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What I learnt working with calves on a farm in Ireland

INSTAGRAM @dogtorioli   
Ioli Tzavara, raised in Greece, is a second-year veterinary student at Forestry University in Bulgaria. She is a participant in the eleventh session of Rome International Model United Nations (MUN) and was part of the European council as well as served a member at Greenpeace in Athens, Greece. Ioli loves painting, volunteering, and spending time with her dog. She has strong interest in small animals, but also loves working with farm animals.

Growing up in Greece, I lived in a small village in the countryside where we had many animals around. Our cottage had turkeys, hens, geese, dogs, and rabbits. At a young age, I was given the responsibility of looking after them and I loved it. I was happy tending to these creatures and I suppose that’s where the seed of my passion for animals was first sown.

When my family moved to Athens, it wasn’t possible to have many animals, so we decided to get one pet, a dog called Zouzou. Looking after her showed me that a career in caring for animals was what I wanted to have. So, I decided to capitalize on this and choose subjects in high school that could take me on the path to study veterinary medicine.

The requirements in Greece are very high and I didn’t get the points I needed to attend the university in Greece. However, I did not let this deter me from achieving my dream. I decided to look at other options and study abroad. I’m grateful for the support my parents have given me to go to a different country. I’ve never worked with large animals and I got the chance to travel to Ireland and spend my time assisting a farm manager with his daily tasks, which involved feeding, bedding, and general animal husbandry, which I really enjoyed. This gave me the opportunity to work hands-on with farm animals for a week. I wasn’t nervous at all when I got to to work with these animals, because I knew what I was doing. A really good friend of mine, who grew up living in a farm, was there for me so there was no need to be afraid and taught me how to do a lot of stuff.

During that week, an important annual brucellosis and tuberculosis test was carried out across the herd. I got to meet with the farm vet who carried out the tests and was interested in seeing how they were processed and learning about the procedures required when handling large animals. Luckily, the results were clear and there were no reactors among the herd. I was there when they were moving them into the shoot and it was impressive to see these huge animals jumping around the house.

Another day, we worked around livestock identification, where new born calves approximately two weeks old were to be registered with the department of agriculture and given a unique animal ID number and full traceability. I got the opportunity to tag two of them while they were into the calf crush. It was a bit difficult because they were moving their heads frantically all the time, making it challenging to get the correct position between the two ribs of the calves’ ear. These specific tags are important as they retrieve a tissue sample, which are sent to the lab to be tested against bovine and viral diarrhea. Now, I know how work is processed on a farm and how the animals react to strangers. If I eventually decide to work with farm animals, I am happy to say I feel as though I might have an advantage over veterinary student who have studied in the city. I also got to learn about bovine diseases, which will no doubt help me during my studies.

Feeding the cattle was very strenuous work and it gave me a larger respect for the work farmers do to look after their animals. I prefer to feed them hay as opposed to silage because it is lighter work and more fun if you do it with your hands because you get the chance to create a bond with individual animals. Large animals are difficult handle, therefore creating a bond with them is important, as this makes them to trust you and it’s easier for you to take care of them. The feeling of creating a bond with an animal is out of this world, I felt so happy and blessed to be in close contact with them every day. Cows are inquisitive and seemed to enjoy the time I spent with them. They were keen to be fed more fodder by licking my hand and my jacket. Along with the silage,they get concentrated feed. Every time we poured meal into the bucket they started “mooing” and wanting to be fed. Another thing they really love is someone scratching their back and guess who was there having to do that!

One particular memory I have is of a group of heifers the farmer was keeping on for replacements. I persevered as they seemed slightly afraid and wild. I began helping them get used to me and showed them more love by feeding them their favorite hay one at a time and scratching and taking many photos of them. It is important to understand these are production animals for a farm businesses. However, this does not take away from the fact that they require the best possible treatment and comfort available. Cows are generally quite intelligent animals and can recognize individual faces and things for a long time. They have emotions, which is why I am told many of them are now missing me. It is good to spend this time with these heifers and it is not always an option as it’s not possible for a single farmer to tame and build a rapport to every single animal.

To sum it up, being a woman in the veterinary world doesn’t scare me away from working with large animals and I don’t feel like I would shy from a challenge. I am eager to learn and gain as much experience as I can. For me, everyday is a learning opportunity. My advice for every veterinary student is to try your best to gain experience during your studies so you can realize what you like and what you don’t like to work in. Even if you have less interest, for instance, in small animals, it’s nice to have worked with them early on, because it helps you develop your abilities. I’m not sure what I want to do in the future yet. Maybe I’ll work with small animals, maybe large, maybe wild, who knows!

I share a lot of my life as veterinary student and of my farming week on Instagram and it is brilliant getting to know people who are in the same position. If you are interested you can check out my account.

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