That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Kate McGrath (19) in this week’s Student Focus. The SGGW student discusses her suckler-beef farming roots, moving overseas to pursue her dream career after missing out on a place at Ireland’s only veterinary medicine school and the importance of having a ‘plan B’.
“I am a Ballina, Co Tipperary native, hailing from a suckler/beef farming background where I am a seventh-generation farmer.
My earliest memory of being on the farm is going out to feed a bucket-fed calf with my father.
I was only four or five at the time and had a little single teat red bucket that I could just about hold up to the gate.
I always wanted to be a vet for as long as I can remember.
When our own vet called out to the farm, I was always in the middle of whatever he was doing.
I have always been drawn to animals from a very young age. When I was younger, I would spend most of the day talking to the cows behind the hedge at my granny’s house.
There was no one person in particular that influenced me on my career path.
I was always taught to go for what l wanted no matter how difficult, and that is exactly what I did.
Coming from a farming background, I always knew whatever career path I chose would involve working with animals.
I come from a suckler-beef farming enterprise, which we run over 100-acres. We have around 20 sucklers cows calving down each year, and calving starts the third week of February and lasts for 10-12 weeks.
We use Limousin, Angus, Hereford and Speckle Park-crosses, which we breed to a Limousin bull.
Also, we buy in a share of bucket-fed calves and weanlings each year. We keep around 150 plus head of cattle all-year-round.
Moreover, we finish everything on-farm and slaughter just before they are 30-months-old.
Moreover, we keep on five heifers each year in the hopes of keeping a young herd of cows and culling any cows not performing up to standard.
I began my veterinary medicine studies at the University of Life Science, Warsaw, Poland, in 2021 and have just completed my first year of college.
I will be starting my second year the first week of October and will graduate in February 2027 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM). The course is a total of 5.5 years with 11 semesters.
I selected this course as a backup in case I did not get veterinary medicine at UCD.
The main thing that made me choose this course over other international programmes is that it has the most Irish students enrolled.
My understanding is that there are around 50 Irish students in my year alone and nearly 300 Irish students throughout the whole course.
I was the second year to do my Leaving Cert during Covid, and due to the spike in points, I did not get a place in UCD.
I enrolled in the course in Warsaw the year of my Leaving Cert and had to complete an entrance exam on chemistry and biology at the end of April.
Places are offered at random to students that have passed the exam. I was offered a place in the course before I sat the Leaving Cert, which was a great relief to know that I had something if things did not go my way.
Work experience is held in third, fourth and fifth year. You have to complete husbandry practice, veterinary inspection and clinical practice. It can be completely at home.
From second year onwards, we get to go out to the college farm, where we get to work on animals.
I love the course so far. It is quite tough, but it is what I expected. At the start, it is very book-based, which can make for tough going at times. We would usually have exams every week, so you are always on the go.
First and second-year are mainly theory-based consisting of labs and lectures.
In second year, you start getting a little bit of animal handling too. In third, fourth and fifth year, you get to cover a standard part of animal-based subjects.
Then, fourth year is mainly based on large animals where we will be out on the college farm, and fifth year is mainly based on small animals where we will spend a bit of time in the small animal clinic.
If you are thinking about studying veterinary medicine, I would say go for it; you will not regret it.
It is hard but if it is what you want to do, then go for it. One of the main things is to have a back-up plan, just in case your first choice does not go to plan.
Not everyone studying veterinary gets high grades. Some are far from straight A students, so do not worry if you are not the smartest in the world; you do not need to be.
If you do not get the points for veterinary, it is not the end of the world.
There are so many other routes into veterinary. The number of Irish students studying abroad is increasing every year due to the low intake of students into UCD and increasing points.
Being away from home
The hardest thing about studying abroad is being away from home. It takes a while to adjust to it, but you will fly it once you do.
There is such a big Irish community out here, which makes it a lot easier to settle.
Most students thinking about going out to study here will probably know someone studying out here already. Everyone helps each other out in any way they can.
I chose to be a vet for the main reason most other vets do, which is my love for working with animals.
You do not go into veterinary for money, and you have to be willing to make some sacrifices for it.
It is not your normal nine-to-five job, but if it is for you, it is for you.
You do not know what is ahead of you each day, and that is what I love about it. No day is the same.
Once I graduate, I plan to go back home to work for a year or two and then travel for another year or two.
I would love to go to New Zealand or Australia for a year to practice as a vet.
I mainly want to go into large animal practice. Moreover, I was always more interested in the large animal side of veterinary, and when I did my work experience in TY with Killaloe Vets, that was made very clear to me.
My ultimate goal is to own my own mixed/large animal practice and have my own pedigree Limousin cattle herd.
The veterinary industry is constantly changing. Years ago, vets would have gone out to farms just to treat animals, but now it is often about taking the consulting route than treating.
One thing that we always hear is prevention is better than cure, and that is so true for both your pocket and the performance of the animal.
Farmers are also more tuned in and interested in what is happening and are better able to treat animals themselves.
They are always looking for ways to improve, which is a good thing to see.
Women in veterinary
Being a woman is difficult in a male-dominated sector. Veterinary is very 50/50 with male and female vets. Not a day goes by without my ability being constantly questioned.
There is not always a malicious nature behind it, but if the shoe were on the other foot, it would not happen.
You just have to hold your head up and be confident in what you are doing.
At the end of the day, if you do not believe in yourself and have confidence in what you are doing, no one else will.
Life as a vet student is different to the life of any other college student. There is a lot expected of you, and you do feel the pressure.
In saying that, it is important to pull back and enjoy yourself too. These are your college years, and you might as well enjoy them because you can only do it once,” the SGGW student concluded.
See more Student Focus profiles.
To share your story like this SGGW student, email – [email protected]