This is agriculture speaks to Susan O’Riordan, a fourth year veterinary student at UCD in this week’s Student Focus segment. She talks about following in her father’s footsteps, raising 450 cattle, and the positive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on her student life.
Templeglantine, a Co. Limerick native, Susan O’Riordan, the daughter of a veterinarian, was abandoned to life in a veterinary clinic from an early age.
Her father is a veterinarian and runs the Fealeside Veterinary Hospital, a mixed practice based in Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick and Castleisland, Co. Kerry.
Susan recalls vivid memories as a young child, sitting at the operating table with her sister Grace, watching her father perform small animal operations.
“I was born and raised on the family business. Many of my early childhood memories go back to the good times I spent with my brother and two sisters on the farm. “
UCD student of veterinary medicine
She told That’s Farming: “Everything that has to do with raising livestock has aroused tremendous interest in my head. My father was a veterinary student at UCD and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. “
Studying agricultural sciences and biology for her Leaving Cert in later years reinforced the 22-year-old’s belief that veterinary medicine was the right course for them.
The University College Dublin (UCD) fourth year veterinary student, whose parents have an agricultural background, will graduate in 2023. “I started my veterinary studies at UCD after graduating from the Leaving Certificate. I also spend most of the days with my father on farm visits and help him with small animal surgery. “
“I am fortunate that I am able to do an internship whenever I want, as I feel that I learn most by seeing things in practice.”
“In helping my father, I am very confident in my animal handling skills and clinical skills, which I am very pleased with as I can see my progress. I also notice that the time I invest in preparing for my vet career is paying off. “
The family runs a breast milk business, with Billy and Judith being the “main bosses” as the vet described. Susan, her sisters Shaleen and Grace, and her brother Jeremy have all had a hand in running the farm over the years.
Her suckler cow and calf-to-beef operation includes Charolais crosses, Belgian blue crosses, Limousin crosses and Simmental crosses with Charolais stock bulls.
On their farm with 450 animals, they operate a spring and autumn calving facility. Paddock systems are in operation and reseeding is carried out annually.
“We were given a strong work ethic from an early age. As children we always had a role on the farm. Since we were able, we were given few tasks like cleaning drinking troughs, feeding calves and checking fences. “
“This led to the washing out of stables, inspection of cattle and feeding of beef meal in the evenings after school. A few years ago I volunteered to do our dehorning, vaccination and dosing that I’ve been with ever since. “
It was mainly Susan and Grace who had been involved in the day-to-day running of the farm for the past few years. Her brother is a doctor in Drogheda and her older sister is a pharmacist and medical student.
“None of them have more time to give on the farm. However, they would always obey us and help us when they were around and needed, ”she added.
The Covid-19 pandemic has enabled the veterinary student to spend more time on her family farm.
By farming, she had the freedom in the countryside, an escape from college work, and an opportunity that she enjoyed.
The home college also gave her the flexibility and ability to put clinical information into practice from lectures on the parental home, in the office, and on calls, which was sure to be an asset when it came to information retrieval in exams .
“In my first semester at the university last year, I had laboratory internships every week. That’s why I had to stay in Dublin. “
“I was away from home for almost four months, which I personally found very isolating and lonely.”
“Fortunately, our second semester was completely rescheduled online and I was able to come home in the spring.”
“I was in my element because this year I had invaluable calving experience at home. Living on a farm during Covid-19 gave my days a sense of purpose and routine.
She also spent several weeks this summer visiting the small animal practice in Dublin. She “particularly enjoyed” her time at the Animal Welfare Clinic on Charlemont Street.
“It was a very progressive practice and I found their vets very accessible, supportive, and inclusive to the students – I learned so much during my time there,” added Susan, a recipient of the Entrance Scholar Award, which is given to students was awarded in the first year, achieving over 560 points in the Leaving Cert.
A significant college highlight for her were the lifelong friendships she made within the vet building.
She explained that veterinary medicine is a “very sociable course” with an immense sense of community among students.
She had the opportunity to see events organized by Vet Soc and FAVS (Farm Animal Veterinary Society) such as the First Year Nights, the Vet Ball, the Mystery Tour and the AVS Sports Weekend, to name a few.
“That year I became a member of the FAVS committee. I am curious what opportunities I will experience as a result. “
“I found the pre-clinical years challenging. The material we examined did not seem to have much relevance to what happens in clinical practice. “
“To my great relief, the preclinical modules were a stepping stone into the clinical years that start in the third year.”
“Although the third year is a notoriously difficult year, I really enjoyed all aspects of our modules.”
“I found it a lot easier to study and keep track of the information. The topics we dealt with were very relevant and areas that interested me. “
Advice for budding knowledge with students
Susan gave some constructive advice to those considering veterinary medicine.
She advises to discuss the career in detail with an experienced veterinarian about its advantages and disadvantages. “This is a conversation I had with my parents most weekends when I was in Leaving Cert,” she admitted.
“You wanted to make sure I was making an informed decision about my career choice. If you’re fortunate enough to study Veterinary Medicine, don’t be fooled into the fact that it’s all about socializing and that your classmates will give up all of their studies until college week or a couple of nights before the exam. “
“It’s a difficult course. Everyone who passes their exams works every week to keep track of the lectures, even in the early years. “
“Our parents raised us to believe that women are equal to men and that women can do everything men can. We have always been encouraged to work hard both on the farm and in school. There were never any limits to our capabilities, depending on whether we are male or female. “
“Women have played a central role in agriculture throughout history. When I call, I keep hearing various stories from women who are young widows and who had to run the family business themselves. “
“We had employed numerous female vets in the practice over the years. I have never heard from a customer comment that his vet skills were compromised in any way because he was not male.
“To be honest, Women in Ag is a phrase that bothers me. I feel that the use of this phrase actively separates women and emphasizes that there are differences between male and female abilities when in fact there are none. “
With her own career in mind, Susan plans to find a mixed practice position outside of her home before eventually returning to family practice.
“Agriculture is an extremely important aspect of my life and I am very fortunate to have a family that will support my decision to study veterinary science.”
She believes that agriculture in Ireland will face numerous challenges in the years to come, particularly related to climate change, the use of antibiotics and the increasing popularity of plant-based alternatives to animal products.
“I am confident that our generations can master these challenges. I am excited to see what the future of veterinary medicine in Ireland will be, ”she concluded.
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