Down on The Farm in June
June is a prolific time for farmers in Ireland. As the summer rolls on, jobs are plentiful and there’s not much time to sit around and do nothing! A couple of horticultural skills are very much at the forefront of Irish farming in June.
Silage and Haymaking
Silage and haymaking is also taking place now. Silage is grass which is cut and quickly gathered whilst fresh, then wrapped in plastic to form large bales. Inside the bales, the fresh grass ferments and is used for animal food in the winter months. Hay is grass which has been cut and left in the fields to dry, also used to feed farm livestock, horses and small domestic pets like rabbits. June is the best month for haymaking, which has its origins in old Irish agriculture.
Farmers of old would prepare the fields early in the year, by dressing them with farm manure to encourage growth. When it was time to cut, this could either be done by hand with an old fashioned long handled scythe, or by manual mowers drawn by horses. After cutting, the grass would be left in the field to dry, turned with a fork by hand regularly to ensure even drying. When it was deemed ready, farmers would go into the fields and pile the hay into stacks in the traditional way, using pitchforks. Back breaking work using traditional skills. Gathering the hay was a real community affair, with the farmer’s wives working together to bring food and drinks to their hungry and thirsty husbands. A picnic would be enjoyed in the fields, with the children helping out and joining in. For kids, haymaking was a great source of adventure – a way of being involved in grown up work and a bit of excitement during the long Irish summer!
If you want to see how haymaking was done in the old days, the annual Trim Haymaking Festival at Scurlogstown, County Meath, is taking place this Sunday June 18th. This festival showcases the traditional methods of haymaking and has lots to offer for a family day out. The day features a scythe cutting competition, which will attract the masters of this agricultural art, all competing for the trophy!
There’s also a ‘Roll in the Hay’ competition, where couples are paired for a fun obstacle course. The course description says couples will form an ‘unbreakable bond’ – this is because they are tied together! They have to climb a gate, then the lady has to be pushed in a wheelbarrow along part of the course. Couples make a joint effort to push a bale of hay along the course, then worm their way under a big tractor tyre on the way to the finish. If they fall over, of course they will roll in the hay! Strangers are often paired together for this hilarious challenge. Festival organisers reckon they may well have been responsible for a marriage or two in previous years! Matchmaking at its finest. Loads more fun than a dating site, we would think!
Sheep shearing is another farm skill which has been handed down from father to son for generations. June is the month when sheep are traditionally shorn of their heavy wool coats, which they don’t need during the warmer months. This gives time for a healthy new coat of wool to grow again before it gets cold in the winter.
Sheep shearing involves sleight of hand, speed and co-ordination, as the fleece is removed by hand from the wriggling animal.
If you’re travelling around Ireland this month, you may well see fields of sheep which have just been shorn, as the annual All Ireland and All Nations Sheep Shearing and Wool Handling Competition has just taken place over the June Bank Holiday weekend. Sheep are brought from all over Ireland for this competition, which attracts shearing teams from Wales, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand as well as Ireland. The deft handwork of these professional shearers is only to be marvelled at as they shear a flock of sheep in moments. Every second counts here and only the best win the top trophies.
Visit a Sheep Farm this Summer
Killary Sheep Farm is close to Killary Fjord in Connemara, one of Ireland’s most spectacular places to visit.
The farm offers sheep shearing demonstrations and the opportunity to see working sheep dogs in action, plus walks along the fjord and traditional bog cutting sessions.
If you want to make a weekend of it in this area, Delphi Lodge Country House in Connemara provides superlative accommodation and culinary delights, situated conveniently for exploring Connemara and Killary Fjord.
Kissane Sheep Farm in Moll’s Gap, County Kerry has been a working farm owned by the family for over 200 years. The farm offers sheep shearing and border collie demonstrations. Set in the wonderful Killarney National Park between Kenmare and Killarney, here is a breathtaking setting in which to discover the traditional skills of sheep farming. The Malton Hotel in Co. Kerry offers great accommodation for exploring Killarney National Park and the wider Ring of Kerry.