Paula Hynes, dairy farmer, Ireland
Their family’s farm won the Zurich Ireland Dairy Farmer of the Year Award in 2017 and is very much female dominated, and they never miss an opportunity to try and inform the public about where their food comes from. An encounter with Paula Hynes, who runs a dairy farm alongside her husband and three daughters in Ireland.
Paula Hynes, from County Cork in South West Ireland, is a fulltime farmer alongside her husband Pete and three daughters Chloe, Becky and Georgina. The family have a 104 hectare farm and run a grass based dairy herd of 180 cows.
The family farm
Paula and her family’s farm is located in the heart of a small Irish village, 10 miles (+/- 16 km) west of Cork city, in a landscape of mature trees and hedgerows. Next to their dairy cattle, the family also rear all their own replacement heifers. The dairy herd is spring calving and out grazing for over 300 days a year.
The Hynes’ family farm benefits from the mild climate of its region, governed by the Atlantic jet stream, meaning snow days are rare on the farm. “Thankfully”, Paula says. “The climate suits growing large amounts of grass as we don’t see droughts in the summer. This ensures we can run a low cost dairy system.” Paula’s land is predominantly limestone, however 30 hectares of that land is low lying ground running down the river Bride and so prone to winter flooding. “This means we cannot graze cows on the lower, flood prone land year round. It is usually dry enough by late March, which is when we start grazing our cows there then.”
Before taking on farming full time, Paula worked in retail. Back then, the farm comprised of 50 milking cows and only Pete milked full time. “Our third daughter was born in 2014, and with the EU milk quotas being abolished in 2015 we had a plan to expand the dairy herd. I started farming in late 2014, milking a cow for the first time then! We calved down 120 cows in 2015 and invested heavily in new milking facilities and cubicle housing two years later, allowing us to grow the herd to 180 cows”, Paula says, adding that farming in the heart of a village also means they need to be extra mindful of so many neighbours close by.
Female dominated farm
A typical day on the farm starts at 6 am in the spring, even though the days could start earlier depending on the calving. “Some days in late winter we may run on 4 hours of sleep, as 150 of our cows calve in February.” Paula and Pete are the ones milking.
As a woman in a male dominated industry, I feel I can inspire my daughters and show them that they can achieve as much as they want whilst also insisting that, as women, they are fully respected in their farming roles
“Pete fetches the cows and organises fences in paddocks, then it’s a quick dash for a school run and back to feed the calves. All calves are held on farm for 4 to 6 weeks so the workload is huge by early March!” The rest of the day is usually spent cleaning calving pens and calving cows. “Followed by another two school runs and back for evening milking while Pete feeds the cows. Our three daughters feed the calves in the evening”, Paula, who loves working alongside her daughters, explains.
“This certainly is a female dominated farm, and Pete is so supportive of that. Watching the girls learn stockmanship and find what they love about farming drives me forward. As a woman in a male dominated industry, I feel I can inspire them and show them that they can achieve as much as they want whilst also insisting that, as women, they are fully respected in their farming roles by anyone who does business with our farm.”
The perception of farming being a man’s job is one that sticks, and Paula and her girls are still reminded of that regularly. “Some men don’t view women as credible farmers”, she says. “People used to walk into the farm and ask me where the boss was, and we had people purchasing livestock who would only deal with Pete”, she remembers, adding the family “don’t do business with anyone on farm who has that attitude.” Thankfully, she also notices that perception in general is changing for the better. “I get the greatest respect from those who we deal with, as do my daughters. I do feel we as women, but also the men in our industry, need to have a zero tolerance policy of any negativity towards female farmers.”
Dairy farming in these changing times
For Paula and her family, the greatest difficulties the farm is facing are climate change and understanding how food is produced. “The way we farm is changing at such a rapid pace! We adopt new technologies and practices and then advice changes, and research isn’t advancing quickly enough. I believe there needs to be a long term strategic plan we can work towards as an industry. The world needs to be fed and people appreciate quality food, but these people need to see that some media sources and political voices don’t have a good understanding of agriculture and that many who oppose livestock farming have a vested interest in alternative food companies.”
“A prime example: we changed our fertilizer to protected urea over the last few years, to lower our farm emissions. Now, because fertilizer is scarce, we cannot source enough protected urea and have had to revert to fertilizer. We don’t feed our dairy herd soya due to the impact it has on rainforests in Brazil, yet we get no credit from an emissions perspective no do we get any credit for all the trees and hedgerows we have on farm.”
In spite of those frustrations and difficulties, Paula loves her work as a farmer. What she loves most about is, are the births on the farm. “I never get tired of seeing new life being born and I absolutely love having a bond with the cows and seeing them content and producing well”, Paula, whose cows all have names she knows individually, continues.
90% of the dairy produced in Ireland is exported, the country exporting enough dairy to feed 55 million people according to Paula. A fact she is very proud of: “I’m extremely proud to produce quality food with our dairy herd and see it exported all over the world!” Her proudest moments, however, come from her daughters’ involvement in the farm: “one of my proudest moments was seeing my middle daughter Becky show one of our heifers to win the All Ireland EBI Championship, and the four months later seeing our youngest, Georgina, show the same heifer at the National Dairy Show and winning the highest genetic merit animal of the show. Knowing we bred the heifer gives me a huge sense of pride, as does seeing our daughters get great enjoyment with her.”
If there is one piece of advice Paula would give young women entering farming, it would be to dream big. “It’s a really exciting career, so don’t be afraid to try something new and remember that everything is a learning curve. Most importantly though: don’t ever let anyone talk down to you because you are a woman! Stand tall and be proud of who you are. Be the very best you can be at everything you do, but above all enjoy farming and enjoy life!”
Paula Hynes runs a grass based dairy farm near Cork city, South West Ireland, alongside her husband Pete and three daughters Chloe, Becky and Georgina. She and Pete are huge advocates for family farming, with their #teamhynes being testament to this on Twitter. Never missing an opportunity to push her boundaries and grow, Paula lived with a Maasai community in Kenya while filming a documentary and has been on TV on several occasions. The family regularly organise fundraisers for charities, such as Breast Cancer Ireland or Aware and Embrace Farm.