That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Jessica O’Leary (23), Acres, Ballyhar, Killarney, County Kerry, a lab assistant at Agri Diagnostics, in this week’s Career Focus segment.
“I come from a farm which has been in the family for nine generations. My father, Martin, my sister, Rachel, and I are all involved in the operation of the family dairy farm, comprising British Friesian cows and a Hereford stock bull.
There are 30 cows, 5 yearlings and one bull on the farm. Our farming system revolves around spring calving, so we do not milk all-year-round. Cows start calving in late January and are dried in October.
We have strip grazing in place for cows and weanlings in the summer, which allows us to minimise waste and maximum grass utilisation.
We have a six-unit milking parlour, and milking takes 90 minutes. There are a lot of enjoyable aspects of farming, but I like calving season, in particular, as new life is being brought into the world.
The area of agriculture I would be most passionate about is animal health. In cattle, there are many problems remaining to be solved, such as diseases like TB, which has been around for so long. Still, after this length of time, the only solution so far is to cull the animals, and it relates to what I studied in college.
My responsibilities on the farm include animal husbandry and general farm maintenance work. If a cow is calving, I have to ensure that I move her out to the calving pen and assist with the calf’s delivery, if necessary.
Also, I ensure that when the calf is born, its navel is covered with iodine to prevent possible issues. Also, I am assigned the task of calf rearing and transporting the calves to the mart, so you find me turning my hand to anything.
I completed my studies at the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest – TUS Moylish Campus, Moylish Park, Co. Limerick.
I began its applied biology course, which was the first choice on my CAO form, in 2019 and graduated in 2023. When I was in college, I considered becoming a secondary school teacher, but I decided to steer my career in an alternative direction.
I did not start college right away; instead, I decided to do a PLC at Kerry College of Further Education before travelling to Australia for ten months, where I worked on a stud farm.
After graduating from college, I worked for Fexco for a while before recently joining the Agri Diagnostics team.
Currently, since late January 2023, I have been a lab assistant at Agri Diagnostics, a veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Co. Kerry.
Agri-Diagnostics is an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory for IBR, Johne’s, and BVD testing.
It is the main laboratory used in Kerry for BVD testing. The lab provides testing in the following areas: Pathogen testing using real-time PCR, Antibody detection using Elisa tests & Parasitology.
Agri Diagnostics was established in 2012 and is the sister company of Southern Scientific Services, an environmental consultancy and testing facility in Farranfore, Co. Kerry.
My responsibilities in Agri Diagnostics include receiving BVD samples and bringing them to the lab. I also need to count how many samples arrived in the farmer’s envelope. I then have to punch the sample out and into the container.
When I finish punching the samples, they are scanned into the system. When all of the samples are punched and I am almost ready to go home, the samples are lysed, which means I must pipette lysis buffer into the sample and leave it overnight.
The sample is then pipetted into an Eppendorf tube for the analyst to read from the PRC whether it is positive or negative for BVD.
I start work at 9 am and see if any BVD samples need to be brought from the drop box into the laboratory.
After that, we go into the lab and test all the samples received. The benches are disinfected every 15 minutes to keep the lab sterilised, and gloves are changed.
After the samples that we lysed the previous day are tested, we open the bags, punch and scan samples received on the day and add the lysis buffer into each.
The bit I find most challenging is trying to punch the sample out and into the container as the sample is very small but can get stuck easily onto the taggers’ pin.
I work closely with the quality control manager, the technical manager and lab technicians.
I find my position very interesting as there is a lot to learn as I am still new. Also, I get to watch the lab analyst doing parasite testing, which is very interesting to see if the sheep had any worms.
Also, I find the whole process of BVD testing very interesting. The position is meeting my expectations as I knew that Agri-Diagnostics tested BVD samples by bringing our samples down to the lab. There is always something to do in the lab, so I am never left idle.
I have not been in the career too long yet but seeing how the operation works is my highlight as it gives me a good insight as to what really happens to the BVD samples that are dropped off.
My future plans are to hopefully study in Teagasc in Clonakilty to obtain my Green Certificate.
My advice to people considering a career in agriculture is to go and get work experience in different sectors with vets, laboratories, and even different farmers to see which sector they want to go in.
Moreover, my advice for recent graduates that want to work in the ag industry is not to stress too much.
The right job will come up but try and get work experience if you can or travel to bigger farms in countries such as Australia to see various farming practices.
I think what it takes to succeed in the agriculture industry is to do research about what part you want to go in and do and talk to farmers and people that are in the industry already, as they can tell you what worked and failed for them.
The future of agriculture in Ireland is really hard to tell at the moment because a lot of young people are moving abroad for a better lifestyle, and the cost of living has gone up, which has impacted farmers a lot.
Living on a farm taught me about calving, making silage for cows, and hygiene practices to keep the herd healthy, which led me to study applied biology because I was curious about how labs test for bacteria in milk or determine whether a calf is positive or negative for BVD.”
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