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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Lay of the Land: Back when cows had names and character

A herd of Blue-gray crossbred steers. Irish prices have fallen in recent weeks.
A herd of Blue-gray crossbred steers. Irish prices have fallen in recent weeks.

Fiona O'Connell

The herd of cows on the floodplain have disappeared; one day I looked out and saw only three. A week later, they too had vamoosed.

I'm not the only one who is sorry. Pauline grew up on a farm and loves cows.

"I could sit and look at them for hours," she says. "But no one has much to do with them anymore."

Her family farmed sheep and suckler cows. Both were both well looked after. However, the cows got more personal attention.

"We were better acquainted with them," Pauline explains.

They also had spotty faced cows, "which you hardly ever see nowadays. Spots could give cows a wicked or a gentle look, depending on where they lay on their faces. Sometimes the spots gave them the appearance of wearing a pair of glasses".

Her family had names to identify one beloved bovine from the other. "Like Rhino, who had a big and little spot above her nose, so she looked like a rhinoceros. Another cow that was at home for years and years went from being called Baby Spot to Mammy Spot to Granny Spot."

She recalls one cow with "spots that said don't mess with me!". Apparently, her character matched her appearance, and she was known as Devil. "She never failed to miss an opportunity to make a swift kick at whoever passed behind her."

Despite this devilish behaviour, Pauline's mother had a real affection for Devil. "She looked on her as a likeable rogue, who gave her much amusement."

There were also names, like Humpy Back, Bent Ear, and Bulgy Eye. Skin colour provoked names too, like Copper Cow or Patchy.

Two roan heifers bought in the sales became the Strawberry Sisters. "When they got older, the redder one became the Ripe Strawberry and the other Pale Strawberry. But they also became rogues and became known as the Rotten Strawberries."

But the funniest names were those of the blow-ins, for they were called after their previous owners.

"Many was the conversation about how thin Joe Doyle had gone, or that Maggie Kenny needs a dose," Pauline laughs.

Pauline believes farmers felt real affection for their cows back then. "The cows had their own individual identity. They were liked and appreciated for giving us calves every year. It didn't matter if the calf was big or small, as long as it was alive and well. Even if it wasn't, the cow was given another chance the following year."

But today's focus on finance means things are different.

"Cows on modern farms are only numbers. The computer screen gives the information, and sadly, if the cows don't produce a big, giant muscular calf year in and year out, they are loaded up on the lorry, never to be seen again."

Leaving me to wonder where all the Daisies in the floodplain have gone.

Sunday Independent

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