Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Despite the awful hardship, the thick blanket of snow unlocks our true sense of community

John Shirley

On farms, the novelty of snow wears off very fast. As I write, the snow outside is of Good King Wenceslas proportions but I do hope that it doesn't stay until the Feast of Stephen. Some 35-40cm (14-16in) of the white stuff fell on the fields, roofs and roads of east Carlow and surrounds.

I almost got cross with the national radio telling us how bad the snow was in Kilkenny or Louth where they had a mere 20cm. And in the middle of the blizzard on Wednesday, a man looking to buy straw came in and informed us that it was a lovely sunny, dry day in Knock, Co Mayo.

Coming as it did, so heavy and so early, the snowfall caught many cattle and most of the sheep still in the fields. There wasn't a hope of travelling to feed stock in the fields of deep snow without a four-wheel-drive tractor. On the roads the four-wheel-drive jeeps came into their own.

But the arrival of the snow has had one big positive. It has shown yet again the importance of good neighbours and has stimulated the great sense of community that lies latent in our country. Around our area, Billy Farrell's JCB and bucket cleared the snow in several yards, including mine, allowing access to silage and sheds. The trick was to clear the snow before it got driven on. Once the snow is packed by a wheel tyre it is lethal for those on foot.

My nephew and near neighbour can testify to this. A fall on a wheel track on a concrete yard resulted in a broken arm. This called for me having a late-evening rush to St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny and then onto the Regional in Waterford. Luckily one lane of the new M9 motorway remained open. I did notice that the nearer I got to home the heavier the snow was.

Just like last January, the Siberian cold has again led to freeze ups in milking parlours, in troughs and drinkers. The awful hardships in farmyards is back with us. By accident last January there was a slight leak from the tap in our yard. This small leak, plus the fact that the tap was down in a barrel of water, meant that the tap kept working and water was available right through the freeze up. Other pipes and the drinkers in the shed are frozen.

However some will argue that cattle on silage only do not need extra drinking water and that they will adjust to living on the moisture that is in the silage. Certainly sheep will do fine on the moisture that is in grazed grass at this time of the year.

Farmers have the machines and are more than willing to help out their communities to keep going through weather hazards; and rightly so. All over the country we see farmers out helping shift stricken vehicles.

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The news that Cork County Council initially refused an offer from farmers to grit the roads on "health and safety" grounds, does not surprise me. It's a symptom of how this country is being paralysed by red tape. How often have we heard of sensible, helpful developments being thwarted on grounds of health and safety, insurance or legal constraints. I don't how many times that I have heard Taoiseach Brian Cowen saying that "advice from the Attorney General" prevented the Government from interfering with over-generous retirement packages for underperforming public servants.

Even a staff member from the Health and Safety Authority agreed with me that health and safety regulations are now impeding progress and making Irish business less competitive through extra costs. The business organisation IBEC is also of this view and recently held a conference on this issue. It's not politically correct to say it but in addressing some of our perceived problems the cure is worse than the disease.

All schools in this area have been closed on safety grounds. How do families and schools operate in countries where winter snows are the norm? I sometimes wonder are we giving children the wrong signal by closing schools too soon at the hint of bad weather. The signal is to concede to the easy option at the first challenge rather than tough it out.

This is in contrast to the efforts being made by local nurses and carers to get to their hospitals and patients. Locally I hear of farmers bringing their spouses to their work place in tractors. Where there's a will, there's a way.

I look out and see that snow is again falling on top of what is already the deepest fall in my memory. The weather forecast has ruled out a thaw in the near future. The old timers talk about the winter of 1947. I hope that this is not going to be another '47. Anyway I'm off with a couple of kettles of boiling water to see if I can get the water flowing in the frozen drinkers.

Irish Independent