Women in Agriculture profile featuring Alice Gillespie

Place you call home: Killylea, Co. Armagh.

Occupation: Farm with my husband and his family.

Farming commodity: Dairy, beef and sheep. We have 300 dairy cows and nearly 600 young beef stock that require a lot of time and attention. Three years ago, there was a welcomed change on the farm, we put in four robots to do the majority of the milking. They still require a similar amount of work but have most definitely improved our lifestyle with the flexibility that is available now. We calf nearly all year round and take stock from newborn to the finishing stage. We also buy in some calves to finish.

We have some sheep, but they are part of the farm that my husband doesn’t like to mention. I’ve always had a love for sheep strangely and tortured my husband to start a small flock for me when we got together. He was never keen and his famous last words to a neighbour were, “there will be no sheep on this yard”. However, for my 21st birthday my father-in-law treated me to six hoggets and we’re now working with 60 breeding ewes. I look forward to lambing each year and now our daughter loves it as much as I do. The sheep are without a doubt the love of my life on the farm but are still very much a learning curve after eight years.

How did you become involved in farming?

I started training to be a veterinary nurse after leaving school. This included reception work where I learnt a lot from the vets and met many local farmers. I have lived in the countryside all my life but didn’t come from a farming background. I then met my husband over nine years ago on a night out, and from then, I most definitely got thrown into the deep end of dairy farming. Little did I know at that stage how my life would change so dramatically. After we got married five years ago, we built our own home across the road from the farm, so we are always handy if there is a cow calving or a robot alarm goes off.

Earliest farming memory: When I first came to the farm, I was clueless and slightly nervous around the cows with them being such large animals. Every Friday after a week’s work in the vets, I came out to the farm for “a date”. These dates were based in the milking parlour. The first time I came into the parlour, I was terrified, I would have jumped if a cow pranced a little, which my husband found very entertaining. After many hours milking with him, I found a love for the cows and realised the majority of them are inquisitive, big, gentle giants. I also learned about rearing calves with my father-in-law which I thoroughly enjoyed and was surprised about how much work was involved in rearing them.

What personal characteristics did you develop from agriculture?

I think patience is a virtue when it comes to farming. I have always been an animal lover but there are definitely times when they can test the patience. Also, farmers never seem to be able to be on time for anything, so they require extra patience too.

I have also learnt, never make plans, because that’s the time the cows would rather you stayed with them than go out somewhere nice.

Life lesson you learnt from farming: Farming is most definitely more than just a job and is like no other job on the planet. It is a lifestyle and if you can find a balance, it’s a lifestyle which is hard to beat.

What do you enjoy most about the farming lifestyle?

I love that every day is always something different. You never know what’s going to happen which keeps it exciting. There is nothing better than seeing new life come into the world and having a calf or lamb open its eyes for the first time to you.

The farm is a big commitment, and it dictates our life 24/7 but it’s a healthy environment for our children to grow up in. There are so many life lessons they can learn from it. I also hope they enjoy the animals and way of life as much as we do as their parents.

Describe a farmer in three words:Resilient, loyal and determined.

What would you like the public to know about NI farming?

Agriculture in general has been getting such a hard time recently from minority groups. I personally have found, much of their information is far from the truth and they’re completely unaware of the very high welfare standards we have here. These people forget how much time and effort go into producing the nation’s food. As a whole, farmers put everything they have into looking after their animals and their farms. The public should know more about the truths of agriculture and not believe all the false information they often get bombarded with.

If you could give farmers/farming families/ farming community one piece of advice what would it be?

Not sure on that one. I have still so much to learn in agriculture and try to take any advice I get from more experienced farmers.

What would you say to others who are considering a career in the agri industry?

Farmers are in a league of their own and after working in agriculture for 10 years now and marrying one myself, I can honestly say they are a great bunch of people. They will never fail to keep you entertained and love a bit of craic.

What are your hopes for the future of Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry?

I hope that it continues to progress, and that the British and Irish people appreciate the work that goes into producing their food. It would also be great to see more women come into the industry.