Doubt the Celtic Cow, be­cause we re­call the Celtic Tiger’s fate

Irish Independent - Farming - - Comment -

the lifted skin off the blis­ters on our hands.

I was at a con­fer­ence re­cently when some­one re­marked that kids grow­ing up on farms to­day have a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Ma­chin­ery is so much big­ger and faster and farms are far more dan­ger­ous so most chil­dren, in­clud­ing our own, tend to have a less ac­tive role. What im­pact will this have in the long-term? Will they have the same em­pa­thy with live­stock and love of the land? any­thing and, for about a decade or so, we diver­si­fied into sheep.

I had wanted to be a vet but failed to get the points. Twice. I stud­ied Nat­u­ral Sciences but, un­able to get a job here upon grad­u­a­tion, headed to Aus­tralia for a year where I got to live the great out­back ad­ven­ture, drov­ing 1,500 head of cat­tle across Queens­land on horse­back, sleep­ing un­der the stars in a swag.

On re­turn­ing home a friend sug­gested that I should write about this. I duly did and this was my first step into jour­nal­ism. I grad­u­ally built this into a full-time job and it was through my role as live­stock ed­i­tor with this pa­per that I met my hus­band, Robin Talbot, a suck­ler farmer from Laois.

The venue was the cri­sis meet­ing which kick-started the so-called 2000 Beef War. This launched the con­cept of the beef fac­tory block­ade and it was a ver y e ffec tive tool on this and sub­se­quent oc­ca­sions.

Farm­ers are back in con­flict with fac­to­ries again but I think the time has come to ei­ther find a new weapon, or es­tab­lish some new work­ing ar­range­ment as the cur­rent one is not work­ing. And isn’t it amaz­ing how, when each fac­tory ap­par­ently has its own mar­kets and cus­tomers, no­body is in­ter­ested in tak­ing bulls a day over 16 months?

Robin and I are mar­ried nearly 12 years and the changes we have made on the farm have been largely driven by mar­ket sig­nals and tight­en­ing reg­u­la­tions. We have moved from a split calv­ing sea­son to be­ing en­tirely au­tumn calv­ing. In more re­cent years, we’ve gone from ex­port­ing the best of our wean­lings to fin­ish­ing ev­ery­thing.

The males are now fin­ished as bulls. The older sheds did not have ef­flu­ent stor­age fa­cil­i­ties so we built two new cat­tle sheds that can house ev­ery­thing over the win­ter.

Mean­while, my brother Gerry, who now farms in Elm Hill with his wife Tr­isha and their three kids, has tried to build up milk quota at ev­ery pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity, tre­bling cow num­bers since my mother’s time. They are among the many such dairy farm­ers who are now at a cross­roads. Do they join the race into big­ger num­bers?

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the unchecked en­thu­si­asm about dairy’s prospects in Ire­land. It elicited a lot of re­sponse, among them a phrase which I think is worth re­peat­ing: “Be­ware the Celtic Cow, re­mem­ber what hap­pened to the Celtic Tiger.”

Farm­ing is chal­leng­ing and will al­ways be. It has be­come more in­ten­sive and there are fur ther am­bi­tious na­tional t arge t s f or in­creased food pro­duc­tion. So are we any bet­ter off than the pre vi­ous gen­er­a­tion and what for the next?

The sec­tor is now highly reg­u­lated. Run­ning costs keep ris­ing. Even more marked is the in­crease in cap­i­tal costs, a con­se­quence of in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion. But is there a point of di­min­ish­ing re­turns, whether that is in terms of in­di­vid­ual farm in­comes or unit prices? In­deed, what is the en­vi­ron­men­tal trade-off for all this ex­tra eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity? Time will tell.

For me for now, what do I see when I look in the mir­ror? Yes, plenty of wrin­kles, a few scars, a few inches around the mid­dle that I’d pre­fer weren’t there. It’s a lived-in and loved face and body. I am lucky, to have the best hus­band in the world, two lovely chil­dren, good friends and fam­ily, an ap­petite for life and the health to en­joy it. Now, that’s well worth cel­e­brat­ing.

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