Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter III - Section 2

Breed of Cattle - how far improved, and how far capable of further improvement

THE breed of this county are almost all long-horned, generally well shaped about the head, and tolerably fine in the limb, good milkers, and thrifty. They were formerly in great estimation with the Leinster buyers, who used to attend the fairs in spring (especially Innistymon) to purchase maiden heifers, until the frequent impositions practised by the breeders put a stop to it: it was no uncommon thing for a grazier to find several of his heifers springing, that were engaged to him to be maiden; this avaricious practice at length brought its own punishment in the loss of a trade, that, honestly pursued, would have enriched them. A few of the old Irish breed may be seen in mountainous situations; they are usually black or of a rusty brown, with black reflected horns, and large bellies, good milkers, and very hardy; but, as improvement takes place in these mountains, the breed keeps pace with it, and you will frequently see at fairs very neat cattle (I mean cows) the property of poor people. A few spirited individuals have either imported, or bought from those, who did, cattle of the improved Leicester breed. Amongst others, Mr. Molony of Kiltannon, Mr. Blood, late of Riverston, Sir Edward O’Brien, Mr. Daxon of Fountain, and the Rev. Frederick Blood, have procured fine bulls, the want of which hitherto has prevented a more speedy improvement in the breed of cattle; for, by a judicious selection, many very fine heifers, scarcely inferior to any that have been imported at enormous prices, may be had at the fairs, which, on being crossed with improved bulls, would raise the breed in a few years to a high degree of perfection; but, until this is done, it is in vain to look for any superior degree of improvement. I do not recollect seeing in this county a native bull likely to get good stock; they are in general heavy-limbed, with large heads, leathery jaws, and dipped in the back; but size, in the opinion of many graziers, constitutes perfection. It is a common cant, accompanied with a horse laugh, or an ignorant remark on the Farming Society of Ireland, that there is no breed equal to Phil. Roche’s, meaning, that, as he was an eminent exporter of beef in Limerick, that breed, which weighed most (and bone weighed better than flesh) in his scales, must be the best, without ever once considering the greater quantity of food it took to fatten this coarse-limbed and large-headed animal. For it has been uniformly found, that those beasts, who are fine in their shape, are most easily fattened, and those, for which premiums have been received at the shews of the Farming Society of Ireland, have been invariably perfect in their shape; amongst many others, the beautiful ox, for which Mr. Going received a prize at this shew; he was bred by Mr. Molony of Kiltannon, in this county, from cattle of a very superior breed, which he imported from Warwickshire, and was sold in a lot to Mr. Hastings near Killaloe, and by him to Mr. Going.

The custom of selling maiden heifers for slaughtering, at the different fairs, especially Ballinasloe, has tended very materially to retard improvement; for this purpose they are selected for the beauty of their shape and size at various fairs, and, after receiving a year’s feeding, are usually sent to Ballinasloe fair in May; had the same pains been taken to select them for breeding, and the ordinary ones killed, there would be a rapid improvement. It has been asserted, I know not with what truth, that the late Mr. Bakewell used to meet these heifers on the road in England, and purchase those of the finest shapes, and, after giving them his fine bulls, send their progeny over to us at very high prices. Nothing would contribute more to improve the breed of cattle, than landlords procuring good males of every kind for the use of their tenants, and giving them out at a trifling rate; for, paying for their use would make them anxious, and careful of their produce, and to those, who were too poor to pay, they should be gratuitous. One pig of a litter for the use of the boar is a good method; but they must beware of a trick, often practised, of bringing a young pig of the common breed of the county, instead of the improved kind. There is no sort of stock, that wants improvement more than swine; the general breed of this county is most wretched, and, as it is the poor man’s stock, and on the sale of which the payment of his rent frequently depends, it behoves every landed proprietor, for his own sake, to contribute to their improvement. The number of absentees in this county is very great, and surely, independent of their own future encrease of rent, this is the least they can do for the immense sums they draw from it to spend in other countries. This improvement might be effected, by agents to absentees being obliged to reside in the midst of the tenantry, and not, as is too common, in London or Dublin, never making their appearance, but when they fly down to receive the rents, and as quickly away again, totally ignorant of the destruction, that is usually accruing to land by too frequently burning it, to houses and fences from neglect, and to bog by improper cutting, &c. &c. There are some agents, who, so as they get the cash to enable them to make usurious discounts, care little what becomes of either land or tenantry; an agent, not living on the estate, appears to me a monstrous solecism in the management of it, and it is equally so to appoint one totally ignorant of the value of land.

