Farmers in the west of Ireland, particularly those farming around the Burren, have seen some benefits to out-wintering store cattle, according to Agricultural Consultant Pat McMahon.

These cattle have a good bone structure, a good coat of hair and prove to be popular with buyers, he said.

Farmers near the Burren, Co. Clare, recently carried out an age old tradition by herding their cattle onto ‘winterage’ pastures in the limestone uplands where they spend the winter grazing.

“The land in north Clare, especially the Burren area, is more suited to it as it is free draining, but out-wintering generally isn’t an option in west Clare,” he said.

Health benefits of out-wintering cattle

The decision to out-winter cattle isn’t an option that is commonly taken by farmers, he said, due to the level of shed construction that has been carried out in recent years.

But it can have some health benefits, he said.

Choosing to out-winter cattle will lessen the stress caused to cattle around housing time and prevent the quick spread of disease when cattle are kept in a confined space, he said.

When housing cattle air ventilation can be a problem, while stress can see a higher chance of pneumonia with the risk greatest in younger stock.

There is no guarantee that out-wintering cattle will eliminate the chances of pneumonia, but it certainly helps, he said.

Is your farm suited for out-wintering cattle?

There are only certain soils that are suitable to out-wintering cattle, with free draining soils a better option, the Clare-based Agricultural Consultant said.

He said that fields that have received an application of slurry or fertiliser are least suited to out-wintering cattle.

“The ground tends to soften in fields where slurry or fertiliser has been spread, while poaching seems to happen a lot easier and faster in these fields.

Land that hasn’t been as intensively farmed, where no slurry or fertiliser has been spread, tends to be better suited to out-wintering cattle.

“There is a good crust on the ground in these fields and a good mat of old style grass,” he said.

While there may be some environmental benefits to out-wintering cattle, with cattle winter grazing in the Burren helping to promote the flora and fauna in the region, it can be labour intensive, McMahon said.

“If you have 25 or 30 cattle winter grazing on 25-30ha it may took some time to find them, which may not suit farmers who also have another job.”