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*Sucklers on the Melody farm. 

There is something about a scent and its power to transport you away to another time or place. To even an urbanite, the sweet fragrance of hay wafting through the air on a balmy summer’s breeze can arouse a nostalgia for summers past.

I often feel when we decide on making some hay here that the decision is based more around novelty than practicality. Hay however is handy and in this country we do not always get the chance to string enough dry warm days together to make nice hay so for old times sake why not make at least the minimum amount.

Anecdotally there is plenty of quality hay already saved. The more forage conserved on the island of Ireland the better, it means that we won’t have to import hay or silage should there be another late spring like 2013 or 2018. It is food security from an animal point of view. Old hay after all is old gold.

The Department of Agriculture published its report recently on cattle numbers in Ireland giving a county by county breakdown. What really stood out to me was that Co. Clare has the third most suckler calves born each year at some 66,232 making up just over 66% of calves born in Clare in 2020.

Amidst all the talk of dairying replacing suckling, Clare is still a major player in the industry and a vital hub for producing quality weanlings for export and stores for big finishing farms on the east coast. When the Sheikhs and Coolmore want nice orange Charolais cattle to graze their extensive stud farms, it is to the marts of Clare they go to acquire their quality stock.

It is important to remember that much of our county is unsuited to the likes of dairying tillage or fattening cattle. The sturdy Co. Clare suckler cow has proven herself adaptable and capable of producing something of value in a quality calf. While the temperatures have been sizzling over the past week, the cattle trade continues on its rich vein of form. This is a great boost to the farmers of the county and a badly needed one.

Our local economy cannot function without many strands of industry. The humble suckler cow is the four legged steward of much of our landscape. She prunes down the grass which in turn creates a lush pasture that stops our countryside being encroached with scrub and overgrowth. Clare has a unique economic tapestry where industries like agriculture and tourism have a symbiotic relationship, our suckler cow is central to this.

The suckler farmer in many cases has off-farm employment, and many of these farmers are employed in Shannon within some field connected with the Airport and tourism. The lower labour requirement of the suckler cow versus her dairy cousin boded well for this type of part-time farming. Many of these farmers would tell you whatever they make from their farm is reinvested back into it along with some of their off-farm earnings. In many cases across rural Clare, this is the model that fields GAA teams and keeps young people in the area and helps stem rural decline. Long live the Suckler cow!

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