Katelyn hails from Parkgate in County Antrim, about 15 miles from Belfast. She grew up on a 130-acre suckler beef farm with around 100 cattle from which they bring on their own replacements.
She left school following her GCSEs and - now 18 is a student at Greenmount agricultural college, known as CAFRE, where she is studying for a diploma in agriculture. Katelyn started working at Dourie in August and will stay here for a year on placement from CAFRE.
“I had relatively little experience in dairy before arriving here and I’m really looking forward to getting to know more about dairying,” Katelyn says. “I spent a couple of months working for a neighbour with 240 cows on a 24:24 swingover parlour. I was due to spend this year in New Zealand but Covid stymied that plan.”
Katelyn still wanted to go away and get some experience and when she heard about Dourie through College: “Dourie runs exactly the same kind of system that I would have been working on in New Zealand and I was attracted by the challenge of such a big scale farm.”
She has been at Dourie for about a month, mostly milking. It’s hard work: she’s up at 3.30 every morning and out milking by 4.30am, either on the 600 or 400-rotary parlour. “They are trying to give me a variety of things to do as I’m getting experience for only one year,” Katelyn says. When she’s not milking, Katelyn could be power-hosing one of the parlours, tidying the yard, out with the youngstock, helping with drying-off or AI. “I’ve also been going out with the hoof trimmer GP every couple of weeks. I want to learn as much as possible from him, to know what causes hoof problems and how to stop them too.”
The work is hard, but Katelyn is relishing the opportunity: “When I told our neighbour that I was coming here and milking a great big rotary on such a big scale he told me it’s a dairy farmer’s dream. It’s great to get this experience at such a young age.”
It’s not just the scale of the operation that’s different at Dourie: “The system here is a lot more outdoor-based than at home. Our stock are in all winter whereas here they are kept on outdoor slats. I’m really looking to learning more about breeding and AI too. I’m used to putting out the stock bull and that’s it!”
Katelyn wants a career in agriculture but is open-minded about her exact plans. “I thought I might work in the agriculture department, but I want to be able to do some hands-on farming. It can be difficult to get jobs as a student: you don’t actually know all the different kinds of jobs there are and things are changing so much.”
Whatever Katelyn ends up doing, the team at Dourie will continue to make sure she builds her experience while she’s here. “The people here are lovely and they’re pushing me hard to take on more responsibility, for example managing milkings on my own.”
She might not have had to travel to the other side of the world for her NZ-style placement, however, there is one thing Katelyn misses about home: “When I asked where the nearest McDonald’s was, the team laughed and told me it is in Belfast!” she chuckles.