Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Some modest proposals for dealing with our milk lakes

Writer John B Keane.
Writer John B Keane.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Ireland's greatest writers include Kerryman John Brendan Keane.

He was not too different from many of his fellow county men, in terms of wit, sass and cute intelligence; it's just he was able to put it down on paper. Cue the joke: Did you hear about the Kerryman who had an inferiority complex? He thought he was only as good as everyone else.

Thus, I feel John B would be sorely disappointed that the men (and women) of Kerry (by which I mean the dairy giant which carries the county's name) and those working in the country's other milk processors haven't come up with more innovative uses for the vast amounts of what is supposed to be liquid gold now flowing out of the milk parlours of Ireland.

CSO figures show that Irish dairy cow numbers were up another 10pc in December on a year earlier, while almost every week seems to bring a further deferral of the date by which farmers can expect to see an improvement in milk prices.

John B once came up the idea of heifer coursing.

Anyone familiar with the canine version of the sport would guess the gist of it. First round up a group of skittish heifers. Then get 32 of the stoutest farmers in the parish and hold an open draw to organise them into 16 pairs. One heifer is released with a pair of farmers in pursuit. The winner of each heat is the farmer who succeeds in roping the heifer, taking into account first, second and third turns, as in greyhound coursing.

"Imagine the excitement," said John B, "as the fastest of the heifers, specially confined for the final, is released. The last two farmers are slipped, and off they go after the heifer amid wild cheering from the crowd. They swing their ropes and emit ancient and traditional cattle-calls."

He saw it as a way for an enterprising individual to earn a few quid and for farmers to get fit. "Abulia, inertia and obesity would soon disappear from the face of the countryside."

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Last year, the Irish Heart Foundation warned that 80pc of farmers are at high risk of heart disease and stroke.

There's no reason why a community couldn't take it on, either. It'd be sure to bring a great buzz to a locality and who knows what spin-offs. Small point-to-point trainers might even take on a few racy looking bovines.

Admittedly there is a danger that such events would attract the anti-blood sports brigade. As long as they pay their admission, let 'em in. Anyway their protests would soon be swamped by the general jamboree. And maybe it would attract the glare of the media? Bring 'em on, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

But, while heifer coursing might generate some extra income for farmers and their local communities, how does it help the burgeoning milk lakes?

Not directly, rather it points to the role of inventiveness.

I recently came across a snippet about how, in parts of the country, milk was traditionally added to whitewash. Actually, what was used was the protein casein, which can be separated from skimmed milk by adding a weak acid.

This then reacts with the lime to form calcium casein, which improves the binding capacity of the whitewash, making it more suitable for indoor use than the standard whitewash which rubs off easily.

Given the current wave of interest in traditional crafts and natural materials, caseinated limewash could not only provide an outlet for milk protein but, also, as annual application is required, regular localised work.

I also see that "hay milk", produced by grass-fed cows in the Austrian Alps, has been awarded the EU's Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) seal of quality.

The cows are fed in accordance with the seasons; grass and wild herbs in the growing season and, otherwise, sun-dried hay. The resultant milk is valued for its high quality and nutritional value, which has seen it dubbed '21st century champagne'.

On a slightly related vein, I recently began started drinking a fermented milk drink called Kefir, which is currently enjoying a boom in popularity.

With a bubbly appearance and carbonated taste, it can have an alcohol content as high as 1-2pc. But its main attraction is as a highly nutritional probiotic drink.

I know none of this may seem all that useful but, again, it's about intent. To return to another quote from John B: "The most vital ingredient of all for creating new employment is the imagination."

Indo Farming