Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter II - Section 6

Use of green food in winter

POTATOES are very much used in winter for milch cows and pigs; every cottier knows their value. The Rev. Frederick Blood, Mr. Blood, late of Riverston, and Mr. Burton of Clifden, have cultivated rape and borecole for this purpose, and found them of great benefit in spring; many others from their example are now preparing for their cultivation; they only want to be better known to ensure a general culture. Sheep prefer rape to borecole; when they have been turned into a field, where both plants were growing in great luxuriance, they scarcely touched the borecole, until the rape was all eaten; and it is remarkable, that there were many variegated curled borecole, which remained untouched, until the plain curled borecole was nearly finished.

The graziers say, that the perpetual verdure of their land, especially on the calcareous soils, precludes the necessity of providing either hay or any cultivated green food. In those vast tracts of rocky ground in Burrin, devoted almost exclusively to the rearing of sheep, the use of hay is almost unknown, (indeed if necessary it could not easily be had,) and the continuance of snow for any length of time is very uncommon; if this should happen, immense numbers must starve, or be lost amongst the rocks. On lands, on which a Leinster man would think his cattle would starve, I have often seen a bite for them in March, caused by the natural fertility of the soil, and the shelter of the limestone-rocks, which is also of the greatest benefit to stock in winter and inclement springs. In this part of the county the graziers are very much in the practice of permitting their summer grass to remain untouched until the following spring; it is called here winterage, and in England rouen, and, where it will stand, as in this country, is of inestimable value, and frequently sells for a much higher price than it would have done in summer, especially when a low price for cattle induces graziers to keep over some of their stock to another season.

In other parts of the county, that do not possess these advantages, green winter food would be of infinite benefit, especially in the eastern and western extremities, where, from, the retentive nature of the substratum, and a total want of drainage, vegetation is greatly retarded; here green food would be inestimable, particularly rape, as, after the head is cut off, or the leaves stripped from the stalk, the plants should stand for seed; and, from some experiments I have tried, I know, that those plants, whose heads are cut off, are less liable to the mildew, than when they are left on. As the cultivation of this plant is beginning to be well known, I hope the landlords will exert themselves to introduce this practice amongst their tenantry, as they may rest assured no one thing will tend more to encrease their rent-roll than the spirited cultivation of this plant; they need but cast their eyes to their immense tracts of bog and mountain, to be convinced of this fact. When it is intended to use rape for both purposes, it should be sowed earlier than is commonly practised; the end of June or beginning of July would not be too soon. Too much seed is always used, and the plants never thinned, which causes the seed to be small, and more unproductive than if left thinner; if they were thinned to nine or ten inches asunder, much more and better seed would be produced; when it is used for green food, it should be cut previous to the first of March, as cutting after that period would very much injure it for seed, and too much of the head should not be cut off. If it could be accomplished, the best method is to transplant it into drills about thirty inches asunder; this would give an opportunity of landing them, which would tend greatly to improve bog, and indeed every kind of soil.

The farmers in the west of the county, who have been for many years in the habit of cultivating oats, as best suiting their moory soils, in very bad weather feed their cattle on straw alone, and, from their defective management in saving it, it is usually very indifferent. Few have more hay than serves their horses, and some not near enough, in which case they must put up with bad straw, and little or no oats. This county may well be called the horse’s purgatory.

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