Twenty-year-old Galway green cert student Jackie Minogue got more than she bargained for when she embarked on her four-month work placement to New Zealand last January.
Hailing from a beef and sheep farm in Mountbellew, Co Galway, Jackie originally planned on going to work in New Zealand for four months and return to sit her green cert exams in Mountbellew Agricultural College in May.
Like everything else, COVID-19 put her plans out the window, which resulted in Jackie having to stay in New Zealand and sit her exams virtually.
Completing the green cert in Mountbellew
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal a couple of weeks ago, she tells us all about her experience in the Kiwi country to date.
“When I left school, I went to study the green cert in Mountbellew Agricultural College. I done sheep and beef for my first year, then I went on to do dairy management for my second year and that is how I ended up in New Zealand, I came out here for my placement.
The initial plan was to do my placement, get some experience and go home again
“One of my teachers got me in touch with New Zealand Dairy careers. I just rang them and they organised everything like my job, the flight, my visa, all you had to do was give them money.
“It would be slightly cheaper to do it yourself but it’s a lot of effort trying to look around.
“I flew over here on 28 January 2020 and I am still here. I had my return flight booked for May 2020.
“The initial plan was to do my placement, get some experience and go home again.
“I was meant to go home and sit exams, but thanks to COVID-19 I got to sit them online and thankfully passed everything.”
Dairy farming in New Zealand
Thankfully, Jackie’s visa allowed her to move around to different jobs and gain experience working on different dairy farms on New Zealand’s North and South Island.
“I absolutely loved the dairy farms over here. The farmers are really good at teaching you, even if you have minimum experience.
“I came from a sheep and beef farm at home and only had two months experience of milking cows in Loughrea. When you come over here, the farmers give you so much control and trust your opinion and what you are talking about.”
“The first farm I was on was a rotary in the South Island, with 900 cows. Then I moved further down south to Amaru and milked about 600 cows through a herringbone parlour and that’s where I finished up doing my placement for college.”
“After working on the dairy farms I decided to move on and I went to a goat farm where I spent some time kidding in Mournsville on the North Island.
“A girl I know messaged me saying that they needed a hand kidding on the farm and I said to myself, 'I am in New Zealand and I have never milked goats' - I had two pet goats at home, so I just went for it.
“The goats are easy to work with. I spent about two months there and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I don’t think I would do it again.”
Contracting for Meyer
Having spent a further couple of months on another dairy farm, Jackie decided it was time to try something different, so she approached Meyers Contracting, which is based on New Zealand’s South Island, for a job.
“When I rang up, they couldn’t get overseas people for the contracting season so they offered me a job and I took it.
“The most I would of done at home would be some topping or pushing in silage.
“I had accepted in my head that I was going to be on the silage bin for the season, but now I am currently driving a set of triple mowers on a John Deere.”
“The first day I arrived, I got picked up by my boss. He brought me out to a paddock where another fella was driving the triples and he said I was going to learn how to drive it.
“It has a front mower and then two on the back. I went down to the paddock and got about a 15-minute introduction of how it worked and left me alone then. I have been mowing flat out for the season ever since.”
A typical day contracting
“You would be in the yard for about half six, greased up and out for the day mowing.
“I would be keeping ahead of the rake and the chopper. Depending on the weather, we might be mowing closer to the rake, but usually I would be well ahead. Then we finish up around 8pm typically.”
“The contracting company covers quite a large area. There are two contracting teams, Landcorp and Private - I am on the Landcorp team.
“The government over here owns Landcorp Farms. There is a lot of them in the area. Team Landcorp has two choppers, two sets of triple mowers and two four-rotor rakes, then Team Private has the same.
“Currently, we are slowing down, we are just doing bales and everything has settled down.
“The busiest time of the season would have been around October and November.
“The season will drag out for a bit - we are making hay as well and we have the lads out doing silage bales. We also have some maize to do, but we don’t do much.”
Plans for the future
Jackie plans on staying in New Zealand for the foreseeable future.
She shares some advice for people thinking of going in the future.
“Get out of your local town and go to New Zealand, it will be the best decision you will ever make in your life.
“I honestly never want to go home. I want to get a three-year visa ideally and then I would like to go to Australia.”
Take the plunge and go abroad for placement
“The green cert was brilliant. I would honestly recommend Mountbellew Agricultural College to anyone - it is a good college to go to.
“Because I done my exams online, all my teachers took the time out to ring me and help me, so it was really helpful.
“I always said I was going to go to New Zealand. Nobody else in my class wanted to go.
“I was slightly taken aback that I was going to the other side of the world by myself, but I said if I went I would have no choice only to get on with it and make friends, it is the it is the best thing I ever done.”