Torrington students travel abroad
After winning the National FFA Livestock Judging Contest at the 2013 National FFA Convention, Torrington-Lingle FFA members Mikayla McNamee, PD Miller, Skyler Miller and Tyler Pickenpaugh won a once-in-a-lifetime trip to travel to Ireland, Scotland and England for a look at livestock on an international scale.
“The trip was a lot of fun,” says Mikayla McNamee, a college sophomore and daughter of Michael McNamee. “We were gone for two weeks, and it was definitely worth it.”
Torrington-Lingle FFA Advisor Jason Groene, McNamee and Skyler Miller all commented that while the livestock were very different from those seen in the U.S., the trip was a learning experience that provided an opportunity they may never have again.
During their trip, the students judged two livestock shows and had the chance to learn from Scotland’s national champion livestock judging team.
Additionally, they toured farms in Scotland, England and Ireland, also visiting several markets and tourist destinations.
“We flew into Glasgow, Scotland and went to one of their national research farms,” Groene says. “We participated in the Royal Highlands Show in Edinburg, Scotland and at the Charelville Show in Ireland.”
He adds, “We certainly saw a lot of different things, and the kids got to see another part of the world that they hadn’t seen before.”
Since the trip was primarily about learning more about the livestock industry, students had the chance to learn about cattle in Europe.
“It was really neat to see, from a judging sense, the traits that they select for,” says McNamee. “They aren’t selecting for the same traits we do.”
“They focus on facial characteristics, and that was different from what we do,” she continues. “We focus more on structure, and they look at temperament and things like that.”
Miller, the 16-year-old son of Paul and Christine Miller, adds, “They also focus more on breed characteristics. For a Belgium Blue, for example, they focus on the muscle of those animals, since they are a double-muscled breed.”
He further notes that the cattle in Ireland and Scotland were heavier muscled than cattle they had seen before.
Groene continues, “Their purebred cattle seemed to be more extreme than we notice here, but when we got into the country, their beef cow herd didn’t phenotypically look a whole lot different than what we see here.”
Limousin and Shorthorn cattle are prevalent, as are double-muscled breeds of crossbred cattle that are raised strictly for beef.
“The animals were certainly different,” Groene says.
On farms across both countries, Groene and McNamee note a number of differences.
“When we visited the farms, we noticed that none of them are really big,” McNamee comments. “They are content running 40 head of cattle. They don’t really want to get any bigger.”
Groene adds that operations of 150 acres are very large, and the farmers they visited were surprised to hear that Wyoming ranchers have hundreds of cows over thousands of acres.
“It was just a different way to do things,” he says. “That is what I got out of the trip – things are very different, but they work for those farmers.”
Groene further says that during the winter, the cattle enter barns and are housed for the entirety of the season.
“They put everything inside for the winter in barns with slatted floors,” he explains. “They are raised inside and fed a lot of grass silage. It is almost like a confinement beef operation in the winter months.”
Farms and ranches are much smaller, adds Miller, who continues that he also learned different ways to care for animals.
Different, but the same
An additional aspect that McNamee found interesting was the government subsidies provided for farmers.
“I think it was interesting that all of their cattle and crops were subsidized,” she says. “One farmer told us that he gets more in subsidies than he gets for selling calves.”
Additionally, McNamee notes that operations were specialized, focusing on raising calves or feeding them, rather than taking them from birth to finish, as some operations in the U.S. do.
“I thought it was really neat to see,” she says. “They run things a lot differently than we do, but in the end, it is pretty much the same. They make their living raising cattle.”
While things are much simpler, she thinks, they are happy to care for the animals and make a living.
“The Irish were very open and very nice to Americans,” Miller says. “It was a great trip with perfect weather and lots of interesting things that we hadn’t seen before.”
When they weren’t judging or visiting farms, the students had the chance to visit London, Dublin and popular tourist attractions.
“The most memorable moment for me was seeing the Ring of Kerry,” Miller says. “It is one of Ireland’s bigger tourist attractions, and it was really beautiful. Ireland is a beautiful country.”
McNamee adds, “I’d love to go back. We didn’t see many farms in Scotland or England, and I’d love to learn more about the differences between them. If I had the opportunity, I’d definitely go back.”