Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Hardy Scots could come to hill farmers' rescue

Hardy Galloway and Belted Galloway cattle breeds.
Hardy Galloway and Belted Galloway cattle breeds.

Lousie Hogan

The prospect of hardy Galloway cattle controlling vegetation on Ireland’s uplands is being actively considered by hill farmers.

Much of the hill and mountain commonage has been deemed ineligible for the ANC and Basic Payment Scheme in recent years because of unrestrained growth of wooded heather and purple moor grass.

Hill farmers blame the prevalence of this vegetation on the Department of Agriculture’s policy of destocking the uplands in the 1990s.

However, the INHFA are looking at the option of putting Galloway cattle back on the hills as a way of bringing vegetation growth under control.

Last week a group of 21 farmers visited the Galloway region of southeast Scotland to view how farmers there managed the stock on the hills.

“In order to get our hills back to the condition they were in previously famers are going to have to be allowed to graze our uplands under a different set of regulations. One way of achieving this could be by grazing cattle all year round on the hills,” Sean Martin of the INHFA maintained.

“In 2011 after some research and in consultation with the Department I decided to introduce Galloway cattle to my own commonage. I chose the Galloway breed because of their hardiness and their ability to graze on heather and molina grass (purple moor grass),” he pointed out.

Native to Scotland, Galloways are a hardy breed with a thicker skin and double coat of hair that means they can live outdoors all year around and thrive on the tough mountain grasses.

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On hill and upland pastures, the Galloway breed will graze down purple moor grass and heather, which improves the natural herbage for sheep, wildlife and game through the removal of this roughage.

The Galloway cow is a hardy, low-cost animal. She is generally fertile, easy calving, and has a good supply of milk. In addition, Mr Martin said there is a good demand for the finished stock.

Vincent Roddy of the INHFA said that while the Nitrates Directive had effectively pushed cattle off the hills, there was now a growing realisation that keeping cattle on uplands was necessary to better control the heather. “I believe there wasn’t an understanding of all-year-round grazing, but now there is an acceptance that it has a role to play in hill farming,” Mr Roddy claimed.

He said the INHFA visit to Scotland examined how the Galloway cattle were kept on the hills through the winter, and the end market for the stock.

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