MY name is Rebecca Kelly and I am a BSc (Hons) Bioveterinary Science student at Harper Ad-ams University. In my second year I was delighted to be awarded the British Poultry Council scholarship with a sponsored placement with Avi-agen, which has an overseas component. Aviagen is the leading global poultry breeding company with a UK base in Scotland.
I spent three months of my year placement in North America learning about the business and gaining work experience in a range of production situations working primarily with
grandparent stock. What I learned and the experience I gained will underpin my final year at Harper Adams and a career in the poultry industry.
I travelled extensively, visiting crucial aspects of the business including hatchery, vet labs and production facilities in Alabama and other States, gaining an overall insight into an international business not experienced by many within the company. I learnt how to approach problems and how to adapt to new surroundings.
Having little knowledge of the poultry industry to having learnt the structure of a global breeding company is remarkable. A sen/-sational feeling. It has led me to believe that with encouragement and support, the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland can develop into a networking hub and provide incredible careers for school leavers.
As I took off out of Atlanta Airport on my return home, I counted 72 poultry farms before rising above the clouds. Landing in Belfast none were counted.
A clarification for me that there is a gap in the market in Northern Ireland, not only for poultry farmers but for poultry breeders. The gap is openly led by consumer perception. I strive to change the perception of consumers in Northern Ireland. Not only by showing the benefits and advantages of our poultry industry but by demonstrating the care and compassion we give our birds.
The passion and driven morale I gained from the Americans is one thing I am going to hold on tight to and take further in the Northern Ireland agricultural community to push forward and support our poultry industry.
America was not what I anticipated. A culture shock. I admired the politeness of the locals, being addressed as Ma’am everyday was unusual. I was greeted with the warmest welcome, that proceeded for the entirety of my stay.
A memorable part of my trip was my visit to Texas A&M and Auburn University, two major agricultural universities in North America. Both are equipped with stand-alone poultry science departments, distant from any-thing we have in the UK. Texas A&M hosts 70,000 students and Auburn hosts 25,000, contrasting from the 5,000 students at Harper Adams. I explored graduate opp-ortunities as an international student. The visit was nothing but impressive, inspiring, and encouraging.
A weekend in mid-June took me to Union City, Tennessee. I attended an American cattle show, something I had always dreamt of as a young child. No white showing coats, just boots and big buckles. I wiped my eyes at the sight of a black Simmental. British breeds differ significantly in America, mostly in appearance but in performance, especially adhering to low input, high output.
Mr Mike Blakely, the previous Alabama Sheriff, invited me to ride the Sugar Creek Trail. Alabama and Tennessee are blessed with numerous riding trails, mostly through creeks and hills. As a keen equestrian rider all my life, this opportunity was a privilege and made my father immensely proud to see me back in the saddle with a Sheriff in my company. Gaiting through cornfields in 32°C was phenomenal. It was an honour to ride Proud Foot, a Tennessee walking horse, known as one of the smoothest riding horses in the world.
I visited the Amish families in Ethridge, Tennessee, a day I will remember for the rest of my life. Experiencing and respecting their plain living life was incredible. The opposite of modern life. Men working the fields with horses, whilst the women sold their products at home from their outdoor shops. Their craftsmanship was admirable. My heart melted as I bought a belt and told the young boy I was taking it back to Ireland, his face lit up as he told me “My father is going to be so proud of me, that’s the other side of the world”.
The three months spent in America was a once in a lifetime unique experience. Three months that has certified my aspirations to pursue a poultry career.
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