Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter III - Section 6

Modes of feeding, and how far housed in winter

THE usual mode of feeding on natural grasses has been before detailed; feeding cattle in winter in the house, except by very few gentlemen, and cottiers or small farmers, is little practised; these last usually keep their cattle in the house only at night, and too frequently turn them in the day into a wet field, where they can scarcely find any thing eatable; they poach the ground full of holes, which retain the wet all the winter and spring, and, if intended to be cropped, retard the season for ploughing and sowing, and may justly be esteemed one of the principle causes of bad crops; if the ground is covered with grass, the injury by this bad practice is very great, as, if pasture, it retards the growth of the earliest and best grasses; if it is intended for meadow, it is usually eaten until far in May, often later; of course, the crop of hay is not only scanty, but, ripening at a late season, it is commonly caught by wet weather or heavy dews; besides, this late cutting prevents the growth of after-grass, that would, if produced after early meadow, sustain their cattle as long in autumn and winter as the weather continued dry.

Stall-feeding, I believe, is little practiced; there is no market, that would take any quantity, except Limerick or Ennis; the latter market is not worth notice for this kind of stock, as a few would glut the market.

In the western parts of the county near the Atlantic, called the far west, the cattle are usually housed for five or six months, as the pastures, except in very good shelter, are quite bare, and storms of wind and rain very frequent.

Housing sheep in winter is not known in the county; the land shelter and perpetual verdure, it is said by graziers, renders the practice unnecessary, especially in those large tracts of limestone soil, that are chiefly occupied by them; snow seldom lies on them for any length of time, except this year, 1807, when great losses were sustained by the suddenness and depth of it, drifted by the wind; some sheep remained for near a month under it, and were saved; many were also lost by the carelessness of shepherds, and what better can be expected, where some farms are fifty miles from the proprietor, who perhaps never sees his stock from the time he sends them there in May, until he meets them at Ballinasloe, in October? This probably may answer in grazing, but I am convinced no other speculation could bear such neglect.

Some good graziers make sheep-cocks of hay, but it is by no means general, and in Burrin quite unknown. Bad wintering is the cause of a defect in the wool, called by the manufacturer the second growth; it is a decay in the middle of the hair, and it breaks off here in the working; if the sheep are well fed in summer and spring, but neglected in winter, this defect takes place.

A few gentlemen, and the better kind of farmers, keep their swine confined in winter, but the cottiers usually permit them to roam about in the day, but always provide a place for them to retire to at night; this is usually done by excavating a hole in the face of a bank opposite to the south, and covering it with a few small sticks, and thatched with potatoe-stalks, scraws, tough sods, or any other convenient material; but to often they are permitted to take up their abode with the cow at one end of the cabbin; this is however much less frequent than it was formerly, and if resident gentlemen or the agent of absentees could be brought to think, that they have other duties to perform besides receiving rents, a very happy change doubtless would take place in this as well as in other bad practices, which it is more the fashion to talk about after dinner, than to endeavour to reform. Multitudes of swine of all ages are fed on the corcasses along the Shannon and Fergus, and are always in high condition.

Mr. Singleton, if I am well informed, who possesses large tracts of rich corcass ground, (upwards of 1000 acres,) buys store oxen of the largest size in May, feeds with hay in winter, and after a second summer’s grass sells them fat in Limerick, and this on ground, for which he could get seven guineas an acre for meadow. I confess I am quite at a loss here; to pay fifteen guineas for an ox at Six-mile-bridge, feed him two summers and one winter on ground worth seven guineas an acre, and sell him for a profit of perhaps five pounds! It baffles all calculation; it must be however be recollected, that Mr. Singleton pays only 9s. 6d. per acre for the greater part of this ground, but surely no beast would pay fourteen guineas profit, besides, what I believe is never once thought of by graziers, interest for two years. Mr. Singleton has always had the finest cattle, that were killed in Limerick; many will sacrifice a great deal to support their reputation for being at the top of the market; but even supposing, what may be the case, that the cattle are laid in at the October fairs, and fed one winter and one summer, yet this would be at an expence of 11l. 18s. 10d., supposing an acre in summer and half an acre for hay; had Mr. Singleton been more communicative, I might have been able to clear up this point.

The horses of the poorer classes are as badly kept as their cattle, of course unable to perform good work in spring: those belonging to gentlemen and substantial graziers are fed like those of the rest of Ireland; some are fed well, and others get but a scanty share of oats: it is no uncommon thing to find the stables of men of large fortune quite destitute of oats, and perhaps of hay, in the middle or end of summer; and, whilst their guests are enjoying every hospitality in the parlour, their horses are neglected in the stable, and I would advise no person to travel with a valuable horse without a sharp-sighted servant, that will not be bashful; to the above I am happy to state there are many exceptions, as I have often experienced.

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