“Nature is a wonderful thing. Every living creature has a part to play in it.”
– Uncle Paddy
As a girl, I would stand in the middle of my uncle’s barnyard and inhale the fragrance of sweet grass and cow manure, ripe tomato vines and hot July earth. The air smelled of innocence and animals, honesty and hay. I memorized this scent, so that I might conjure it when the city reeked of exhaust and car fumes threatened to smother my daydreams.
I have not been back to my uncle’s Missouri farm in many years, but I know the fragrance well. When summer rains fall in my suburban garden, I am that girl standing with arms spread wide embracing the fresh horizon.
Perhaps that is what initially drew my husband and I to one another that evening years ago when I told him stories of my uncle’s farm in Missouri, and he told me of his love for his uncle’s farm in the west of Ireland. We shared a passion for country air, farm animals, and the peace of an open field.
A Day in the Life of a Farmer in Ireland
This spring I stood among buttercups and buzzing bees while one of the uncles walked me through a day in his life as a cattle and sheep farmer in County Mayo, Ireland. Serenaded by the ubiquitous call of the spring cuckoo bird, the wind surrounded me with girlhood memories of fragrant sweet hay and cows ripe with unborn calves.
Uncle Paddy farms the land that has been in his family for generations. As a boy, he learned from his father and grandfather commitment to the land and the animals under their care. Uncle Paddy breeds all the animals himself, so he knows the health of their lineage.
He introduced me to three of his docile-eyed cows: Daisy, Essie, and Bessie. The diets of the expectant mothers are carefully tended. The right balance of healthy nutrients ensures a healthy calf and a better labor for the mother. If the mother cow eats more than her limit, the unborn calf has the potential to grow too large, which could result in a difficult and dangerous labor.
Depending on the time of year and the progress of the mother’s gestational time, the cows either birth in the field or in the barn. Given the circumstances of the birth, the farmer tends to the mother during calving if necessary. Usually, the female cows are two to two and half years of age before they are considered mature enough to safely carry a calf.
Uncle Paddy raises Simmental, Charolais, and Limousin cattle for meat and breeding. In addition to his herd of approximately twenty heads of cattle, he also herds over a hundred sheep: Charolais, Texel, and Mayo Mountain Horned Sheep. Each breed is hardy and easy to lamb.
Sheep on the Mountainside
Curious as to how the terrain impacts the flavor of the butchered lamb, I asked the Uncle about the sheep that cling to the rocky mountainsides in Achill Island. I was curious if their meat was tougher because of their physical exertions. Uncle Paddy’s pastoral farm is marked with rolling hills of grass and heather, as opposed to the rocky soil of the cliffs and the coastal flowers that grow amid the extreme winds and salty Atlantic air.
Curiously, the wild herbs that the Achill sheep feed upon contributes to a sweet meat with fine texture. Much like varietals of honey that result from bees that sup on clover, orange blossoms, or wild blackberries, the natural terrain impacts the flavor of the lamb.
Proud of his family legacy, Uncle Paddy works hard to maintain the prime quality of his product and the purity of his land. Farmers must work closely with the Irish Bord Bia to ensure that the provenance of the lamb and beef cattle is certified proof of farm-to-farm traceability. In fact, diners can expect to see the provenance of the meat and the artisanal producers of sausages and puddings who use their products listed directly on a menu’s meal offerings locally and throughout the country.
The Business Side to Irish Farming
After feeding the animals and discussing the business side to Irish farming in the twenty-first century, Uncle Paddy told me to hop in the jeep and he would show me the rest of his family’s land. With Cap the dog leading the way, we slowly made our way around narrow, hedge-lined bends, each field more beautiful than the last.
Uncle Paddy brought me to Dúirnawanna Field, the land which his grandfather and grandfather before him farmed. Maintaining the integrity of the land, Paddy has kept the original stone fencing marking the property’s gardens: The Five Gits and Préata, the kitchen garden where his grandmother tended potatoes.
The rows where the potatoes once grew are still neatly visible beneath the grass and meadow flowers. A beautiful tree stands as sentry to this serene place. Growing strong and free for generations, the tree reaches over the stone fencing and protects a carpet of spring bluebells. I remarked on this lovely tree and Uncle Paddy agreed, “Sure,‘tis a nice tree. I remember my dad talking about it and his father too.”
Such is the beauty of a farm. Years may pass, but land – kept, loved, and respected ensures that future generations can enjoy the simple magic of nature and an honest life well-lived.
Uncle Paddy’s dedication to his family’s land and his commitment to the humane treatment and compassionate care of his animals is evident throughout his farm. At heart, a trust must exist between the farmer, his steadfast sheep dog, and the farm animals in his care. While the day began to dim, I met Billy the ram, who made sure his want for an evening snack was well known. He bellowed a hardy “Maaaa” as the sun set beneath his back.
Cap kept me on a sturdy path, always with a loyal eye out for his master. Cows as pale as milky cups of tea regarded me curiously as I made my way throughout the barnyard. Mother sheep trotted to the trough for their evening feed, while the lambs frolicked and settled in to nurse at their mother’s heavy teats.
As Uncle Paddy beautifully declared, “Nature is a wonderful thing. Every living creature has a part to play in it.” Indeed, Paddy is a kind and compassionate director, with nature taking the lead.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at email@example.com.