“I come from a dry stock farm in Co Roscommon, and currently I am studying Animal and Crop Production in UCD,” Ciaran tells Irish Country Living. “My course requires a minimum of 30 weeks’ professional work experience (PWE), which commenced last January. I was determined to make the most of this and get a diverse experience.

A broad experience

“In January, I commenced a four-week pig placement in Knockhall Farm Limited – an integrated pig production system owned by Brendan Kiernan. On this 1,000-sow farm, I gained experience in all areas of the piggery; from farrowing to finishing. Crinagree Dairies in Charleville, Co Cork, was my next stop. This dairy business was set up in 2016 by James Murphy and Paidí Kelly – two former BAgrSc graduates of UCD. Their enterprise comprises of six leased farms across the Charleville area, milking 950 cows and calving 85% in six weeks.

“I got my industrial placement with Paul and Vincent Limited in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, where I learned all about the day-to-day running of a mill. They produce pig, poultry, dairy, beef and sheep feed. I was mainly based in the control and pressing rooms, where I learned to programme the proportion of the different ingredients required in each feed. They also cater for individual farmers’ feed needs by mixing it to their requirements.

“My beef placement was carried out with DDS Brady Limited in Carrickboy, Co Longford. The Bradys run a suckler to beef system containing 200 cows. They also buy in cattle of various ages; finishing approximately 600 animals each year on an indoor system. This ad-lib availability of meal gets the best average daily gain (ADG).

Overseas sheep system

“I was extremely lucky to receive one of the four Agricultural Science Association/Irish Farmers Journal PWE bursaries, in conjunction with UCD. This afforded me the opportunity to travel abroad to the UK for four weeks, where I completed the sheep aspect of the course in the Downton Estate. Located outside the town of Ludlow, in the county of Shropshire, Downton Estate is a 3,500-acre farm containing 1,500 acres of grassland, 2,000 acres of tillage, 200 high-yielding Ayrshire cows and 3,500 North Country Mule ewes. Seventy-five per cent of the ewes are lambed indoors with the remainder lambing in the field. Ewes were crossed with a Texel or Suffolk ram at a ratio of 100:1. The ewes scanned at 1.82 lambs/ewe with the aim of weaning at 1.68. I was allocated a shed of 700 ewes to lamb consisting of single, twin and triplet births.

“My day started at 7am, when I took over from the night lambers. The ewes were batched in groups of 100 and, once lambed, I removed them to an individual pen. My duties included assisting in difficult lambings, fostering pet lambs on to single ewes (ideally wet fostering), feeding pet lambs and turning out ewes and lambs to grass after approximately 24 hours. Docking of tails and castration of the male lambs was carried out prior to turnout. The ewes were also drenched, which removes internal parasites. In the evenings the main shepherd and I checked all the lambs that had been turned out to ensure they were suckling and healthy. Eighty-five per cent of the lambing was completed within the first two weeks, which is extremely labour-intensive but leads to more uniformity come weaning.

“I feel extremely lucky to have experienced such a great variety of placements in the agricultural world.”