Women in Agriculture profile featuring Zita McNaugher

Friday, 18 February, 2022

Place you call home: I'm originally from Moneymore but after getting married, I relocated to Aghadowey where my husband farms.

Occupation: I'm a food technologist with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) where I help local food businesses to develop new products. At the moment, I'm on maternity leave as my husband and I have just welcomed our son, Blair, into the world.

Farming commodity: My husband is a dairy farmer and milks 160 cows twice a day in partnership with his Dad and brother on their 300 acre farm in Aghadowey.

How did you become involved in farming?

I grew up on my Dad's beef and sheep farm, just outside Moneymore. My Dad also has a cattle haulage business which my youngest brother is now a part of, and my other brother now farms in partnership with my Dad and Mum.

I was very interested in the food industry and after attending a CAFRE Loughry open evening, I began studying at Loughry. My farming background has been really useful in my career, I understand where the raw materials come from and the challenges facing the industry. I enjoyed my studies that much, when I saw the jobs advertised at CAFRE, I jumped at the chance to work at Loughry. Living so close to Loughry meant that I was able to remain a very active part of Young Farmers and I got the opportunity to serve as an office bearer at club and county level before have the amazing opportunity to become the YFCU President from 2019-2021.

Although I'm not an active farmer currently, I'm always available to stand in a gap when cattle are being moved and keep my husband right when buying stock - I've had years of dairy judging practice through the YFCU stockjuding competition.

Earliest farming memory: My brothers always laugh at this but one of my first memories on the farm was feeding the pet lambs when my Dad was away lifting cattle in the lorry. I was the chief pet lamb feeder up until the age of five, then my brother Gavin was old enough to take on the task.

I also have very vivid memories of moving sheep across the dual carriageway early on Sunday mornings, something that my Dad and brother wouldn't dream of doing now but was a very common practice 20 years ago.

What personal characteristics did you develop from agriculture?

Patience, although my husband would probably disagree with this! I've spent years waiting on my Dad and now my husband who are always running late when we have somewhere to be. Farming doesn't always go to plan. Livestock breaking out, lambing or calving normally happens when there is an important event to attend, or a big day out planned!

Life lesson you learnt from farming: Always be prepared to change and adapt. Farming is an industry that is constantly changing so you have to be able to embrace change in order to survive in the industry.

 What do you enjoy most about the farming lifestyle?

That's easy - spending time with family. The Northern Ireland (NI) farming industry is made up of family run farms and it's a great way to bring up children. Growing up, with both my parents farming, it meant that my Mum was always there to do school runs and my Dad kept us entertained on days out in the cattle lorry.

Describe a farmer in three words: Hardworking, adaptable, problem-solver.

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

The NI farming industry is made up of very passionate people. People who are passionate about their animals and products. Don't believe all that you see on Facebook or in under cover documentaries - remember there is always two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

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

Have a hobby that gets you off the farm. It has been well documented that mental ill health is a massive issue in the farming industry. Farming can be a lonely occupation with long hours which can have a negative impact on a person's mental health, so I think it's really important to have an interest in something that gets you off the farm for a few hours. That little bit of a break can give you a well-earned rest and give you a boost to make you more productive back on the farm.

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

Go for it! The agri industry has something for everyone - don't think it's a mundane industry only suited to older men! There are lots of different career opportunities in agriculture and the industry is always adapting to meet customer requirements or finding more profitable or efficient ways of doing things.

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

I'm hoping the industry will continue to adapt and embrace the changes ahead. I am also hoping that the public will start to understand that farmers care about their animals and producing high quality, safe and authentic food products. The recent climate change bill and undercover documentaries have really painted a negative picture of farmers in NI and I'm hoping that the public will support farmers so that we can continue to produce food locally. I'm sure that by the time my son is farming, the industry will have changed but I'm hoping it will be in someway recognisable and that he will enjoy making a living from farming. 

Zita and husband David.


Zita and son Blair out on the farm.