The landless young man who became a champion pedigree beef breeder
Peter Casey had no land and drove an ambulance for a living, but that didn't prevent him scaling the heights in livestock breeding
As a landless young man buying his first pure-bred Hereford, Peter Casey seemed unlikely to have his name carved in the annals of pedigree breeding history.
And the advice of his local vet that "I was mad to get into Herefords because I knew nothing about the breed" wasn't much encouragement.
Almost half a century later, the 84-year-old from Sligo, who admits to having "a love for livestock", has achieved a record equalled by few, if any, as a breeder of exceptional award-winning pedigree animals across four of the main beef breeds.
It is all the more remarkable when it is considered that his herd at Lisnalurg is also one of the smallest pedigree herds on the registers of each of the breeds in which he has been taken an interest.
From a total herd size of less than 10 breeding females, he has produced 14 pedigree bulls for the main AI stations in the county, winning 15 championship titles in one breed alone. His breeding bulls also became breed leaders at the Department of Agriculture Progeny Testing Centre at Tully, Co Kildare, in each of the breeds which he has kept on his farm. That's a truly remarkable record.
He was the first person in the country to be awarded a National Hall of Fame Certificate in three different beef breeds and has been trusted as a livestock judge at more than 100 agricultural shows in recent years.
The retired ambulance driver, who got "more than my wages for the whole year" when he sold his first prizewinning Hereford at the RDS in Ballsbridge, simply puts his achievements down to being "successful with each breed that I kept".
Born in Sheffield in the UK to Irish parents, he came to Sligo with his folks at a young age and rented six acres of land for his first pure-bred purchase, a pedigree Hereford heifer that cost him £135.
"In November 1969 I purchased my first Hereford, an in-calf heifer, Spacot Hazel, from James McManus in Carrick-on-Shannon," he said of his venture into pedigree breeding.
She was sired by Terwarren Goldfinch and in calf to Ballyraggan 358, and produced a male calf in January 1970, which he sold a year later for 350gns.
"It was there I met the late Brian Duffy. He advised me to go to Donegal to a Dan Diver who had Herefords for sale. I purchased two dry cows from him for £300," he explained.
"One was Rorardstown Melody, which I later sold to the late James Henry, who later started the Lisadell Herd. The second cow, Collagh Bea, went in calf to Terwarren Goldfinch and she produced a male calf Lisnalurg Bullfincha, first prize-winner at the RDS Show and Sale, and was sold for 650gns," he said.
"My wages as an ambulance driver at that time was £12 a week, so the bull made more than my wages for a whole year," he said.
Lisnalurg Vincible was one of two Hereford bulls from the herd which became the top performing Herefords at Tully and were purchased by Dovea AI Station, Co Tipperary, and Sligo AI Station.
"I then added pedigree Limousin as they were going very well at that time and they were very successful with me too. I had the top of the breed at Tully twice. One was purchased by Sligo AI and the other by Dovea AI," he recalled.
Next added to the herd was Angus and then Charolais, while the Limousin were discontinued because, at the time, they were "a bit harder to handle" than the others.
Charolais and Angus bred in the herd also became leaders of their years at the testing station at Tully.
Fourteen bulls from the herd across the breeds have been purchased by AI stations and several of the progeny have collected awards at the various national and regional agricultural shows.
"I have 13 Angus tankards for championships in the breed, although I never had more than two Angus cows in the herd," he said.
Last May, he became the first in the country to win three Hall of Fame Awards, the latter for his Hereford breed at the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone.
Three years ago he received the Hall of Fame Award for the Angus breed, and in 2013 was presented with the same accolade for Charolais.
He retired from the day job 25 years ago and is looking forward to celebrating his 85th birthday in October.
Having started out with no land and renting a six-acre field for his first purchase, he now owns 40 acres with 10 breeding females in Angus, Charolais and Hereford in his breeding herd.
Daughter Pauline, one of four girls and four boys to Peter and his wife, Maura, has taken a keen interest in the pedigree stock, while he admits to "keeping an eye on things".
"I do love the animals," said Peter, and of the breeds which make up the herd, he said "the Herefords are very quiet and easy to handle; the Charolais a bit more difficult but great cattle; I got out of the Limousin because I found them a bit wild for handling at that time and Angus are generally easy to manage."
So how did he acquire the skill to become a record making breeder of pedigree stock?
"I picked up the knowledge as I went along. When I bought my first Hereford, my local vet told me that I was mad to get into Herefords at all because I knew nothing about the breed and they turned out to be very successful," he said.
With a room full of trophies for his stock over the last five decades and judges badges from more than 100 agricultural shows at which he officiated, Peter is an exceptional man in the livestock world.
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