Monday 18 December 2017

Unwanted pied bulls and boxing hares...

Fisticuffs: It's not only male hares that like to box Photo: Phil Noble/PA
Fisticuffs: It's not only male hares that like to box Photo: Phil Noble/PA

Joe Kennedy

IT appeared as if Christmas had returned to the gently rolling hills of the West Cork countryside.

Last weekend, the landscape was blanketed in snow for more than a day and a night in a classic postcard scene.

Patches remained in ditches and sheltered places when dripping roofs and cars began a re-assurance that no big freeze-up was imminent.

Many magpies and wise rooks were scouring the fields for what they could dig out of the punctured softness after cattle had passed through earlier.

In the night and early hours barking farm dogs sensed a fox or two while patrolling premises. This is calving time and afterwards the scent of blood and placenta in calving sheds can be tantalising for prowlers.

I watched the emergence of a pied baby animal from the detachment of a CCTV monitor linked to a computer. It was a surprise to learn that this healthy new arrival, a bull calf, was of little or no importance in the tight economics of a dairy enterprise.

The little chap was a Holstein-Jersey cross breed - but it lost out on gender. If it had been a heifer it could ultimately be a milk and calf producer and be of considerable value, but a male from such parentage makes a poor prospect. Its genetics would be muscular rather than a good beef prospect and it would not be considered as a potential breeder.

From birth, all farm animals are tagged and registered. This little fellow would have its ID but, relatively, no future prospects.

The days of farmers bargaining for a deal for the odd bull calf from a VW Beetle-towed trailer on a fair day are scenes from a far distant past or a John McGahern short story. Fairs are part of the colourful history of rural Ireland and few people remember them today.

The imagination may be stirred while driving through fine wide streets and squares of some provincial towns with thoughts of the bustle of activity, noise and the 'clean' dirt of hay and straw underfoot and 'luck pennies' in firm handclasps as deals were clinched.

It's an Ireland that's dead and gone "and with O'Leary in the grave".

The little pied bull is an animal that nobody really wants and would cost more to process in the agricultural market than it is worth.

- A wildlife photographer asks me about sparring hares. Where might he see a bout of fisticuffs? Mayo, I tell him- and they'll be plundering kitchen gardens soon!!

Fur flies in the fields when mating activity gathers momentum.'Mad as a March hare' was first recorded in Chaucer's The Friar's Tale in the late 14th Century. It is a frantic business and I witnessed it twice, once from a train. It is assumed the boxing is between males, but not all the time. If the male is careless the female can give him a nasty chop as he leaps over her. Can she be faulted, as statistics show hares can mate up to 20 times a day - and the doe can become pregnant twice at the same time?

The photographer will have his work cut out sourcing boxing hares, especially on the eastern seaboard as they have almost been hunted out at locations such as Bull Island and airport fields. I wish him luck.

Sunday Independent

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