Learning doesn’t finish in the classroom

CORNER BOYD RI Farm

MY name is Alexander Boyd, I am 21 years old and I farm in partnership with my father outside Straid, County Antrim. We have a Salers suckler herd and run a flock of Mule, Texel X and Easycare ewes.

In June 2019 I completed the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture at CAFRE, Greenmount campus. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and my time spent there.

The first year consisted of a well balanced mix of classroom teaching and practical learning which was then put into practice on the campus farms. The farms provided an excellent practical learning resource enabling me to ‘learn by doing’. I particularly enjoyed the days I spent on the Hill Farm Centre at Glenwherry.

As part of my course I completed a work placement on a 5,500 acre hill farm in Newtown Stewart, Scotland. The farm ran 400 Salers suckler cows, 1,100 Lleyn ewes and 800 Blackface ewes. The vast scope of the farm made this a unique experience for me. I learnt so much during my time there and I also completed a sheep shearing course with plenty of opportunity to test out my new skills!

In October 2019, I jetted off to New Zealand with four friends for the summer season. I worked for an agricultural contractor based near Invercargill, in the southern tip of the island.

Working on numerous farms in the region, I had the opportunity to see many different farming practices, some of which I am keen to try at home.

Dairying is the main farming enterprise in Southland with the average dairy herd size of 600 cows. The New Zealand system works by drying off all the cows in autumn and out-wintering them on paddocks of forage crops, such as kale or rape. The cows then calve down in early spring and are moved into grass paddocks.

This extensive approach to farming in New Zealand is made possible by the huge availability of land for agricultural use and contrasts to the intensive farming practices here at home.

The average farm size in New Zealand is 252 hectares compared to 40 hectares in Northern Ireland. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in New Zealand, a fantastic experience I will never forget.

I maintain my links with CAFRE and staff at Greenmount through my involvement in the Business Development Groups (BDG). My father is an active member of the local beef group, so I decided to join the sheep group.

My experience of BDGs have been very positive; improving my knowledge of sheep farming and learning from the experience of others.

I particularly enjoy taking part in the meetings held on other members’ farms where there is always something new to see and learn. Sometimes elements discussed are completely new, or provide me with slightly different ways of doing ordinary jobs on the farm and we have already implemented some ideas to improve productivity, safety and efficiency.

During the springtime Covid-19 lockdown, farm meetings were can-celled, however since September it has been great to be able to take part again whilst socially distancing. Being able to meet other farmers at the minute allows us to discuss current issues affecting farming.

BDG group meetings are a great opportunity to safely catch up for a chat too and are very well organised by our local CAFRE adviser Stephen Flanagan, who also shares his technical knowledge whilst challenging us to ‘farm wiser not harder’.

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