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Cows on the Coast by Lauren DeCastro, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Major

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Posted: November 12, 2018

This embedded course was my first time traveling abroad and it was a truly unforgettable experience.
Me at the top of the Castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon.

Me at the top of the Castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon.

This embedded course was my first time traveling abroad and it was a truly unforgettable experience. I did not really know what to expect, but this trip was far greater than I could have imagined. The Azores are an archipelago of nine islands located off the coast of Portugal. During this trip, we traveled to the islands of Sao Miguel, Terceira, and on the mainland, we visited the city of Lisbon. During this trip, we would be learning about the agriculture industry on the islands with a focus on the dairy industry. The islands produce approximately one-third of Portugal’s milk, which is impressive considering how small the islands are. I was excited to learn more about this industry while taking in all that the islands had to offer.

We first traveled to Sao Miguel, where we stayed in the city of Ponta Delgada. This city was small, but it was easy to tell that the tourism industry was growing on the islands and here especially. The small streets that were paved with dark, volcanic coble stone seemed crowded with people and we were told that most of the tourists had not yet arrived. The island itself was beautiful. From the city, we could see one of the many volcanic peaks on the island. As the clouds that were covering it cleared, the pastures that covered the land were like patchwork quilts that became easier to see.

Although I loved Sao Miguel, my favorite part of this trip was our visit to the island of Terceira. This island was where we got a good look at what the dairy industry in the Azores is like. The thing I will remember most from this island was the first dairy we visited. The farm, Queijo Vaquinha was a more traditional farm on the island. The cows are raised on pasture and live outside year-round. This is possible due to the temperate climate on the islands. When we visited this farm, we arrived at 6 in the morning to watch as the cows got milked. They came into the milking parlor and filed into the each of the empty milking stations. When they were done, a cow would walk out the barn door on the other side of the barn as the next one came in behind her. I got to milk a cow for the first time and when we left the barn, we were able to feed the calves. I loved being able to interact with the animals and get a first-hand look at how this farm, and many others on the island operate. After seeing the cows, we got to see where the cheese is made at this farm. It was interesting to see how the whole process works from start to finish. To get such a hands-on look at what the industry is like on the islands was extremely interesting. While on Terceira, we also visited the farm and production facilities called Quinta dos Acores. This farm was a more modern farm on the island and talking with one of the women who runs it, it was clear to see that she wanted things to continue to improve and change on her farm. The cows were still raised on pasture, but the facilities were much larger and there seemed to be an emphasis on breeding the best cows to create the best product. To see two different facilities and two different operations on the same island made it clear that there was a difference between how each generation was looking to run their farm. Many older families wanted to stick with traditional methods, while younger farmers were open to change and the possibility of improving production.

Our last two days of the trip were spent in the city of Lisbon. We toured the city and learned about its rich history. We ended our tour on the second day with a trip to the old castle in Lisbon, the Castle of Sao Jorge. It was once a military fort, built tall and strong. The castle was full of winding staircases and new places to explore.

Overall this trip was something that I will remember forever. I enjoyed learning about the dairy industry on the islands and seeing not only how it differs from the industry in the United States, but how it is starting to change from farm to farm. I found it interesting how many parts of this industry have become a part of the island’s culture and heritage. Through this trip, I have learned that the best way to understand an industry or a culture is to see it up close and to learn about it from the people who are living it every day. I want to continue to travel and learn about the world around me from the people who know it best.