Assisting a cow to deliver a breech calf and performing a C-section on a ewe were just some of the activities that children got to experience through play at the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s interactive stand at the recent National Ploughing Championships.

The council brought along specially commissioned, modified teddies to allow young would-be vets to scrub up and simulate the type of operations that occur on farms on a daily basis.

Niamh Muldoon, registrar and CEO of the Veterinary Council of Ireland, told IFJ Junior how it all worked.

“They put on their gowns and hats and they try their hands at being a vet or a vet nurse for the day,” she said. “We explain to them that the animal is in bother, they’ve been labouring for hours, we’ve called for the vet and we’re delighted they’ve come in the nick of time. They lift the tail or find the opening and help the baby animals come out.”

Nine year old Neriah Roche performs a caesarean section on an imitation sheep. \ Finbarr O’Rourke.

The teddies include a sow who farrows 10 little piglets, a ewe in need of an urgent a C-section that is “stitched up” afterwards with a shoelace, and the most popular at the Ploughing Championships, a cow delivering twin calves – one of which is breech.

“There’s a round of applause when the child manages to rescue the breech calf,” smiled Niamh, who explained that initial reluctance was soon replaced by unbridled enthusiasm and pride.

“There’s kind of a look, ‘I don’t have to put my hand in somewhere I don’t want to go do I?’ And there’s a bit of a hesitation maybe to get stuck in,” she acknowledged, “Then there is the satisfaction and delight when the little calf or lamb is produced.

“The teddies are definitely a hit and then everybody goes, ‘Amazing, can I keep this now?’ But no, I’m afraid not,” she laughed.

Niamh said that the reaction to the teddies was “phenomenal” but that the play had a serious purpose too.

“The truth is they get to try their hand at helping animals, so I think it’s raising awareness around the importance that animals play in society. We know animal health, human health and environmental health are all so inter-connected and I think anything that brings a greater awareness of that to a child of any age is a good thing,” said Niamh.

She added that the teddies also helped to spark conversations with children and their parents about the important role that vets play in our every day lives.

Hilary and Meadbh Hannan from Limerick deliver an imitation lamb at the educational corner at the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s stand at the National Ploughing Championships. \ Finbarr O’Rourke.

“You think about the vet being called out to the farm in springtime for calving, but you don’t often think when you’re enjoying your roast beef on a Sunday or packing the school lunch or a sambo on a Tuesday that actually, the veterinary services had a real impact on the value of that,” she said.

Becoming a vet/vet nurse

For older children and teenagers meanwhile, staff from the Veterinary Council of Ireland were able to explain the work that they do and give advice to those who might be interested in a career in the area.

IFJ Junior asked Niamh to share her tips with our younger readers who might be interested in going down this road.

“I think if you have an interest in veterinary nursing or veterinary medicine, I think spending a bit of time in your local veterinary practice for a week or two and just seeing what the day-to-day role involves would be a very good thing,” she responded. “Just check that this is for you.

Veterinary Council staff at the VCI’s interactive stand at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co Laois. Left to right: Veterinary Council CEO and registrar Niamh Muldoon, case office, information governance officer Luke Lyons, finance manager Alan Manahan and Veterinary Council PAS executive Emma Conlon. \ Finbarr O’Rourke.

“Equally, if you’re coming into Leaving Cert territory, our website has really good information around the programmes that are accredited.”

Although another course may be in the works, there is currently only one degree programme in veterinary medicine at University College Dublin (UCD) and five programmes in veterinary nursing ranging from level six to level eight at Atlantic Technological University Donegal Campus (formerly Letterkenny IT), Dundalk Institute of Technology, Technological University of the Shannon Athlone Campus (formerly Athlone IT) and St John’s Central College in Cork and UCD. You can find out more at

The Veterinary Council of Ireland is the statutory body responsible for the regulation and management of the practice of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing, in the interest of animal health and welfare and in the interest of veterinary public health.