Wednesday 21 February 2018

Jill's cows are in paradise, not on the dinner plate

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Fiona O'Connell

Autumn is full of colourful contradiction. For though this season announces the year's approaching retirement, it can hardly be said to be the retiring type. Certainly, the trees around this country town are a riot of copper, gold and russet - fallen leaves stretching a stunning carpet over the earth.

Maybe that's a hint to us humans not to lose our mojo as we mature.

"If you feel like retiring - or if your health means you have to - that's fine. But sometimes you see people in their 60s onwards and still looking young, who are just hanging around, like they don't know what to do."

So says Jill Smith, the farmer who created a sensation by retiring her herd after decades of hard graft in the dairy. Thanks to a gofundme campaign and the support of animal rescuers, some of the herd have already gone to the animal sanctuary in England. Another lorryload leaves before Christmas, with the rest going over the next 12 months.

Jill is blown away by the love that was shown to her bovines.

"I never thought people would give money to rescue cows," she marvels. "Maybe for cats and dogs - but in this country, cows are for the dinner plate. It's just unheard of. It's so brilliant."

Her low expectations lay behind the decision to remain anonymous for so long. "I didn't think it would kick off, so I wanted to keep it quiet for as long as I could, though I felt guilty about not telling people. But it was all so new to me in the beginning. Only for Charlie's Equine Rescue [the centre which organised the campaign] where, I don't know what I'd have done."

And while this 70-year- old plans to take life a little easier, she has no intention of being idle. Some of the very old cows that were not fit to travel will spend the rest of their days on the farm - "to keep me occupied and sane", says Jill. "As my mother said, you want to die with the buckets in your hand."

This lively expression was inspired by Jill's aunt May. "She was out feeding the dogs - she always had cocker spaniels, for generations - when she dropped dead at the door. T'was lovely," Jill says, in that quintessentially Irish way. "Of course, her family were in shock - but what a way to go. A bucket in each hand and in her work clothes, with her wellies on."

But though Jill is keeping a firm hold of her buckets, she is finally starting to relax after the bedlam involved in making bovine history.

"There were so many things to pull together, so much to do beforehand to make it happen. It's hard to believe they are actually over there."

Jill admits that she pines for her beloved bovines. "I miss their faces around the yard. There isn't a night goes by that I don't dream about the cattle." While the cows probably miss their fair-minded farmer too, they are undoubtedly over the moo(n). For they say that if you love someone, you should set them free. And their human pal showed her true colours by giving them freedom - instead of fear - as their finale.

Sunday Independent

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