That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Colin Gilligan (19), Kinlough, Co. Leitrim, in this week’s Student Focus series. He discusses his sheep farming roots, studying veterinary medicine at UCD, running his own business and post-graduation plans.
“I live on a sheep and suckler farm, where we keep predominantly Mule breeding, ewes which we breed ourselves from our hill flock of Mayo Blackface ewes.
Farming is a major tradition in our family, and both my parents and grandparents are farmers and run businesses related to farming.
My late grandfather set up a livestock haulage company and an agricultural contracting business, which two of my uncles now run, and alongside our family farm, my father runs a digging land-works business, which my grandfather set up in the 1980s.
I will be a fifth-generation farmer on our family farm, so it is safe to say we are an agricultural family.
There was never really a time when I thought I am going to be a vet. I suppose I was around 13 when I started to consider veterinary as a career, which I think was a help because all the way through secondary school, I was thinking of exams and, ultimately, the final exam in sixth year.
Before that, I always wanted to be a farmer, but my mother wanted me to have something alongside the farm, so veterinary seemed like a job that would work well with the farm.
I remember going with one of our local vets, Mark Slattery Veterinary, on placement during my Easter holidays in second year, and after that, I never considered another job.
Mark and one of the other vets in the practice, Claire, both did veterinary at UCD. They are great young vets, full of enthusiasm for the profession, and I learned so much from them in just two weeks.
Since getting into vet school at University College Dublin, I have also completed a placement with Seaview Veterinary, owned and run by Ulrike Vaughan.
I have already learned so much from her and the other vets in the practice, and I have no doubt that over the next four years of my course will continue to learn the knowledge and skills necessary to become a competent vet someday.
Between both veterinary practices, I really am lucky to be learning from the best.
I enrolled in Ireland’s only veterinary medicine school in 2021 and have just completed my first year.
I selected UCD to study veterinary as it is the only university on the island of Ireland to offer this course.
Luckily, I got the points the first time around and enrolled straight away after completing my Leaving Cert.
The School of Veterinary Sciences in UCD has made it a requirement that all students wishing to study veterinary medicine must have completed 60 hours of placement with either a farmer or vet while in secondary school.
This is designed to ensure potential vet students know what they are getting themselves in for.
As all vets and farmers will know, the job is most certainly not 9 to 5; it requires a lot of hard work, involving late nights and early mornings, often working in farmyard settings while exposed to the harsh Irish weather.
Once students are happy enough with that, it is a very rewarding job.
EMS work placement and modules
As part of veterinary medicine at UCD, students must undertake 12 weeks of pre-clinical EMS work placement over the first two years of the programme as a course requirement.
This placement ranges from dairy to poultry farms and aims to get vet students familiar with the agricultural sector as a whole.
As with all college courses, the first year of veterinary is split into two semesters. In the first semester, you will have six modules to study, all of which are veterinary modules.
A lot of the modules in the first semester are general science-based; however, there are a couple, like the anatomy of the skeleton and thoracic cavity and veterinary cardiology and respiratory function, which focus more on animals and real-life application of material learned.
Then in the second semester, you will still study six modules, but only four of these will be veterinary modules, and the other two are called electives which students can pick from any course at UCD.
I would say in your first year, pick electives which have a lesser workload than others as you are still only finding your feet in college and your time is probably better spent on your veterinary modules.
UCD Lyons Farm
As a veterinary student, you will attend UCD Lyons Farm for most of your practical animal handling lectures.
In the second semester of the first year, you will be out on the farm almost once a week learning the practical side of veterinary with cows, sheep, equine, pigs, and poultry.
I find the practical classes on Lyons one of the most enjoyable parts of the course as it is nice to be outside and away from the books.
We are very lucky to have access to this state-of-the-art teaching and research farm provided by UCD, from paring cow’s hoofs to using the Rueff’s method to cast cattle.
I have no doubt that the skills we are learning in these practical classes will be invaluable to us as vets.
The first couple of months of the programme are obviously quite daunting. After all, you are living and working in a completely new place with new people.
I would say that the college is very helpful to students, when getting used to college life. There is a peer mentoring programme within the vet college, whereby in your first week, a second-year vet student shows you around the UCD campus and the vet building.
You can contact your peer mentor if you have any problems at all during your first year.
There is also a student advisor who you can contact if you have any enquiries.
It is really important to know that there is no such thing as a silly question, everyone is in the same boat, so if you have a question, the chances are the person beside you has the same question.
The veterinary society, Vet Soc, is mighty when it comes to organising first-year nights out and also takes care of first-year initiation, although I will not spoil the surprise with that one.
The first-year nights out are a great way of getting to know veterinary students in other year groups, and it is tradition for the older students to buy the first years a drink.
The main thing I would say is to go to all the nights out organised by Vet Soc as these are a great way of making friends and meeting new people.
In fairness, everyone is approachable and will not see you stuck if they can help at all.
One of my favourite parts of the course are the farm animal veterinary talks organised by the Farm Animal Veterinary Society, FAVS.
The lads in FAVS do a great job at getting large animal vets from around the country to come up to the college and give a talk on helpful tips they use in practice.
These talks are always held in the evenings, with tea and biscuits never in short supply.
In fairness, the farm animal vets that give these talks are experts, and you would learn more from them in those two or three hours than you would in a week of reading a textbook.
Besides, I have a business that I set up last spring, disbudding calves. Honestly, I enjoy it, and it helps to make a few pounds for college.
I have all the equipment, such as a calf crate and gas disbudder, and I use anaesthetic on all animals I dehorn or disbud.
I used to disbud all our own calves, and one day, I just thought that there was no one providing a calf disbudding service in our area.
So, I took a chance and spent some money on good equipment, and now I have a pretty solid business with a few cattle to do every week.
In terms of plans, at the minute, I am just focusing on learning everything we are taught in college and from the vets on placement to become a great vet.
It can be tough leading up to exams to try and retain all the information we are taught.
However, I think if you keep your head down and are consistent with your study, you should do fine in exams and still have time for going out and enjoying college life.
I would like to start off in mixed practice once I qualify, but I could definitely see myself working as a large animal vet.
I just enjoy working with cattle and sheep, and I would say overall, prefer to be on the road working as a farm vet.”
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