November past Vincent Roddy, chairman Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, and a score of members visited several leading Scottish Galloway Herds en route home from Agri Expo in the Borderway Mart, Carlisle.
Why the growing interest in Galloways by a new generation of farmers in the Irish Republic, especially along the western seaboard? Until now Galloways were mostly seen in SW Scotland, the Borders and Ulster.
According to Vincent in the 1990s many Irish upland farmers, encouraged by their government, destocked, let cattle numbers fall and came to rely almost solely on hill sheep.
“Now the benefit of mixed grazing is clearer as without cattle too much wooded heather and purple moor grass appears on the hills, thus making some ground ineligible for EU Basic Farm Payments and environmental support funds,” explained Vincent.
“Our members farm hill land, including commonage and areas covered by various EU environmental schemes. They increasingly see Galloways with their unique ability to survive and thrive under tough conditions as an attractive option, not least in areas of high rainfall.
“These are cattle that can produce quality beef at a profit from well managed, relatively low cost farming systems.
“We were very impressed with the herds visited and there is definitely a greater interest in the Galloway breed in many areas of the Irish Republic.”
The Irish Natura and Hill Farming Association, INHFA, was established in February 2015 to represent farmers on hill designated and environmentally valuable land. ‘Seeking fairness, not favouritism’ the organisation strives to keep family farms viable and valued from both an agricultural and environmental point of view. That their first meeting drew a crowd of over 1,500 was a reflection of strong feelings of neglect in the hill farming community.
In recent years there was a perception that the Irish Republic’s government was being tempted to use any lee way in the application of EU schemes to favour intensive lowland farms.
Vincent and his wife Theresa farm 400 mountain acres at Lough Talt in Co Sligo in the far west of Ireland. A world away from Theresa’s home farm on the banks of the Danube in Austria. 20 years ago she came to Ireland to develop the Lough Talt farm her late father had bought as an investment. Today the Roddys run over 250 easycare sheep now being joined by Galloway cattle.