Opinion: 'Farmers love their animals....but it's not said often enough'
The force of this feeling was very evident during the fodder crisis - farmers who were struggling on so many levels were most stressed about not being able to look after their animals as well as they would want to.
Farm animals have a job to do. In return for their work, we give them a comfortable place to live, quality food, vaccines to avert illness and veterinary care if they do become sick or injured.
So it hurts to hear bad things being said about us.
Yes, there are occasional incidents of animals being ill-treated. This is usually when something overwhelming has happened to those responsible for them.
But I would say there is not a farmer reading this who has not calved, foaled or delivered the young of some animal dressed in their pyjamas and wellies and, at the other end of the sartorial spectrum, in their Sunday best.
No matter if you feel sick or hungover, on Christmas morning or if there's a death in the family, the cows will be milked. Ditto the weather. In hail, snow, drought or flood, a farmer's thoughts are always of their animals being fed, watered and having a place to lie.
At times, the concern for them will even supersede that for the family.
Indeed, many farm accidents occur when a farmer is trying to help out an animal, irrespective of the danger to their self.
A recent Teagasc survey found that one fifth of Irish farmers have never visited a doctor regarding their health. Yet if an animal was unwell, a farmer would not hesitate to call the vet. Cost doesn't come into it.
Fifteen years ago, our first baby, Rachel, was stillborn at term. She had been perfectly healthy until a couple of days before when something went wrong and it was not detected.
Going down the yard days later, I heard the distressed breathing of a newborn calf. He was lying on a thick bed of straw under an infra-red lamp, suffering from pneumonia. The vet made several visits.
Though Robin was heartbroken, his instinct was do everything for the calf, who duly recovered. And, yes, in time, he was slaughtered for beef.
Raising animals which end up as meat in no way takes away from how much we care for them.
The upside of this is Irish farmers are still in a position where, when we call for help, it is heard as the majority of reasonable people recognise and respect what we do. This is very heartening to know.
But we farmers need to realise this reputation is precious. Because goodwill is conditional.
So when we do get in bother, we need to ask for help, especially when significant numbers of animals are concerned.
In the current climate, I would be worried if anything happened to the live trade for young calves.
Looking after animals well with a view to feeding people is a noble occupation that farmers should rightly feel proud of.
Instead of reacting to the attacks on us in a fire-brigade manner - because those kinds of battles can never be won - we need to focus on telling our own good story at every opportunity.
Thus, it is good to see that four farms around the country will be hosting open farm days for the public in conjunction with Agri Aware next Monday, May 7.
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