A life-long interest in genealogy led to a four year labour of love for Wexford farmer Greg Walsh, delving into the intriguing roots of livestock breeds found on present day Irish farms.
The result is Cattle Breeds In Ireland - A History, a mammoth encyclopedia-like publication, stretching to 588 pages.
Now retired from farming at Taghmon, Co Wexford, Greg travelled to meet livestock breed associations and breeders in five European countries, interviewing and profiling 72 farmer breeders.
He also visited 198 farms in Ireland, all of which are individually profiled.
The hardback publication, containing 1,650 high quality photographs and illustrations as well as 28 detailed maps, traces the origin of each breed, the breeders' views and experiences with them as well as management techniques and economics, from the most rare to the traditionally Irish and largest of the imported genes on today's modern farms.
"I was doing genealogy for the families down here where many are of Norman origin and most of the names would be scarcely known outside of this county," said Greg, explaining how tracing family roots had led to his interest in looking at the origins of the livestock on the farms.
During his research of Norman-origin families, he was given a book on farming in France by a friend, the illustrations in which impressed him greatly.
"I tried to get the rights to use the illustrations, but that proved impossible and then it was suggested to me to research a serious book on livestock breeds in this country - and that is how it started," he said.
There is great depth of detail on each breed, evidence of the painstaking research which has been put into tracing the origin and progress of each of the breeds, down to their existence on farms today and how their role has developed to becoming part of modern farming.
Seamus Caulfield, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, UCD, summarises it very well in the preface.
"Economic demands to maximise production in agriculture has led to the much to be regretted replacement of natural meadows with a wide range of high yielding mono-culture rye grass.
"Often we can now see the same with the animals - a mono-breed herd grazing a mono-culture pasture. It wasn't always thus," he says, adding that across Europe and its offshore islands, big and small dominant breeds have emerged.
"Greg Walsh's great endeavour has been to bring within the covers of this book detailed information of this great kaleidoscope of breeds of every hue and their particular attributes," he said.
"A book drawing together what is known about the traditional breeds of these islands would be a valuable contribution, but here we have the story of the introduction of new breeds right up to the present. And after that we have the great variety of local continental breeds, their particular attributes and the often unique local traditions of husbandry," he wrote.
From the origins of cattle, the layout is sectioned into breeds native to Ireland - such as the White Cow, the Brindled Cow, as well as Kerry, Dexter, Moiled and Droimeann - breeds introduced through Britain and the Channel Islands, the arrival of continental breeds 1965-1992, and the more recent arrivals. There is a fascinating section on the lesser known breeds, including the British White, the Speckle Park and Stabiliser. What breed most impressed him?
"The Parthenaise is probably the most dynamic breed society in France at the moment. The breed was almost extinct in France. They were down to 12 registered pedigree breeders when everyone got behind the breed because it was disappearing and, today, there are 60,000 Parthenaise cows in France," he said.
"I found the breed society in France very efficient and they are also very efficient in Ireland and forward looking.
"Since 1990, the English farmers have hardly adopted any of the newer breeds from France. There are hardly any Aubracs in Britain, very few Parthenaise and very few Saler, but here they are thriving - and these farmers are only getting into gear at this stage."
The beautifully-produced publication, Cattle Breeds In Ireland - A History is set to become a treasure in every library and the homes of livestock breeders across the country for generations to come.
Cattle Breeds In Ireland - A History is available on www.theboriepress.ie for €50.
Irish farmers take a punt on unfamiliar breeds
Experiences of many Irish breeders are featured in the book, some explaining how they came to like some of the lesser-known breeds.
* Michael Daly of Tower, Blarney, introduced the Speckle Park breed to his herd in 2010 after purchasing embryos with the intention to meet the needs of dairy farmers for an easy-calving beef breed of sound health. The first of the Speckled cows calved down two years ago.
* Kenny Gracey introduced the first two Longhorn cows to his herd at Forthill Farm, Tandragee, purchasing at the dispersal sale at Lord O’Neill’s in the early 1990s. He liked the breed so much that he travelled to Britain in 1998 where he purchased 14 heifers. The herd is now up to 40 cows and all of the progeny is sold directly through the Forthill Farm Shop.
* Curiosity interested James McEvoy to make contact with an English farmer, Roy Gosling, who arranged for the purchase of the Bazadaise breed for his herd at Leggamaddy, Downpatrick, in 1998. He was the first importer of the breed into Ireland, impressed by their low birth weight for easy calving and very high meat yield for beef. He has sold breeding offspring to several other farmers, including John Macken, who farms at The Naul, Co Dublin.
* James Murphy is the Irish farmer most intimately associated with having introduced the Rotbunt breed to Ireland when he added them to his 80 cow herd at Glenville, Co Cork, to improve his milk solids. Such was the effect on his herd, he quickly became one of the top five producers among Glanbia’s 4,300 suppliers for milk solids, while beef animals from the herd have shown much improved beefing qualities.
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