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Colloquial phrases for farm animal ailments in Ireland

By Austin Donnelly | June 3rd, 2020

It seems there are a whole range of terms and phrases in Ireland, for common farm animal conditions. For a start if your ewe is yeaning, in counties Wicklow & Wexford specifically, that would mean she is giving birth. In co Tyrone if one of your bullocks was a bit of a pyne, that would indicate he’s a poor-doer or suffering ill thrift. If your cow had a prolapse of the uterus after calving, in the west she could be said to have her vessel out whilst in many other areas it would be her calf bed out. Here we look at some more fascinating phrases.

In many parts of Ulster, if your cow had a red, hot and swollen udder, you might call your vet and ask them to come and treat her felon, for this is the local term for mastitis: an infection of the mammary gland. In counties Donegal & Tyrone you might alternatively be reporting that this same cow has a case of weed. Whilst in Leinster and Munster it would be, she has start. While in the counties closer to Dublin she would have blast. In co Galway, the poor cow would be said to be blown or blown-up. In co Tipperary she’d have cruds and in co Cork gargot. It was difficult to ascertain if having two or more cases at the same time on a farm in Ulster would constitute a felony, but you never know!

If your calf was suffering from a chest infection or cough, whether she had a draw, a blow or had a chill would very much depend on what part of Ireland you are in. The same calf would have an impression in co Sligo, would be lifting in co Donegal, suffering founder in counties Derry & Tyrone and have a case of catarrh in co Galway.

If you farm in a low land area and in the summer your cow starts passing red water, she may need treatment for Babesiosis: a blood infection carried by ticks. Whilst red water is actually the most common name for this condition throughout Ireland, it’s interchangeable with Murrain. In Connaught they say red murrain/blood murrain, in co Tipperary its murns, whilst in Ulster its murll, merle or mure.

Many will have heard of scour, a widely used term for diarrhoea, frequently seen in calves, foals and lambs. While there are many variations of the term skitter used for this condition throughout Ireland, in counties Kildare & Dublin, farmers say the animal is suffering  flux and in co Tyrone it’s gut murrl. It follows then that the opposite of this condition; constipation, has a few colloquial names too. The widely used term is dry murrain and in county Tyrone, we hear of dry mure.

In the summer a farmer may find a few of his cattle with sore, teary eyes. Pink eye is the phrase commonly used to describe this infection carried between beasts by flies. In mid Ulster it’s known as forest disease, in co Galway its pearl eye and they say the beast has one eye cold in Leinster.

Cattle grazing the first flush of spring grass are at risk of developing grass tetany. This can cause them to have tremors and can prove fatal. Farmers will leave ‘lick’ buckets or blocks out in the grazing pastures to help prevent this. In many parts of Ireland this condition is also knows as the staggers and locally in co Westmeath it is termed the starts.

If your cow developed unsightly growths or warts on her skin, in many areas of Ireland she would be said to have a case of angle berries. In co Galway this condition is also known as strawberry foot. Similarly, if she developed circular patches of hair loss around her eyes or face, she could be suffering from the fungal infection known widely as ringworm. In counties Laoise & Offaly they call this condition tethers or tetters. In co Dublin it’s scruff, scurvy in co Galway and poc in co Tipperary.

There are also many different regional, traditional treatments for these conditions, including from folklore. In the next article we will look at cures such as ‘turning the sod’ to treat hoof infections, hanging holly in barns (female plants with berries) to prevent ringworm and feeding forge water for gripe.

With special thanks to the farmers and vets who contributed phrases for this article.

You can read more from Austin over on his blog – Austin Donnelly Writes  

Got any more local animal terms or phrases? Please email to animaltales19@gmail.com

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