ON A very windy hill in south west Cork an unusual herd of cattle is farmed by a colourful couple.
Clare and Steve Collins have a suckler herd of Dexter cattle, 26 cows, 24 calves, four bulls and five steers near Kealkil (off the N71 between Glengarrif and Bantry) in Cork. They joined the organic farming scheme this year, and will be full symbol organic in 2012.
“These small animals finish quicker and are extremely thrifty, and good on soft mountain or boggy ground,” says Steve.
Their pedigree Dexter cattle graze year round on their 57 hectares. At present they take calves from birth to either finished steers or breeding heifers for sale. “We aim to have April and May calving, finishing on grass in the autumn at approximately 30 months,” he says.
Grazing quality is mixed, with some areas rough and upland heath. Soil fertility has been maintained with calcified seaweed, rotational grazing and clover.
They also use a grazing rotation system to turn the mountain into grazing land. A four acre area of rough mountain grazing is selected each year for feeding and within this area, the feeders and troughs are moved daily, to prevent soil damage.
By the end of the winter, the herd have thoroughly manured the four acre area, which is then harrowed, limed and seeded in the spring, so that the mountain is converted to pasture. This is gradually increasing the pasture area of the holding.
They also carry three pigs, rotated from field to field to help renovate pasture. Weeds are controlled by close grazing, topping and spring tine harrowing.
When it comes to producing beef, the couple can draw on an interesting nutritional background.
Steve is an MD with nutritional expertise of international standing. His research has been published in the Lancet and the Nature Medicine biomedical research journal.
Steve has been instrumental in revolutionising how malnutrition is treated. Previously, only small numbers of people could access treatment from a limited number of hospital beds, but he conceived the idea of community-based therapeutic care (CTC).
He says, “CTC programmes treat the vast majority of malnourished people in their homes, using decentralised networks of outpatient treatment sites to provide a take-home ration of specialist ready-to-use food and routine medicines.”
Millions of children have been treated in these programmes, which are being rolled out worldwide. He established Valid International, an organisation which provides technical assistance in the roll-out of these programmes, and an Irish business, Valid Nutrition, set up as a charity, but run as a business, with all profits reinvested into the charity.
Valid Nutrition manufactures specialist ready-to-use foods in the countries where the food is needed, thereby providing a market for farmers’ crops and stimulating the local economy. His work on famine relief in Africa earned him an MBE.
Steve’s globetrotting inevitably leaves Clare and a farm manager to do much of the agricultural work.
However, Steve’s background has also allowed him to see the merit and potential in leading edge grass production.
Steve says: “The plan under investigation is to reduce feed costs, and increase growth rates, by phasing out the use of silage during the winter, and introducing a fodder system to produce live, sprouted fodder from organic grains, pulses and oilseeds, which can be fed to the cattle on a daily basis.”
“This sprouting system greatly increases the nutrient value of grain, by increasing the bio-availability of a range of micro and macro nutrients. One kilo of grain produces approximately eight kilos of live feed in seven days.”
A positive of the use of sprouted oil seed, such as flax and sunflower, is that it will increase the essential fatty acid – “good” fats, such as omega 3 – content of the beef.
Dexter meat, it should be remembered, is considered a high-end gourmet meat, hung for considerably longer, with excellent marbling.
With such a unique product, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Collinses intend to direct sell their meat on line.
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