Rare Kerry cattle under threat from dog foul bags

Kerry cattle. Picture: The Kerry Cattle Society
Kerry cattle. Picture: The Kerry Cattle Society

Anne Lucey

People  walking dogs are throwing plastic dog foul bags into fields where the rare Kerry cow, Ireland's oldest and rarest breed of cattle grazes, the council in Killarney has been told.

The black Kerry cow, is one of the  oldest breeds in Europe and descended from the 4,000 year old Celtic shorthorn. 

It  is native to Kerry and has been kept from extinction in recent years by the State on its lands at Farmleigh and Muckross, and also largely by the efforts of third generation Killarney farmer Ms Raymonde Hilliard at on her lands at the Cahernane.

There they graze alongside the uninvited Killarney red deer, the country's oldest mammal, and the shiny small black cow is  a tourist attraction for walkers from the town.

A council meeting has been told the rare breed (there are only around 900 left among less than 100 herds) is now being put at further risk by pet owners discarding  their rubbish and the unsuspecting cattle are injesting the plastic directly and through the silage made from the grass.

There has been a rise in dog numbers and the walking route between the Cahernane and Lake Hotels is one of the most popular dog paths in the town.

John Joe Culloty, a member of the Killarney National Park liaison committee and a councillor said people are discarding their dog foul bags over the wall “and the cattle are eating it”

The landowner had very little support in the past from the national parks and wildlife service – with deer eating the grass .

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“The least the council could do” was put rubbish bins along the route, he felt, as well as appeal to the public not to throw their plastic over the wall, Mr Culloty said..

“This piece of land is invaluable to Killarney and it is very little to ask,” Mr Culloty said.

Fellow councillor Michael  Gleeson said  he has known of cases of cattle eating plastic and dying.

“This lady has made a very good contribution to Killarney in a very quiet way through her herd of Kerry Cattle and deer grazing on her lands,”  Mr Gleeson said.

“This is a litter offence. People have a responsibility to pick up what the dog leaves after him.  And for someone to pick it up and throw it over the wall, that is an enforcement issue,” John Aherne town engineer has said.  

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture has said several cases of ingestion of plastic by cattle are recorded each year.

“The ingestion of plastic by cattle is recorded by Regional Veterinary Laboratories each year, and these cases are invariably associated with the ingestion of waste farm plastic to which cattle have gained access (silage cover, bale wrapping, baler twine/netting)”

The Department has said  plastic can cause fatal obstruction of the digestive tract in cattle.

However , such cases are rare and the presence of plastic  is usually an incidental finding, it added.

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