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Irish Moileds and rush control

RESULTS from an initial experiment on land at Oxford Island on the shores of Lough Neagh suggest that the ancient breed of Irish moiled cattle could be used to help control the spread of the soft rush (Juncus effusus) in wet pastures.

Áine O’Reilley, a trainee with the GAP Heritage Grazing project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has combined her degree in land use and environmental management with knowledge gained on her family’s beef farm to develop work that examines how traditional cattle breeds graze in species-rich wet grassland. As part of that study she decided to investigate whether moiled cattle would have any impact on rushes.

Rushes are generally controlled by cutting, spraying with herbicide, or weed-wiping. Herbicides cannot be used on species-rich grassland because they will also kill all sorts of other plants in the sward. Allowing cattle in to trample rushes after cutting has often suggested as a way to help prevent further spread.

While initial cutting reduced the rushes to 14cm, Áine observed that after only three weeks they were back to an average height of 46cm. Putting moiled cattle into the plot reduced the average rush height back to 18cm.

Áine said: “The moilies were happily munching away on the rush re-growth but we need to look and see if this result can be replicated in other places. If so, this isn’t just good news for farmers who keep Irish moiled cattle as part of their NICMS agreement. It shows that this traditional breed could have a wider role to play in controlling the spread of rushes on Irish farms.”

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