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Love elusive for last of rare bovine breed

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — A cash-strapped project that is attempting to ensure the survival of the last of a unique breed of cattle on Tory Island off Donegal has made a last-ditch appeal for sponsorship.

So far, romance hasn’t blossomed between Tory’s last short-horn cow and a young bull specially imported from the mainland last year. The growing bull is now posing a danger to islanders and visitors and is facing deportation.

Funds for the plan have run out and the bid to keep the species alive on the Irish-speaking island is in imminent danger of collapse if £20,000 is not found to build a bull-pen and shed and ongoing finance is not arranged for the breeding program.

The maturing bull has gotten so strong that it taken to pulling up tethering stakes and wandering free around the island. It recently made an impromptu appearance at the Tory Social Club and there is concern that it may attack some of the 180 islanders or visiting tourists.

The preservation of the Tory short-horn breed has involved cooperation among an unusual cross-section of conservationists and enthusiasts.

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Backing the project have been the island vet, Frank Mulreany, from Dungloe, Co. Donegal; Brendan Price of the Irish Seal Sanctuary in Dublin; the Irish Genetic Resource Trust; the Conservation Trust, Bord na G’ilge, and the United Farmers Association.

"The Tory short horn dates back centuries and is particularly well adapted to the island. It is probably one of the rarest breeds of domestic cow in the world. It is a good combination breed for both meat and milk. It would be a shame to allow it to vanish," Price said.

"There used to be a herd of 50 on Tory, which is the only island where the population is actually growing. We wanted to sustain and perpetuate the old breed, but no government department will help us."

Price said the group approached Sports and Tourism Minister and Donegal TD Dr. Jim McDaid, Ministers with responsibility for the Islands, cousins Sile de Valera and Eamon O Cuiv, and Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh. But no cash help has been forthcoming.

"We didn’t even get an acknowledgment for some of our letters. Preserving the breed would be a real lifeline for the islanders but none of the politicians seem to care."

The plight of the 5-year-old short horn cow led to a nationwide search to find a bull genetically suited to the task of keeping the ancient blood strain of the herd alive.

Felix, a 16-month-old short horn bull from Ballinalee, Co. Longford, who is registered under the name Letterkenny Eagle, was eventually found to be a close genetic match and was dispatched to Tory to do the business.

While Felix proved himself with calves from two cross-bred cows, his relationship with Tory’s last short horn hasn’t blossomed so far.

Cumann Aille Thorai (the Tory Cattle Committee), which is overseeing the project, has spent about £10,000 so far. If new funding can’t be found they are planning to sell off all the stock.

"Building facilities on the island is very expensive business as everything has to be ferried the nine miles out from the mainland. If we could secure £20,000 and about £3,000 a year we could sustain a breeding program that would build up the herd," Price said.

If the bull gets his marching orders, the other cattle will end up on the butcher’s block and with them the dreams of keeping the ancient bloodline alive into the new millennium.

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