Multitude of cattle breeds a boon for Ireland -- long may it continue
Published 15/02/2012 | 06:00
'Why do we need so many breeds of cattle in Ireland?" I was asked. "We don't, but having variety in our cattle makes farming more interesting," I replied.
A garden with only sparrows in it would be a duller place, too.
Of course, cattle are not just for pretty pictures. Cattle deliver milk, meat, blood, leather and more. In parts of the world, cattle are still used as draft animals.
In Ireland, above all, cattle represent wealth and income, and at this point in time both beef and dairy cows represent an exciting opportunity. At their most basic, cattle are saleable assets that can be cashed to keep a family farm intact.
Ireland is one of few countries in which cattle outnumber humans. Others in this bracket include Uruguay, Paraguay, Botswana, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.
In the recent past, Brazilian cattle outnumbered humans, but a drop of 25m has seen cattle numbers fall to 175m head, while the country's population has jumped to more than 192m. (How they count all the cattle or the people in Brazil beats me.)
Given the importance of world food security, the shortage of beef for trading, coupled with the precarious Irish economy, our cattle population was never more important than it is right now. The pity is that numbers have slipped by 500,000hd since the peak of the early Noughties. At a conservative average of €700/hd, that's a loss of €350m from our national assets.
In my memory, I recall the Irish cattle herd switching from predominantly the British-based genetics of Shorthorn, Hereford and Angus to a majority Continental-sourced Holstein Friesian, Charolais and Limousin, plus a plethora of newer imports.