Irish Independent - Farming : 2019-02-05
ANALYSIS : 6 : 6
6 Farming Independent Tuesday 5 February 2019 analysis Ploughing her own furrow Newly elected Westmeath IFA chair Bernie MacCarthy spent 30 years working as a nurse before returning to her farming roots, writes Claire Fox L ast week, the nurses of Ireland braved the wintry elements in a strike calling for improved wages and working conditions.
Suckler farmer and new IFA Westmeath chair Bernie MacCarthy recalls her 30plus years as a nurse as being challenging, but, like farming, she says nursing is a vocation.
“Nursing was very challenging. There was no balance in my life and I often worked 12hour shifts with no break. It’s the same story for nurses now,” says Bernie, who is originally from a mixed and dairy farming background in Crossbarry near Bandon in Co Cork.
Bernie fondly remembers feeding calves and pigs before school on the farm, which her parents Charlie and Kitty ran, and getting her mother’s 1,500 turkeys plucked and prepared for the busy Christmas market.
While Bernie loved farming in her childhood and teenage years, she decided to pursue a career in nursing.
Her career took in roles as an intellectual disability nurse in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, the Brothers of Charity in Glanmire, Co Cork, and St Mary’s in Delvin, Co Westmeath.
Although Bernie enjoyed nursing, she said it had always been in the back of her mind to return to farming, so when her partner, farmer and Fianna Fail senator Paul Daly, asked her to take over the full-time running of his suckler farm in 2011, she said yes.
“I always loved farming. My brothers Tony and Brian were running dairy and suckler operations in Cork, so I still had an interest and loved helping Paul. So when Paul asked me, I decided I would take early retirement to rear the Angus herd,” she says.
The farm, which is based near Kilbeggan, Co West- meath, consists of 40 Aberdeen Angus suckler cows. While 12hour days are sometimes the norm on the farm, Bernie says she is much happier working outdoors and taking care of the animals.
“I actually feel I have more of a balance with farming than I ever did with nursing. Hail, rain or snow, I’ ll be out with the cattle,” she says. Bernie feels that “suckler farmers are on their knees” and need to be supported, especially given what’s happening with Brexit and the uncertainty about CAP reform.
“Suckler farmers are struggling with commodity prices and last year, fodder was a big challenge. It’s important that we can get a strong CAP from Europe to ensure sustainable farming continues,” she points out. “We need confirmation on Brexit soon too — 75pc of our beef goes to the UK. Farmers are really worried about the outcome and March 29 is fast approaching.”
Bernie adds that Paul, her neighbours and the local vet are a great help whenever she needs a hand around the farm, but most of the time she is able to manage by herself.
“I’ve never felt held back with heavy lifting or calving or using machinery. I’ve always used machinery to help Breeding A selective breeding policy is very important to Bernie. She purchased some of the original females of the herd from the Michael O’Leary-owned Gigginstown herd a number of years ago.
“We usually go to his sale every year. They’re a very placid animal and the nicest meat in the world. We’re very interested in getting the best offspring for the herd,” she says.
As a farmer on the ground,
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