Sheep have been greatly improved in their shape by the introduction of Leicestershire rams, but materially injured in the quality of their wool; this was formerly short and fine, adapted to the soil and manufactures of that part of the county, especially that produced in Burrin, and bore a high price at Ballinasloe fair in July; since that period it has become much coarser, and the old women regret the introduction of the Dexters, (as they call them) which, they say, spoiled their wool. The mutton of those high-bred sheep is by universal consent esteemed vastly inferior to that of the native breed, procured in the remote parts of the county*. 

It seems to be an opinion of most graziers, even the most prejudiced old-light men, that one cross with Leicester rams does not materially injure the mutton, but they will not allow it to go further. Mr. Blood, of Riverston, who possesses large tracts of rocky soil in Burrin, has with great judgement introduced the breed of South Down sheep, selected from the choice flocks of the Marquis of Sligo and Mr. Wynne of Hazelwood, convinced, that not only from their being amongst the finest-woolled sheep in England, but also from their approximation in propensities and in appearance to the ancient breed of the country, they are to be preferred for this kind of soil.

I have often with great pleasure viewed his lambs, produced by the first cross of South Down with selected native ewes; the improvement was astonishing; and there can be little doubt, that their produce will be covered with wool nearly as fine as the South Down; I have a sample of this wool, that is nearly equal to any South Down. The first cross gives the lamb half the ram’s blood—the 2d gives 75 per cent.—the 3d gives 87 per cent.—the 4th gives 93 per cent.; after that, if care has been taken in the selection, no difference will be perceived. In a sheep-rearing country such as Burrin, possessing a short bite, and requiring activity to gather it, there can be little doubt of the inestimable value of the South Down breed of sheep, and that the breeders have sustained a heavy loss by the deterioration of their wool**. 

At the fair of Ballinasloe in July, 1806, the best combing wool sold for 19s. 6d. per stone of sixteen pounds, whilst the South Down wool of the Rev. Mr. Symes of Ballyarthur, in the county of Wicklow, sold for 2l. 12s., and by auction, where there was every fair competition amongst the buyers. The average weight of the combing wool is about 5lbs. the fleece, and of the South Down about 3lbs., so that the native fleece sold for about 6s. 6d. whilst the South Down produced 9s. 9d. At the auction of fine wool at Mr. Berry’s in North Anne-street, Dublin, in September 1805, the following prices were obtained by the following breeders.

per lb.

s

d

Marquis of Sligo, No. 1. South Down,

2

5

Do. No. 2. South Down ram,

and Cunnamara ewe,

N 2

2

 

1

Marquis of Sligo, No. 3. Same breed,

2

6

George Grierson, Esq. South Down,

2

4

Rev. Mr. Symes,

3

3

Earl of Farnham, Spanish and Ryland,

3

8


Sales of clothing wool, in
1806, at the same place.

Rt. Hon. Owen Wynne, South Down,

2

9

Do. Do.

2

6

Rev. James Symes Do.

2

3

James Woodmason, Esq. Do.

2

0

Rt. Hon. Owen Wynne, Coarse South Down,

2

3

Marquis of Sligo, South Down,

2

1

Francis Trench, Esq. Do.

2

2

Nath. Trumbull, Esq. Ryland,

2

0

Marquis of Sligo, Best South Down,

3

2

Rt. Hon. Owen Wynne, 2 fleeces Ryland, 8lb.

4

1

Earl of Farnham, Spanish and Ryland,

3

9

Rev. James Symes, South Down,

4

0

George Grierson, Esq. Do.

3

4

Thomas Trench, Esq. Spanish and Ryland,

2

9

Francis Trench, Esq. South Down,

2

7

Colonel Brown, Do.

3

7

John Trench, Esq. Do.

2

6

Amount of sales, 442l. 2s 8d.

 Sales of clothing wool, in 1807, at the same place.

per lb.

s.

d.

Rev. James Symes, South Down 95 fleeces,

(13s. 3d. each,)

5

4

Do. Wicklow and S. Down

2

0

Marquis of Sligo, South Down, 289 fleeces

4

0

Do. Do.

2

5

Rt. Hon. Owen Wynne, Do. 34 fleeces,

2

2

Do. Cast Do.

2

5

Do. Do.3 rams fleeces***,

3

6

Do. Do.166 fleeces,

3

9

Bindon Blood, Esq. Do.

