I am majoring in animal science, which means that on work placement, I am given the opportunity to work across all livestock sectors; sheep, beef, pigs and dairy and all the while getting to work in the industry.
Having completed a fantastic sheep and beef placement on Woodville Farm in Co Sligo with Richard and Linda Woodmartin, the standard was set very high for the rest of my placement.
From there I started a month’s placement with the Irish Farmers Journal. This was great and gave me a great insight into agri journalism.
Working remotely from home was one of the big things to affect my placement.
However, I did get to go out and conduct interviews under COVID-19 guidelines and attend the office a few days which made it all worthwhile.
This gave me an insight into the different working from home situations that people are experiencing and also reminded me of the days spent at home on my laptop during the college term.
The effect of the pandemic on travelling abroad
Back in November 2020, we got the go ahead to travel abroad from University College Dublin (UCD). Straight away I got in contact with the Costellos in Germany.
Everything was still up in the air, and with a second and third wave of the pandemic after Christmas, it wasn’t until we were actually on the flight that I knew for certain that we’d actually make it out of the country.
It felt completely surreal; getting a COVID-19 test before flying, filling out passenger locator forms and saying goodbye to my family for the next two months.
The Costello brothers Stephan and Paul run a pig and a dairy enterprise, Emerald Irish Pork and Grasmilch Brandenburg.
Having successfully run piggeries in Ireland and across Germany, Emerald Irish Pork is one of the largest producers of pork in the world.
It is an understatement to say that a piggery was a shock to my system. Add to that the size of the unit – 30,000 pigs – and language barriers, I was left in awe after my first day. You learn quickly how to overcome the language barrier and communicate through gestures and Google translate.
Helped along also by a small number of staff from Kildare, I couldn’t have learned more from every section from farrowing to weaning, AI and fattening. I have gained so much experience from the piggery, not only how to run a successful production system but how to adapt to a completely different working environment.
I also learned about the heat of a continental piggery and the craic that can be had between people with no common tongue.
Their 4,000ac tillage and grassland property is home to 900 Holstein X Jersey cows and is the base for my dairy placement. Milking 900 cows twice a day in a 60-unit Waikato rotary is an extraordinary experience on its own. The pasture-based system implemented here – like in Ireland – is seen as revolutionary to German agriculture, and undoubtedly is remarkable to see across the vast German landscape.
With their main focus being on grassland management and animal welfare there is a lot to be learned from this one of a kind German-Irish enterprise. From early mornings spent on the farm to late evenings spent at the lake the balance between work and the craic had between the students and farm workers is second to none.
We are also only 40 minutes from Berlin, while also being surrounded by the beautiful German countryside and quaint villages. Placement abroad offers students the opportunity to not only gain unprecedented knowledge of an agricultural system away from home but also experience the culture of a place and the people.