Hereford: The breed that has stood the test of time
The breed that "always kept bread on the table" is Martin Murphy's definition of the Hereford.
After more than 40 years of breeding pedigree Herefords on his farm in Co Tipperary, he is confident that the future is as bright as the successful past for 'white head', as the breed has been commonly known for generations.
"I bought my first pedigree, a heifer, at a clearance sale at Rearcross in 1971 for £75 and I have not looked back since," says Martin, surrounded by some of the 16 pedigree cows alongside the commercials on his farm at Toureenbrien, Rearcross. "I started off from there and built up the herd, and it is still going.
"I have to say one thing about the Hereford: they always kept the bread and butter on the table for sure; anything else in the commercials were not able to get into the same money even at that time."
A long-serving member of the Hereford National Council and former national chairman, this month Martin became the first person to be elected to the office of national president for a second term, having first served in the role in 2001.
Martin was chairman of the Munster branch of the society on two occasions and represented Irish Herefords at the European Hereford Conference Germany in 2002. He will represent the society once again at this year's event in Hungary in September.
He is confident of a bright future for the breed, with the expanding dairy sector a target for increased demand for bulls for cross breeding.
"Herefords have stood the test of time and stuck it out when all the new breeds came in from all over the world and they are still more popular than ever today," he states.
"I believe that they will hold their place any way they are looked at because they are a good all-round breed and particularly suitable for crossing in the dairy herd."
Most of the pedigree offspring from his herd find new owners through farm sales and are rarely shown these days at the shows and sales.
"I get a lot of dairy men buying bulls. This year I sold all the bulls in pairs. I have one customer, a big dairy farmer, and in four years he has bought eight bulls off me," he explains.
"I always stuck to a reasonable price and I still have customers coming back to me because they feel that they are getting value for their money."
Of the breeding line, Dookey - a heifer he bought in Roscommon - turned out very well and another, Toureenbrien Una, bred in his own herd was also a successful cow having got her first red rosette as a calf at Limerick Show before going on to receive several other prizes.
On the sire side, Rathcor Express, a popular bull at Dovea 25 years ago, remains one of his favourites, of which he still has some straws.
"I have used some of the imported bulls from US and Australia, 93J and bulls like him that came in were very successful. Bishophill General is a very good bull," he says.
He has some concerns about the quality of some of the breed and the need for culling to achieve higher standards.
"I'd also like to highlight the importance of good management and culling poor-quality cattle in order to maintain the high standards associated with Hereford," he says.
"These must be adhered to as the demand for Hereford beef is constantly growing.
"In order to meet these demands we must produce good-quality cattle to remain competitive with other breeds and create an even more efficient product, ensuring that cattle that will finish well with less feed in a reduced time period.
"I would like to see better conformation in Herefords. There are too many bulls out there that are not good enough in my opinion, and I have issues around the conflict for breeders who are trying to match 'stars' with the bull they would like to be buying.
"I have judged at a lot of shows and look at the bulls down the line - the really good square bulls are only one and two and three stars. The five-star bulls are nearly all down the line in judging because they haven't got the width.
"I had a really good cow that bred three bulls that made €3,000, €2,800 and €2,700. She was a five-star and I was delighted with that. She was breeding very well. I got €2,800 for a heifer out of her and she dropped from five stars to two stars overnight, and before she calved the next time she came up one star again.
"It is very confusing for breeders and we are not able to get satisfactory answers as to why it is happening."
Martin maintains that the general run of five-star bulls he is seeing don't score high for conformation, and some of the older bulls, like Rathcor Express, which every calf by is a five-star, were far superior to the later bulls.
Among the treasured trophies on the sideboard at his home is the large RDS Cup for Champion Female Heifer awarded the last time the Spring Show was held back in the late '90s.
A stalwart of the Irish Hereford Society, Martin Murphy is predicting a bright future for the breed, writes Martin Ryan
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