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Local terms for farm animal ailments in Ireland

In this article, University College Dublin veterinary medicine graduate, Austin Donnelly, MVB, tells That’s Farming’s readers about local terms for farm animal ailments in Ireland in the final article of a four-part mini-series.

If your bullock needed a jag to help clear a cough in Co Armagh, that would mean he needed an injection.

If a farmer in Co Galway was concerned such a cough might spread from one beast to another, he might call his vet and ask, is it taken?

Whilst in Tipperary in the same circumstances, a farmer might inquire – is the cough smitten or smittle?

Meanwhile, in Co Kerry, a beast that has gone back in her ‘male’ would mean she is off her food.

In County Monaghan, if a farmer rang to say they had crossed their dog over, that would mean their dog had been in an accident with their car!

Local phrases for animal conditions

Here we look at some more of the local phrases and terms found for animal conditions around Ireland.

Depending on what part of the country you are in, your cow’s udder may be called a bag in the midlands, an elder in Ulster or a dug in counties Tipperary and Cork.

And if she were to have the misfortune of damaging one of her teats in county Meath and surrounds, the farmers would report she has a bad spin.

If your ewe had a prolapse of her cervix prior to lambing, in county Galway, they say she has her reed out, while in county Longford, she would be said to have her lew out.

This ewe would be suffering from red ball in county Kerry, have her rose out in county Offaly, while in counties Wicklow and Wexford she would have her bairn out.

When it’s time for the ewe to lamb and she’s made a start, in county Kildare the farmers say she is sick to lamb, and if she was at it a bit too long and not progressing, they would say she has been caking a while.


A cow that is in heat and ready to visit a bull is said to be bulling in Co Kerry, is gone to dairy in the midlands, is looking away in Ulster and in Co Leitrim, she would have a case of the rambles.

A follow-up pregnancy test of this cow a couple of months after such a visit, in the north and west of the country is termed – to dip her.

Similar terms for being in heat can be used for a mare, but in Co Clare, you would also hear it said, the mare is fierce anxious, or she is horsing.

While out cappin your cattle (an old phrase that refers to getting helpers to stand in and block gaps as cattle are moved from one field to another), you may discover a beast that is having a bit of difficulty walking.

One of the causes of this could be an infection between the hooves known in counties Clare and Limerick as foot rot and widely known in other areas as foul in the foot.

In counties Tyrone, Antrim and Derry, the terms scald, thrush, rough foot or founder are heard for this condition.

Note also that a beast with a founder in parts of the north can refer to having a bad chest, so the distinction between chest founder and foot founder would be needed.

In the summer months, cattle out in the meadows grazing can get a sore teary eye from an infection carried by flies.

This is widely known as pink eye, but in mid-Ulster, it’s forest disease, and in county Galway, pearl eye.

In counties Westmeath and Clare, this condition is termed new forest eye, whereas the expression, one eye cold is used by farmers in county Dublin.


Ketosis is a condition seen in some dairy cows that are producing a lot of milk but not getting enough energy in their food to keep up.

A cow that is suffering from ketosis will have a sweet smell on her breath. Such a cow would be said to have sugar deficiency in counties Carlow, Cavan, Tipperary, Fermanagh and Waterford.

She would have sweet breath in counties Clare, Derry, Limerick Tyrone and Kildare.

Meanwhile, she’d be suffering smelly breath in county Waterford, diabetes in county  Laois, sour stomach in county Limerick and have a case of the slow fever in County Wicklow.

Got any more local animal terms or phrases? Please email – [email protected]

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

Donnelly’s book

For some veterinary tales, read about Donnelly’s adventures as a vet, who has travelled from his native Ireland to the far reaches of Australia and New Zealand, in his book, Whiskers Feather and Fur – Veterinary Tales.

You can purchase the book via this link – available in audio, Kindle and paperback.

See other articles in this series:

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