What is preclinical EMS? We are required to get a certain amount of handling experience with different species (companion animals, dairy cows, beef cattle, horses, sheep and pigs). This experience is our chance to learn about management of food animal systems and become more comfortable around these animals – especially those we may not have previously had much/any experience with. The EMS has to be completed on our breaks and must be finished by the end of our second academic year.
In my opinion, this is a bit of a double-edged sword for international students. Obviously the experience is invaluable, but there are certain drawbacks. For one, we look forward to our breaks from classes as times to visit home, travel around Europe, and just relax. With our two spring breaks, two winter breaks, and one summer before the handling exams at the end of the second year, we are expected to make time for a total of 11-12 weeks of this experience – this may not sound too difficult, but some of the placements have to be done at a specific time of year. For example, we are required to get lambing experience as part of our sheep handling. This really only happens during the spring, and so must be scheduled during the March break. Your breaks start to melt away a little bit as they fill up with extracurricular activity.
Additionally, it can be difficult to find willing farmers and organize the experiences as somebody who isn’t from this country. I was lucky, and had an Irish friend and classmate who helped me find farms – and who did the experience with me (UCD recommends EMS be done in pairs). The school itself doesn’t really assist in finding placements – they do get occasional requests from farmers (mainly for calving and lambing) and pass those along, but that is about the extent of their role.
It’s not all bad though – in fact, this requirement has led to some pretty amazing experiences. I’ve gotten up close and personal with baby lambs, beautiful horses, cute sheep and some personable cows. I’ve also been able to see some parts of Ireland you wouldn’t get to as a tourist or even a typical resident – some of the farms I’ve helped on have been in the mountains with some incredible views of the city and the bay.
For my first week, I was able to assist with lambing on a farm in the Wicklow Mountains that had been in the farmer’s family for over three hundred years. That was a pretty crazy thought – this farm had been in operation by his family longer than the United States had been a country. It wasn’t just the age, either: his farm and its views are so beautiful that they have been featured in commercials and movies, and are a frequent stop for European tour groups. While I was there, in fact, a French tour group came through the farm to learn about the history of the area and the Irish sheep farming business. Beyond what everyone else was able to see, I had the privilege of getting a few private tours during my time there from the farmer himself, who of course was very knowledgable about the surrounding farms and countryside (including Glendalough and the area around it, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Powerscourt Waterfall). The work was hard but rewarding and the days were long and full of activity, but looking back on it I had a fantastic time and learned a lot.
For my next EMS experience, I was again in the Wicklow area. The farm was near a town called Roundwood, but was up in the mountains – again with stunning views. This farm was unique in that it had: two different breeds of sheep, beef cattle, horses, and some quail and chickens. The family was unbelievably welcoming and helpful, and went above and beyond to teach us. We had the opportunity to inject and dose lambs and sheep, lunge and care for horses, and evaluate beef cattle. We had such a great time with them that we were considering coming back to help them during lambing season this year.
My most recent placement was on a dairy farm in Newcastle, which is a small town west of Dublin. Once again, this farm was on a large hill from which we could see over the city and surrounding area. This was especially beautiful in the early morning – we got to see the city lit up in the dark, the sunrise over the bay, a blanket of fog covering it all, and the mountains in a heavy snow. In addition to the typical tasks like milking, feeding, and bedding, we were lucky enough to have some special experiences while we were there. We got to administer vaccinations, watch artificial insemination and ultrasounds, and attend a market and auction for dairy cows and calves. As an added bonus, we were lucky enough to be there while their sheep dog had a litter of puppies! It was another amazing and helpful family – and a farm labourer that was always willing to answer questions, demonstrate techniques, and give advice. The farmer also invited us back to help with calving in the spring, which my friend and I are both looking forward to.
I have some pig experience planned for the spring, and then handling exams happen right before summer break. Overall, though the EMS placements can be difficult to find and sometimes exhausting, they offer some unforgettable experiences and provide students with a practical way to begin applying the knowledge we gain in lectures.
Disclaimer: the photos used in this post were taken by me and shared with permission from the respective animals’ owners as per university regulations.