Kepak hosts Aleen Cust commemoration

Kepak staff and management pictured with the winners of the Kepak Suppliers Awards which were presented by celebrity chef Neven Maguire.
Photo Brian Farrell

Kepak Athleague staged a special event on Saturday last to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the year in which Ireland’s first female vet, Aleen Cust, was awarded her diploma after many years of struggle due to her gender.

  Aleen Cust was born in County Tipperary in 1868. From an early age she wanted to be a vet but came up against many barriers in her quest because she was a woman. She trained for a while as a nurse in England but gave that up to study veterinary science in Edinburgh. She completed her studies in 1897 although she was barred from taking her final exams, a decision she challenged in the courts but to no avail.

However, Aleen was offered work with a Roscommon vet, William Augustine Byrne, having been recommended by her Edinburgh tutor, and she worked at Castlestrange House in Athleague for many years. She became extremely popular with the local farming community as a hard-working and extremely competent vet.

One December 21st, 1922, she was finally presented with her diploma by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons becoming the first woman ever to qualify in veterinary science.

A crowd of over 200 people attended the event and the special guest was American scientist, academic, and animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin, who has written over 20 best-selling books and who is a prominent spokesperson on autism.

Indeed, Dr. Gandin’s biographical film ‘Temple Grandin’ won Emmy and Golden Globe awards and she has been judged ‘one of the 100 most influential people on the world’ in Time magazine.

In her address, Dr. Grandin outlined the importance of embracing different thinking especially when it comes to a sustainable future for the farming industry. She outlined her own struggles as a young woman with autism trying to make her way in a male dominated world.

“I had far more trouble with being a woman than having autism I can assure you,” she told those present.

With regard to the future of farming under the cloud of global warming, Dr. Grandin said: “We can find solutions, not a lot of people know that broken oil field equipment around the world is contributing the same amount to global warming as grazing the land is. There have been very many encouraging studies with regard to bison herds in the USA (in terms of emissions) and I am confident that we can adopt those ideas worldwide. Remember too that only 20 per cent of the world’s land can be grazed. It can be done, but it must be sustainable,” she said.

Dr. Grandin said that her autism helped her realize that visual thinking is also very important while trying to solve problems.

“We need the mathematicians and academics for sure but we also need people who look at things differently and that has always been my way of doing things. Visual thinking is equally important in so many ways,” she said.

She praised the spirit of Aleen Cust who she said was ‘a pioneer’.

“She refused to give way to all the obstacles that were put in her way and she gave women a voice,” she said.

A panel discussion took place involving Dr Grandin, Mick O’Dowd from Kepak, farmer and agricultural advocate Mona Concannon and local farmers, father and daughter, Padraig and Aoife Coyle. The panel discussed the future of farming and how it can survive under the constraints it is experiencing, and particularly with regard to climate change and emissions.

The introductions were made by Dara McHugh, site manager Kepak Athleague, and the CEO of the Kepak Group Simon Walker also spoke, re-iterating the company’s commitment to sustainability and quality produce. He also described Aleen Cust as ‘a trail blazer’ and said the company was delighted to be associated with the event to commemorate her achievements.

Mick O Dowd pointed out that the location of Kepak sites throughout the country has led to shorter journey times for farmers.

“Our average slaughter time is one month less than average too and that is saving 250,000 tons of emissions per year which is significant,” he said.

Kepak handed out its supplier awards, and the presentations were made by well known chef and restaurant owner Neven Maguire. The winners were: Beef Section: Inspect Prime Award – Mary Donlon, Williamstown. Irish Angus Category – Seamus Caulfield Kilmore. Irish Hereford Prime Producer – Brendan Tierney Co Tipperary. Sheep Section: Early Season Lamb – David Achmuty Roscommon. Mid Season Lamb – Alan Brabazon Castlepollard Co Westmeath. Late Season Lamb – Willie John Fitzmaurice, Coolderry.

The MC for the event was Claire McCormack.