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ON THE FARM: Healthy animals leads to healthy food which makes healthy people

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Healthy food leads to healthy people says The Clare Echo’s farming columnist Joe Melody who admits daily messaging from health officials surrounding the virus are missing a trick.

Sadly it’s become part of most people’s daily routine. We wait with bated breath for the daily count of the latest Coronavirus cases. Interspersed through these bulletins is the public health advice we receive, wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance and we’re reminded of the roll out of the much needed vaccine.

What I cannot understand though is there’s no daily reminder to eat well, exercise and build a resilient immune system, all things that are under our own control. In Ireland we’re lucky to have an abundance of locally produced nutrient dense food that along with regular exercise can build an active and robust immune system to take on viruses and pathogens.

We know that nature is full of pathogens and viruses. Anyone who grew up on a farm will have had their immune systems well tested and trained to be more robust in the process from being exposed to the soil and various microorganisms. How does Irish agriculture contribute to a healthy immune system though for non farming folk, I hear you ask. Well it all centres around the proliferation of pasture based farming.

In Co. Clare, the majority of its land area is unsuitable for tillage but grows grass vigorously. I feel we often loose sight of how wonderful the food produced off this pasture is especially in a world where our beef has been commoditised rather than been put on a pedestal as an example of what all beef should aspire to be. It is rich in Vitamin A and E which are essential for a strong immune system. These cattle get these vitamins themselves from eating rich pastures and being out in the open expressing themselves as cattle rather than as a unit of production.

Milk produced from cows that graze pasture is rich in Vitamin D which is a hugely important vitamin for a resilient immune system. These cows have lots of this vitamin because they are out grazing in the open soaking up the sunshine, these cows in turn produce a milk that is not only life giving but is health enhancing.

These are only two examples of bovine produced foods but the same can be said for lamb produced off grass as is done all across pockets of Clare especially in the north of the county. Lamb produced off these pastures have on average 14% less fat and 8% more protein. Why is this? Movement! These sheep are out in the elements constantly walking and grazing just like the cattle do. This leads to strong muscles and healthy animals which in turn leads to lean quality meat. This is healthy food that leads to healthy people.

On our farm, we have seen the difference pasture raised animals can make to food quality and animal health not just in beef we raise or milk we produce but in the past year with the arrival of my brother Frank’s 400 clucking hens who really enjoy their pasture. These hens are moved regularly just like a herd of pasture fed dairy cows or rotationally grazed cattle. The egg yolks are an almost orangey colour with a firm egg white. What is the first thing you see when someone is sick? Their colour. So food should be no different, a healthy egg yolk colour is a sign of a healthy hen thriving on their natural omnivorous diet foraging for insects on fresh pasture expressing themselves rather than scratching a dust yard or being locked in a cage as some sort of a robotic egg producing machine.

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