MY name is Laura Kelly and I’m from Kilrea in County Londonderry and live and work on a small dairy farm.
I have just completed the Level 3 Advanced Technical Extended Diploma in Agriculture, which is a three-year full-time course with a full year’s work placement. I went onto this course planning to gain livestock skills and go back home and farm but other possibilities have opened up.
The first year of the course was split 50/50 with theory in the morning and practical in the afternoon along with routine practical before classes. This was on a rota and swapped between milking, calves and beef cattle.
I learnt a lot in my first year and made many new friends from over the country. The practical classes included beef, sheep, dairy, estate skills and machinery, where I got to learn new skills and put them to practice. The theory ranged from soil science and crop production to learning about the animal needs and welfare practices.
In my second year I decided to venture further afield for work placement and was offered a place at a farm half-an-hour from Birmingham. The farm consists of a 600 cow organic dairy herd in an autumn block calving system and was very different and much larger scale than I was used to.
During this time I learned a lot about milk production and was giving a lot of responsibilities as I proved to be a hard worker and focused on dairy cow husbandry. I learned about a New Zealand grazing system, and the benefits of block calving and how this allowed the herd to be managed as one single cow as they were all in the same stage of lactation.
Not long after calving had started in August a mastitis problem arose and as part of the team I learned about the many ways to control the problem. I was put in charge of the antibiotic group of cows and played a key role in mastitis control.
I was over the moon when the farm paid to put me through a foot trimming course as this is an area I was keen to develop. During placement I learned to work as a team player and took part in a discussion group, gaining the opportunity to see how other farms managed their herds and went on a two-day trip to the south of England.
Through work placement I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities and the farm manager continually motivated me with good feedback. As my year drew to an end I was delighted to be offered a job as their herd manager on completion of my course and this has motivated me to do well when I returned to final year.
Getting back to studying was a challenge but there has been a good range of subjects, including Animal Health and Nutrition, Grassland Management, Beef Production and Pollution Control.
Our year group also had a very interesting study trip recently to Scotland and visited a lot of impressive farms.
Now that I have completed my third year I will be going back to my placement farm to train as their herd manager and am excited as I will get to share my experience will the students that follow in the coming years. The Level 3 course has been very worthwhile and I would recommend it to anyone interested in a farming career.
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