Updates from New Zealand, PWE Scholarship Winner – Leyla Byrne
When I arrived in Christchurch on the 29th of December to be met by my first host, relief flooded me after almost 27 hours of flying. We set off for Westport which was a four-hour drive away and began to get acquainted. It turns out they were almost more Irish than me. Philip O’Connor was the owners name with some obvious Irish heritage. Once we reached Westport I was in desperate need of a shower and a sleep. The next few days were spent getting the layout of the area and the farm, doing some sightseeing of the local mining area and getting some great mountain top photos. Then the work began. They run a 270-milking herd on 1000 acres of land just outside Waimangaroa near Westport, with mainly Jersey cows and a few pure-bred Holstein Friesians. They have a 23-a-side herringbone parlour with milking at 5am and 3pm and usually lasting about 2 & ½ hours from when the cows leave the field. The cows are not fed anything in the parlour but come in easy enough as they know fresh grass is coming. I found a friend in the ‘farm’ dog Zak, who wasn’t very good at bringing in the cows, but was great for a trip in the side-by-side, to watch you do all the work. The one and only time I was home sick in my stay, which is a lot to say for a girl who rang her granny daily on a 7-day girls’ holiday, was when my birthday came around. I cannot thank the O’Connor’s enough as they went all out for the day, buying me presents and taking me out for dinner.
Just as I settled into life in Westport, it was time to move on to my next farm. We left the day before my flight and took a pit stop in Hanmer Springs, famous for its natural thermal pools where we stayed the night. I of course had to make a visit to the hot pools which is not advisable in 35-degree heat. The next morning, they dropped me to the airport for my flight to Queenstown.
I was collected at the airport by Andrew and Viv Dickson who own Glencairn Station, a 10,000-acre property in Waikaia, just north of Gore. Here they have 12,000 sheep at any time, having 18,000 while I was there with most of the lambs waiting to be sold, along with 500 suckler cows. Coming from a farm where we own 33-acres with 27 beef steers you could say this came as a shock to the system. Their ewes are all Romney, a breed they find are all-rounders. They run Romney with the top 70% of their ewes and a Suffolk, or what they call terminal, ram with the bottom 30%. These terminal lambs are all sold, and their 3,200 replacements are selected solely from the Romney lambs. My first day on the farm with the temperatures hitting 30 degrees outside, we decide to drench some hoggets. By the lunch time I was ready for a cold shower and my bed, but the sheep just kept coming. Their style of farming is very chilled out, whether stock are wandering on the roads or the heavens open on sheep due to be sheared, nothing is a big deal.
Sheep dog trials are a huge part of their culture and the annual Waikaia Collie Club dog trials were held on the farm while I was there. Over the two days, hundreds of farmers, both men and women, turned up with their dogs to compete. Some newcomers, some veterans of the trials and some award-winning dogs were in attendance. I assisted the judge on the long pull course on both days and found this most enjoyable and fascinating to see the discipline of both dog and master.
The cattle are mainly Angus and Hereford breed that run with Angus, Hereford and Simmental bulls, with all the Simmental calves being sold at weaning. The cattle on the farm are considered a second-class stock, with sheep being the first, so don’t get as much attention. They are left to their own devices year-round with weaning being the only time they are handled.
The final 4 weeks of my trip was in Silver Fern Farms (SFF) abattoir in the aptly named Gore. I was hosted by the plant manager Bronwyn Cairns, who threw me in the deep end working on the production line. My reasoning behind this placement was to see out the farm-to-fork process. I followed the lambs from when they entered the plant until they were boxed and ready for shipment. All the meat produced in SFF is halal as a large percentage of their meat is for export to China, the Middle East and Europe where the demand is greatest for halal products.
I was the recipient of the ASA and Irish Farmers Journal Bursary. This funding facilitated my travel to New Zealand and allowed me to concentrate wholly on my placements. This was the experience of a lifetime for me and I would like to thank the ASA and the Farmers Journal for allowing me this opportunity. The trepidation at leaving home and travelling to the other side of the world was soon over come by the beauty of the scenery, weather and most of all the welcoming people.
To all future Agricultural Science students, I cannot overstate the invaluable knowledge and skills you would learn on your travels and I recommend you all apply for this bursary if you decide to go overseas.