Student - March 9, 2017

Pubs, ruins and incomprehensible farmers

Who? Iris Nonhebel, Master’s student in Animal Sciences
What? Four-month internship at Moorepark Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre (Teagsc)
Where? Fermoy, Ireland

‘I wanted to go to an English-speaking country for my internship so that I wouldn’t suddenly have to learn a new language. So I chose Ireland! But in practice they speak Gaelic as well as English. All the town and street signs are in both languages. The farmers I met spoke English but with such a strong Irish accent that I couldn’t understand a word when they were talking to one another. Fortunately they tried to speak ‘BBC’ English when talking to me.

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Ireland lived up to its stereotypes. Like the British, the Irish love tea and scones, and there is a pub in every street. You get in your car and barely have to drive five minutes before you see a castle or ruin. “In your car” because Ireland is not cycling country. Fortunately I was able to borrow a bike from someone so I did actually cycle everywhere. If the weather was bad, I had a backup system: carpooling with someone else from Teagsc. For the public transport system isn’t nearly as good as in the Netherlands.

My research was on the effect of feed restrictions on the behaviour of cows. The Irish climate is ideal for livestock farming as grass grows really well there. But in practice you can also get food shortages. That is particularly likely in the spring, when the cows have just calved. The weather plays a role, as well as the natural growth cycle of the grass — growth has to get going again after the winter. It is particularly important to monitor the effects on the cows’ welfare because the cows are outdoors nearly all year round, unlike in the Netherlands. In addition to the data analysis, I found helping out at the institute very interesting. Weighing calves or giving secondary-school children guided tours.

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I didn’t notice Brexit much, except that the value of the pound was favourable. You do clearly see how interwoven religion and politics are because of Ireland’s history. Fortunately there is less and less tension these days between the descendants of the Catholic Irish and Protestant British. The country’s flag with its green and orange stripes refers back to this time, with the white stripe representing the peace between the two sides.’