Saturday 17 February 2018

Country Matters: Dairy cows and cut grass

Dairy farmers will be delighted with this whether their milk goes to Kerrygold or not
Dairy farmers will be delighted with this whether their milk goes to Kerrygold or not

Joe Kennedy

On the first day of June, the wind has shredded leaves and small handles of green twigs from trees and shrubs overhanging a wall.

A man with two black labradors took his charges through knee and thigh-high yellow flowers of praeseach buidhe (charlock), Alexanders and a confusion of grass meadow varieties.

The plunging dogs reveled in the cool wetness wiping over their backs. From a small river in flood three mallard were startled. The dogs bounced about but there were no ground birds to be sent aloft.

The morning had been very cold in Dun Laoghaire which I earlier visited. The People's Park has been re-vamped - complete with built-in chess boards - and the produce market stalls have been arranged in a new and neater display. There were queues at the cafeteria.

The magnificent horse chestnut trees, giants of peaceful shade, looked splendid as always in Clarinda Park and gave shelter from a sudden burst of ice-cold rain.

I had watched a young raven here once and terns diving at the port which gave some inspiration to Samuel Beckett and others. The raven, aggressive in food-seeking, was familiar with people and may have been an aviary escaper.

A wild grass meadow in another place remains untouched year-on-year in an area of dispute. It is frustrating to contemplate the hay that could be cut as it once was and tossed into cocks and saved.

Cattle had grazed here by a water-mill, long gone, on the fringe of what was once a monastery farm when it was at the edge of a city suburb (rus-in-urbe).

I had been so arrested by a bucolic display in a weekend UK magazine advertising Kerrygold butter that I phoned a dairy farmer in West Cork for his opinion! He was amused and pleased of course.

The double-page spread was a creative piece extolling the goodness of flower meadows, mowing and cows on after-grass, a credit to the writers and visualisers, the advertising agency and, of course to the Irish dairy industry. It did not lack poetic inspiration!

It introduced 'A Walk on the Wild Side' and went thus: "Our meadows are an untamed and largely unknown treasure trove of plant and animal life. It's high time you discovered them." And there was more on the lines of "cattle-grazing plays an essential part in the meadow system…."

However, there was perhaps some romantic licence in a euphoric portrait of countryside not much in evidence these days, like the corncrake and the curlew of "wildflower meadows left alone in spring when the flowers grow and set seed.

"After the hay is cut in summer, grazing cows eat the remaining grass… more than a rich habitat for bees, small mammals and birds… meadows maintain the health of the herd." And so it went.

Dairy farmers will be delighted with this whether their milk goes to Kerrygold or not. Philip Larkin, poet, wrote of cut grass dying in the "white hours of young-leafed June... with chestnut flowers, hedges snowlike strewn."

Canadian scientists say children who don't drink cows' milk may have insufficient levels of vitamin D. A survey showed youngsters who drank milk from sources other than cows had levels of 20 nanograms per ml below average.

Sunday Independent

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