The Scotts’ Laois herd would be leased State-owned bulls that were made available to other breeders
Francis Scott reckons Hereford “is in our DNA at this stage”, and that’s nearly an understatement, given his family’s role in the development of the breed over the last nine decades.
Most notably, more than half a century ago, the Scotts’ farm at Rathdowney, Co Laois was a forerunner to the AI service for Hereford breeders, who travelled from all over the country to mate their pedigree cows with a State-owned bull on the farm.
“The bull was owned by the Department of Agriculture and leased out to us for breeding purposes, but the condition was that he had to be made available to other breeders,” recalls Francis.
“You could say the system was the forerunner to the AI service for breeders who wanted to breed better-quality animals.
“At that time many of the herd owners could not afford to pay that kind of money for a bull.”
These breeders regularly made long journeys, and with limited transport facilities, in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
“It was not unusual for to wake up at sunrise to breeders who had come from all over to have their cows served, sometimes through the night, waiting on the avenue to be directed to where to unload their female,” says Francis.
“They came from as far away as Roscommon, Cavan, Wexford and Limerick, in Massey Ferguson 35s and cars with small trailers, and some cows were walked from herds in the surrounding area.”
The first bull leased to Francis’s parents by the Department in 1957 was Churchtown Miracle, who had been bought for 1,000 guineas — a record price at that time.
The farm to hold a leased bull would be carefully selected; the bull would generally be there for about five years before being replaced.
Francis’s father Tim certainly earned the leasing of the bull on merit: having started his Knockfin Hereford herd in 1938, he was widely recognised as a great judge of stock, with a particular interest in Herefords.
His Knockfin Hereford herd was regarded as “one of the most select in the country”, says Francis.
Tim’s wife Patsy was heavily involved in the herd, particularly when Churchtown Miracle came to stand on the farm. She is still on hand to inspect and advise, at the age of 88.
Miracle had an exceptional breeding career. He and his son Knockfin Pirate — who was born prematurely at seven months’ pregnancy and had to spend his first six weeks in front of the Aga cooker in the kitchen, under the care of Patsy — started bloodlines that produced the numerous champions down through the years.
When Tim passed away in 1972, Patsy and Francis, who was 16 at the time, took up the challenge and continued to improve the herd.
In recent years Francis has been joined by his son Tim.
The Knockfin herd has been picking up top awards on the show circuits for decades, but Francis says: “What gives us the greatest joy is repeat customers —the people who have been recommended to us or those who come to buy stock after seeing our stock in their raw state in another farm or sales ring.”
Three stock bulls are run with the autumn-calving herd for peace of mind, and the bulls are mostly sold at the house to repeat customers, although they do take a few to sales in the spring.
The heifers are kept for breeding and sold at the house.
The Scotts run a closed herd — apart from the buying in of the stock bulls — to ensure continuation of the high health status.
On the merits of the breed, Francis says: “The Hereford are lovely quiet cattle, easy to handle, with easy calving, and they grade and kill out well, producing lovely tender meat.”
The breeding herd now comprises 85 pedigree Herefords plus a few commercials, which are kept beside a tillage enterprise.