stock farm since approximately 2000,” Lorna said.

Growing up, Lorna spent a lot of time on the farm. “I spent most of my childhood there; I loved being on the farm. I was lucky enough to live close to the farm; just four fields away. I’ve been working there for as long as I can remember.

“Some of my earliest memories are of times spent helping my grandad, whether that be running around on top of the silage bales, painting them, scraping cubicles, or standing in gaps, moving cattle at the ripe age of six. All while in my trusty orange overalls.

“When I was younger, during my school holidays, there was rarely a week went by where I didn’t head off to the local Dungarvan or Fermoy marts with my grandad.

Oftentimes, we would end up coming home with cattle that he had bought purely because I had taken a liking to them. However, once he put his eye on an animal, that was it – he wouldn’t be outbid.

“However, from the age of ten upwards, I found another love – show jumping, which admittedly, reduced my time to do farm work. During my early teens, our small second cattle yard became our stable yard.”

However, it didn’t take Lorna long to wander back onto the agricultural scene.

PROgress Equine

“Being brought up on a farm really gave me a love and appreciation for it. I knew that choosing to study agricultural science at the Waterford Institute of Technology was the right option for me,” Lorna said.

While she was there, she got a chance to combine her love of both the agricultural and equestrian spheres through the development of her new start-up, PROgress Equine. “The concept of PROgress Equine is centred around producing equine feed that is more sustainable in the long-term.

“At present we are working on refining the idea and shaping our long-term vision. It first came about as an idea for my rural entrepreneurship module as part of my studies and stemmed from my love of all things equine. My lecturer, Rachel O’Dowd, saw more to the idea than simply a college project and put the idea forward for the student entrepreneur awards.

“The idea was very new when we went to the competition but we knew it had merit.

Thankfully, the judges did too and we were awarded the ‘best emerging enterprise’ award which came with a €5,000 cash prize, sponsored by Grant Thornton.

“Thanks to Enterprise Ireland, my co-founder and best friend, Emma Murphy, is in the process of completing phase one of the New Frontiers programme in Waterford’s Arclabs,” Lorna said.

Eager to start a career in agriculture

Lorna is due to graduate with a first class honours degree in agricultural science next month. “2014 was the first year that WIT offered a four-year Level 8 course and this was my first preference on my CAO form,” said Lorna. She enjoyed being part of a skilled team during her industrial placement in FBA Laboratories Ltd.

“In fourth year, I completed a literature review and thesis project on a topic of my choice which has taught me how to carry out research, conduct trials and has also greatly improved my overall writing skills.”

When she finishes work at Singletree Dairies in New Zealand, Lorna plans to kick back from her hectic schedule and explore the North Island and Sydney, before heading home for graduation.

“Going forward, I am eager to start my career in the agricultural industry, within the area of animal nutrition. I also plan to move forward with PROgress Equine as a side project.”