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Elizabeth Bruce – Northern Ireland

Elizabeth Bruce – Northern Ireland
Elizabeth Bruce Ireland 2023

“Everything is just SO green!!” I probably said this 50 times or more during my two week exchange to Northern Ireland in August. The Emerald Island definitely lives up to its nickname.

During my first week, I stayed in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim with the Baird Family. I felt right at home on their dairy farm, where all the women teach at elementary schools (just like me) and the men work on the farm (just like my family). 

I had a bit of a mishap the first morning on our way to Sligo Mountain as my host drove quickly over many hilly, twisting and turning narrow roads. Monika, the delegate from Norway 4-H, made sure that I always sat in the front seat and took my motion sickness pills EVERY time we got into a car together after that.

County Antrim is home to several famous landmarks including The Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, The Dark Hedges and The Gobbins Path. The best part about going to tourist attractions with locals, has to be the insider knowledge and connections. At every stop, the young farmers were able to get us in for free or half price because they knew someone who worked there.

During meals at the Baird’s dinner table, I learned about issues dairy farmers face in Northern Ireland. Badgers often carry tuberculosis (TB) and can pass the disease on to cattle and humans. Several times a year, all cattle farms have to have all their cows and calves tested for TB by the local vet. Any livestock that tests positive must be destroyed. One dairy farm I visited had to put down half their milking herd the year before due to a TB outbreak. There is no longer a quota system in Northern Ireland, so milk cheques from the local processor often fluctuate throughout the year. To help stabilize their income, the Baird family also delivers their pasteurized whole milk directly to local doorsteps, just like the milkman used to do.

My second week was spent in Omagh, Co. Tyrone with two host families, the Keys Family and Natalie Burrows. Their young farmers club hosted a “Knock-out Night” which is basically a bunch of water activities held in a farmer’s field. Helping to referee Slippery Football (soccer played on a wet, soapy tarp), was definitely my highlight of the night.

One day, Monika and I got to spend the day with Young Farmers Alumni Pauline and Joe . Pauline went on exchange to Finland, which gave her the travel bug. Several decades later and her fridge is covered with magnets of where she’s all travelled to. Joe had gone on exchange to Ontario in the late 1980s and still keeps in touch with almost all his host families. Now that he is retired, Joe works as a tour guide and he had us try out hydro bikes. We took the hydro bikes across Lough Erne to White Island where there are ruins of a monastery. Pauline is a very strong supporter of the Young Farmers Exchange program and the International Young Farmers Exchange Program. She encouraged Monika and I to consider attending an IYFE conference, which is open to anyone who has traveled on a young farmer exchange. Joe and his wife came by later that evening to make us some delicious Irish Coffee, and share more stories from their exchanges.

Northern Ireland had the wettest July on record, so farmers were still trying to harvest grass silage six weeks after it was ready to go.  Monika’s host family was taking off silage and let us take a turn running the equipment. I was fine driving the tractor and forage box in the field, but was not quite brave enough to drive it on the narrow, curvy roads back to the farm.

Each of my host families did such a wonderful job making me feel welcome and always made sure I didn’t go hungry.  I learned so much from my host families about agriculture in Northern Ireland. Every day was packed with adventures and so much fun. Going on a Junior Farmers International Exchange was a once in a lifetime experience that was worth it in so many ways. I highly recommend that all JF members take full advantage of our amazing exchange.

Elizabeth Bruce


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