3

7

Rev. Thomas Trench, Do.

2

8

Lord Clermont, Do.

4

0

Do. Half-breed, 34 fleeces,

2

2

George Grierson, Esq. South Down,

2

1

Do. Do. 111 fleeces,

3

10

Amount of sales, 560l. 11s. 8d.

In point of hardiness the South Down sheep are equal to any breed, and the mutton of them produced at the Farming Society House in Ballinasloe, in October 1805, was of the most exquisite flavour, though only two years old; they were bred by Mr. Grierson, who deserves great credit for his spirit and perseverance in this and every thing beneficial to his country.

The swine of this county possess every defect of form; they are remarkably narrow across the back, thick-legged, and have monstrous heavy ears, nor are they so easily fed as the Leicestershire breed introduced by some gentlemen lately. Mr. Blood of Riverston received a medal, at Ballinasloe shew in 1804, for the best pig of any age, and greatly improved the breed of the neighbouring gentlemen and farmers, and even those of the cottiers, by hiring his boar, for which he received a pig of the litter at six weeks old; in my rides round his seat I could easily distinguish the improvement in the shape. The Rev. Frederick Blood has an improved breed of this animal; Mr. Daxon of Fountain from Lord Cunningham’s breed; and Mr. Burton of Clifden from Mr. Blood’s breed. Many farmers contend, that swine roaming at large thrive better than when confined; this proceeds not only from the filthy state, in which they keep them, but from irregularity in the feeding.

The breed of horses has dwindled very much, and, until that of strong active hunters is again introduced, little improvement can be expected. The introduction of Suffolk punch stallions would be of infinite use to the breeders of draft cattle, as they combine great strength with activity, and would help to banish out of the country that vile breed of heavy-limbed black horses, that have so long usurped the place of a more generally useful kind. There are a vast number of mules bred in this county, but with little or no selection; consequently you seldom see one of good size. Mr. Crow of Ennis has procured a very fine ass of the Spanish blood, which has greatly improved the size and shape, and, were any but the very worst sort of mares devoted to this purpose, a very valuable breed would be introduced. Asses are very commonly used, especially by poor people, and are highly useful, when the weight to be carried is moderate, but yet too much for a man. An ass and a small cart, or two baskets, as generally used in this county, will be found very serviceable for bringing clover or other soil to the stables and cattle-sheds in summer, because the frequent journeys, they are obliged to make, prevent that waste, which is generally made by bringing in a large quantity at once to save a lazy herd trouble. I never have gone into a house, where the soiling system has been attempted, but my nose could detect this abuse from the hot smell occasioned by the fermenting herbage, and the owner has often complained to me, that his cattle did not thrive on soiling, without knowing the cause; this it is, much more frequently than from too small a quantity.

Mutton, whose fat is yellow, frequently occurs in this county, but is not peculiar to it, as I have observed it in every part of Ireland, and often in Dublin markets, where some squeamish people object to it; but, if fat, it is equally good as any mutton, perhaps better. The cause of this colour has not perhaps been satisfactorily ascertained; it cannot be the food, as has been often said, for the fat of all the sheep on the same pasture would receive the same tinge; if it is from disorder, as has been contended, it must be one, that is not hurtful, as they fatten well, and on opening them no sign of disorder appears, as in the rot; a butcher in Ennis informed me it was certainly in the breed. In Guernsey, I am informed, the fat of both cattle and sheep is of a yellow colour, and remarkably well flavoured.

* The great propensity to fat, often objected to in this new breed, is one of the greatest encomiums it could receive; how very easy to encrease the number on an acre, and bring them down to the most squeamish appetite?

** Since the above was written, Mr. Blood has set his farms and sold all this kind of sheep, which must be considered a serious loss to that part of the county. A piece of superfine broad-cloth, manufactured from the wool of these sheep, has obtained one of the premiums given lately (March 1808) by the Farming Society of Ireland, yet the breeders permitted this valuable breed to leave their county.

*** The three rams’ fleeces sold for 2l. 10s. 9d. or 16s. 11d. each, and weighed 14 lbs. It will be seen, that these prices have not been obtained for a few picked fleeces, (as prejudiced graziers have more than once asserted,) but for whole flocks. Lord Clermont’s receiving 8s. 7d. per fleece of half bred sheep is well worth the attention of breeders, as indeed is the whole list.  

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