Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

The worth of science

John Shirley

For the first time in its 46-year history I dropped by the recent BT Young Scientist exhibition at the RDS in Dublin.

There was a real buzz in the place. Brilliant young scholars from the 32 counties of Ireland were showcasing their wares. They were enthusiastically encouraged, backed by parents and teachers. And given the level of hormones fomenting in youths of that age, assembling a few thousand teenagers only added to the excitement of the three-day event.

Of the 520 projects exhibited, about a dozen, linked to farming, caught my attention. Indeed a couple of these may lead to commercial businesses.

Two projects compared the consumer acceptability of organic versus non-organic food. These were entered by Rhianna Robinson-McManus, Ballinamore Post Primary in Leitrim, and Jessica Gavin-Johnson, from Blackwater Community School, Waterford. Neither study was able to detect any significant difference in consumer taste preference between the organic and inorganic. If anything, there may have been a slight preference for the non-organic foods. The girls seemed almost apologetic for the result.

A project on earthworms from students at Meanscoil na mBraithre in Clare has put the wind up me. A flatworm, rejoicing in the name of Arthurdendyus Triangulatus, wormed its way into Northern Ireland from New Zealand some time back and is now feared to be spreading south.

This alien species gobbles up the Irish native earthworms, but does not carry out any of the desirable actions of the worms it has removed. Clare students Daniel Beggan, Ryan Doyle and Richard Curren found that when the alien species was introduced to garden plots it quickly reduced the existing worm population by 90pc. The Arthurdendyus Triangulatus is believed to have entered Ireland in soil attached to rose plants. It is primarily spreading via gardens but has also escaped out into farmland.

Bryan Finn, Patrick Hayes and Brendan Deasy from Clonakilty Community College found that they could drastically reduce the somatic cell counts of cow milk by straining it through an organic clay. The next stage of the project is to examine the effect of adding the organic clay ingredients to the diet of the cow.

Many of us believe that the best cattle breeders in the country farm around Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim. Paul McNulty, Aaron Duignan, and Joe O'Rourke, three local farming sons attending the town's community school, have come up with an ingenious method of assessing the weights of cattle. They have developed and graduated a 'weightape', which, when placed around the girth of an animal just behind the front legs, gives a read out of the weight. Much handier and cheaper than conventional weigh scales.

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Anybody who has tried to rear runts of orphaned lambs will be interested in the findings of Darragh O'Connor, Jimmy Brennan and Jack Kavanagh, from St Kieran's College, Kilkenny. They found that adding half a teaspoon full of bread soda every third day stabilised the digestion of the baby lamb and reduced mortality. The recipe came from one of their grannies.

Rose Magner, Eileen O'Flynn and Laura Herlihy, from Desmond College, Limerick, searched for a more environmentally desirable alternative to plastic for covering silage pits. They came up with a paraffin wax that not only seals out the air and water but also can be eaten by cattle, along with the silage. This removes the job of having to strip back the silage covers.


When making silage, Sarah Sullivan and Victoria Burns, from Bandon Grammar School, concluded that grass needs to have a 4.2pc soluble sugar level before it can be safely preserved without an additive.

Slurry on farms oscillates between being an asset or a nuisance. Noel Kennedy, from Tarbert Comprehensive School in Kerry, showed how hydrogen could be harvested from cattle urine. James Duffy, Christopher O'Brien and Francis McConnan, from the Patrician High School in Carrickmacross, designed a cover under the slats of slatted tanks, which allowed the slurry to fall down and then trapped the methane being released. This methane can then be converted into ethanol for fuel.

Sadbh Burke, Roisin Kelly, and Katie Connole, from Mary Immaculate, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, got remarkably good results from using dried rushes for heat insulation in buildings. As a result, maybe we could use the rushes as an attic insulation instead of fibre glass.

Incidentally, there were nine projects at this year's exhibition from this Lisdoonvarna school. The supporting of the Young Scientist RDS show year after year is very much linked to the enthusiasm of individual teachers. So from Lisdoonvarna, take a bow Mr John Sims.

Indeed, all of the competitors and their teachers at this fine annual event deserve huge credit.

Irish Independent

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