A Co Limerick farmer has stopped spilling his herd’s milk into a slurry tank in a dispute over a hedge – for now.
Robert Hickey of Carrigmartin, Ballyneety, said his cows’ milk was going into a slurry tank for 85 days in total.
“I dried them off last Tuesday (26 October). I’d normally milk until Christmas Eve and I'd have a few pound then for January. Overall, around €25,000 or €26,000 will be gone out of my pocket,” said Hickey.
He decided to dry off his cows early because of the slurry spreading deadline of 15 October.
“If the milk was going into a clear tank, I don’t know could I spread it the whole year round. This milk is going into a slurry tank. I read it in the [Limerick] Leader about the deadline and how somebody could report you. I am in the spotlight so people would report me.
"I have about a week's worth of milk in the tank. I couldn't let it build up – it would be too dangerous. The rules are there and if you break them, you will be up in court and fined,” said Hickey.
This all dates back to 2 August when the 52-year-old received a note from a driver for his milk processor. It read: “Last collection ‘til bushes cut back.”
He had previously received warnings that his milk collection would stop due to the overgrown roadside hedge along the public road leading to his property. Hickey says he won’t be cutting the hedge, as it is the council’s “responsibility”.
A council spokesperson said: “The landowner is incorrect in his assumption that hedge-cutting is the responsibility of the local authority and should cut his hedgerow from September 1.”
Hickey says this “contradicts” what a council employee said in a court case where he was prosecuted. During the hearing in 2018, the council employee said they take the view that it is responsible for the “surface and margin” of all public roads “in as far as the roadside ditch”.
Hickey's position is that the hedge “is in the charge of the council as was stated in court”.
“They took away my rights to my own property in court and now they're not taking responsibility for it,” said Hickey.
He said he became aware recently of a roadside ditch being cut by the council in the Herbertstown area. A council spokesperson said it had nothing further to add to its response given previously.
Hickey said the last few months have affected him both financially and mentally.
“It was very stressful at the start. It was very tough on me because this has never happened before.
"Then it became normal, as I was doing the same thing all the time. Since I dried off the cows, it really hit me again that this is ongoing and there is no solution to it. I got up the other morning at my normal time, went up to the parlour and only then I realised I had no cows to milk.
“It is affecting me big time financially. Normally at the back end of the year you would have a surplus of cash you might invest in maintenance work – building, fencing, drainage, getting your own hedges in the fields cut. Whatever few pound I have now I have to survive on until next spring and see what happens,” said Hickey.
When his cows start calving next year what is going to happen? “I don't know. I can't answer that until the time comes,” he concluded.