That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Orla Gilligan from County Sligo, who is studying veterinary medicine in the UK, in this week’s Student Focus series.
“I come from a farming background as I grew up on a suckler farm in Strandhill, County Sligo. I have always been surrounded by animals from a young age and loved being out and about on-farm.
The home farm moved away from suckler farming two years ago and is now operated as a mixed enterprise by my brother and his business partner.
The farm follows a regenerative approach with organic principles with pasture-raised eggs, organic beef and pork and organic seasonal vegetables.
The cattle are Belted Galloway steers that are outdoors all year round, and pigs are Duroc/Oxford Sandy and Black-crosses that are kept outdoors throughout the spring and summer.
A rotational grazing system is in place for all the stock on the farm. Everything is grown and sold from the on-site farm shop and to retailers around Sligo.
The local support for the farm has been brilliant. I think people love the idea that all of the veg, eggs and meat are all reared, grown and sold in one place, and they really get to see where exactly their food comes from.
SETU ag degree
I am a second-year veterinary medicine student at Harper & Keele Veterinary School in the UK, having enrolled in the course in 2021.
I previously completed an agricultural science degree at South East Technological University (SETU) based at the Waterford campus and graduated from there in 2020.
After graduation, I spent a breeding season working on a stud farm in Tipperary and started looking at options on where I could apply for vet med for the following year.
Vet med was always something I wanted to do for as long as I can remember, so I did a lot of research on studying at home and abroad.
When I got offered a place in the UK after interview, I was delighted. There are a lot of Irish students in the course here, so I definitely think there is a need for a second vet school in Ireland.
As a past student of SETU, I was delighted to see that they have a bid in to host a new vet school.
I think they would be a fantastic candidate as the staff and facilities are excellent, particularly the facilities at Kildalton College.
As part of my ag Science degree, we spent a lot of time in Kildalton and got hands-on experience in the dairy, beef, and sheep units.
This would be a huge asset in terms of vet med teaching, particularly producing vets that have an interest in large animal practice.
The shortage of large animal vets is a big challenge currently facing the veterinary sector. I think SETU is set in a prime location as it is surrounded by a wide range of farming enterprises, from cattle to sheep to horses, which could hopefully help combat this challenge.
Harper Keele is a new vet school, with the first cohort set to graduate in 2025. Teaching is split between Keele University and Harper Adams University and is very practical from the start.
The first two years are pre-clinical, so there are a lot of anatomy and physiology modules as well as different modules relating to animal health, management and disease.
From third year onwards, the teaching is much more clinically based, and you are comparing the normal to the abnormal and learning diagnostics and treatments.
There is a lot of placement involved throughout the course, which I have been doing during the holidays. I love the placement aspect as it breaks up the teaching and gives you time away from lectures and study.
If you are considering studying vet med, definitely keep working towards that goal. If you do not get the points from the Leaving Cert, there are always other options, and hopefully, the opening of a new vet school in Ireland will help alleviate some of the pressure on points and available places.
I think it is also helpful to get some experience with a vet and ask them questions about the career to see if it is definitely for you.
The course and career are difficult and demanding, so it is important to know what you’re getting yourself into.
After graduation, I hope to work as a large animal vet, either equine or farm. The idea of working outdoors with animals and people and being out and about really appeals to me, even if the hours are long at times.
There is no doubt it is a challenging career but definitely a rewarding one – I really could not see myself doing anything else.
The course itself is brilliant, and you really become a big family with your classmates.
The days spent studying and stuck in front of a laptop seem never-ending at times, but it will all definitely be worth it in the end.”
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