12 December 1997

Still vivid

after all these years

Geoff Thomas has vivid memories of stock farming in

Herefordshire and the Welsh Border country over the past

80 years. Hereford cattle, in particular, have been his life.

Jeremy Hunt asked him to reminisce

HE is widely known as "the walking herd book", a term of endearment given to Geoff Thomas by Hereford cattle breeders everywhere.

Sit with him in his bungalow near Pembridge, Herefordshire, and you soon know why.

Stacked from floor to ceiling are shelf upon shelf of well thumbed sale catalogues, herd brochures, herd books as well as Press cuttings and a host of valuable archive material tracing the history of the Hereford breed over 100 years.

His collection, which includes Hereford herd books dating back to 1862, is unique. It is no surprise that the information contained in his thousands of marked catalogues continues to be called upon by todays breed devotees.

Many of his catalogues are marked in his own hand with the prices and buyers of cattle that were sold as far back as the 1920s. Talk to him of his earliest recollections of Hereford cattle and his photographic memory moves into overdrive. With the clarity that one might recall an occasion of only days before, Mr Thomas recreates the heyday of the white-faced breed over 50 years ago with surprising accuracy.

The 1920s to 1940s were times of booming exports of Hereford cattle to South America. Five-figure prices for bulls were not uncommon.

Mr Thomas, reaching towards his cornucopia of books and catalogues, skilfully pin-points the relevant information to reaffirm his point about a particular big-money bull.

No need for transport

He turns the hard cover of a catalogue produced for the sale of 127 cattle from The Leen Hereford herd held for Philip Turner in Pembridge on Sept 6, 1883. The herd was established in 1780. The auctioneers were Rogers and Hamer and "luncheon" was before the sale at 11.30 am, by ticket! All cattle bought from this sale were to be "loaded to the purchasers order at Pembridge Station".

But there was no transport needed when Mr Thomas helped his father with two cows bought at a sale in 1927. "I can remember it as though it were yesterday. The two cows were Lady Weston 4th and Birley Geranium and we walked them six miles home from the sale."

Names and descriptions of individual Hereford cattle of 70 years ago are given as though they were grazing in the field outside his window. But despite his vast knowledge of pedigrees – he could often look at a Hereford and immediately identify its ancestry – it was the breeds big influence on the commercial beef farms of the Welsh Borders that earned Mr Thomas the respect of many of the countrys leading landowners who sought his services as a buyer of quality white-faced store cattle.

The gavel has fallen to the call of "Thomas The Rhyse" to mark the sale of many thousands of Hereford store cattle during a lifetime of procuring stock for Britains most prestigious estates.

Identified by his one-time address at The Rhyse, Lyonshall, Kington, Herefordshire, Mr Thomas once had seven members of the House of Lords among his clients.

At the height of his career as one of the countrys most highly respected cattle buyers, he recalls ordering a hauliers entire fleet of six stock wagons to work from Monday to Saturday transporting cattle from sales to customers farms.

"And I can remember that week in the 1950s clearly because the last wagon-load of cattle were delivered on the Saturday to Lord Mountbatten."

Romanian heifers

But his reputation was international and one notable order was for 230 Hereford heifers for the Romanian government in 1960. He scoured the border country for a matching consignment and shipped the lot aboard 20 lorries.

His boxes of cuttings are a treasure trove of Hereford cattle history. One gem is a sale catalogue cutting of a bull known as The Grove 3rd, which was sold at the sale from The Leen herd in 1883. The bull, born in 1874, realised 810gns to a US buyer.

Mr Thomas and his brother Ivor were staunch supporters of Hereford cattle show classes for decades. Their Coxall prefix, that was winning championships in the mid-1940s, was still a force to be reckoned with 30 years later at the Royal Show.

Mr Thomas, now 81, has seen great changes in the Hereford breed during his lifetime. But he admits there are bloodlines within the breed that can still produce cattle to rival any of the Continentals.

"The Hereford breed champions at the 1997 Royal Welsh Show were quite outstanding. One well known Limousin man admitted to me that he would go back into Herefords tomorrow if he could breed them all as good as those champions."

Geoff Thomas is still in demand by those who acknowledge his expertise as a cattle buyer. His only regret is that Hereford cattle, once the seed-stock of the worlds main beef producing countries, now feature too infrequently in the market book records he still religiously maintains on his trips to the auction mart.

Above: One of Geoff Thomas many historic photographs. Right: Mr Thomas has an encyclopedic memory of Hereford sales.

Heifers at The Rhyse 1960. There have been big changes in the breed.