Locals in north Kerry have turned out "to comb" a field where 20 cattle died after ingesting lead in the past week.

The mostly young animals died after licking pieces of discarded battery in a number of locations within a six-acre field at Meelcon, Tarbert.

Gardaí, who are investigating the incident, made a renewed appeal for information yesterday.

The chairman of the Kerry branch of the Irish Farmers' Association, Sean Brosnan, said batteries are highly dangerous because they leaked lead, adding "the cattle died a horrible death".

Gardaí said they are keeping an open mind on whether the battery pieces were discarded carelessly by a passer-by as rubbish, or dumped deliberately with the intention of targeting the cattle.

John Stack, chairman of the Farm Family Committee of the North and East Kerry Development body, said the farmers, Ned O'Hanlon and his son Patrick O'Hanlon were very upset at the loss.  

The family had bought the land at Meelcon in recent years and most of them had been in Germany at a y wedding when the incident took place.

Mr Stack, who decided to organise the search, said he was astonished at how many people showed up.

He said "all of the 2017 " replacement cows had been destroyed, with a number of animals left blind following the incident. 

Some 46 calves had been in the field.

The field had been "combed inch by inch" to make sure it was safe for cattle and a nearby field, also belonging to the O'Hanlon family, was also searched.

Mr Stack said the combers  found  discarded pieces of battery in two or three different places, at least 20 yards apart.

He said a person would want "a great throw" to  scatter the pieces over the ditch and so widely.
 
Inspector Pat O'Connell, who is coordinating the investigation, said gardaí would like to hear from the public on the incident, particularly if anyone saw the batteries being thrown into the field.

"At this early stage we are conducting a lot of local enquiries," Insp O'Connell said.

The incident occurred between 29 July and 2 August.

Most of the cattle, who comprised almost half the herd in the field at the time, died over the bank holiday weekend, with the last deaths on Wednesday last.

The current loss to the farmer is estimated at just under €11,000.

Vets visited the scene and samples from the dead animals have been sent for analysis.