Irish charity Bóthar, which has been shipping livestock to developing countries for 25 years, now has the help of inmates of Shelton Abbey, Ireland’s open prison.

“I was eating my breakfast one morning and it was on the back of a cornflakes box that I saw their [Bóthar’s] annual appeal,” says Tom Gregan, the farm manager at Shelton Abbey.

“We have a patch of land here in Shelton Abbey, grassland and it was kind of going to waste and I was wondering was there anything we could do in conjunction with Bóthar, so I just wrote a letter. That would have been in 2008.”

Almost eight years later, Shelton Abbey and its inmates have cared for more than 300 cows and goats. The goats are quarantined in the prison before they are airlifted out and the cows are reared there.

“I have 26 cows here in total, 13 of them are this year’s calves, so they’re only six or seven weeks old,” says Tom.

“For the calves from last year, I’ll be hiring a bull in May or June to be put in with them, to put them in calf. Then come September/October Bóthar will contact me and say: ‘These are going to Kosovo or Rwanda.’ And I’ll have them scanned to make sure they are in calf.”

This has been a win-win initiative for the charity, for the recipients of the in-calf heifer and for the prisoners as well.

“I thought maybe if we got more livestock it would give more meaningful work to the lads,” says Tom. “The prisoners do absolutely everything. They’re my eyes and ears. On a day-to-day basis, especially this time of year when the calves are so young and they’re being fed off milk replacement, they do that every morning from 8.30am onwards.

“It’s amazing the level of ability of the prisoners that I would get. I would get farmers’ sons and then I would get someone from Dublin city centre who would never ever have been in contact with livestock before.”

Come autumn, Bóthar steps in and takes the in-calf heifer to its new home.

“We have an airlift of in-calf heifers in September from Shannon Airport,” says Bóthar CEO David Maloney. “A person who receives an animal, in our terms, has absolutely nothing. Sometimes they don’t have currency in their pockets. They’ve no necessity for cold hard cash.

“We send them the animal and the minute the cow starts milking they can use that milk to feed their children, they use the surplus to sell, they can buy schoolbooks, they can buy a tin-roof for their house, they can buy bricks, clothing, simple basic necessities that we take for granted.

“They’re going from hand-to-mouth to scratching out a living, to being able to provide nutritious food for their children. The minute that cow calves their life is changed.”

One Rwandan genocide widow, who received an in-calf heifer reared in Shelton Abbey has sent her four children to university as a result.

Once the widowed mother had reared and educated her children, she next adopted a genocide orphan, and changed their life too.

Next year, Bóthar will send in-calf heifers to Malawi and Tanzania.


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