Balmoral Show 2015: All the fun of the farm, and much more
Balmoral Show, which starts tomorrow, is bigger than ever before. Helen Carson meets some of the many exhibitors
The 147th Balmoral Show will begin tomorrow when the country invades Belfast to showcase everything from the latest in 21st farming technology to coiffed pedigree cattle. There will also be lots of entertainment and fun with equestrian events, world class arena stunts and the very best home-grown food.
The three-day annual event, which runs at Balmoral Park until Friday, will feature a live demonstration of a robotic milking machine.
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Other attractions will include world-class arena stunts, food and craft villages and a funfair which will run alongside more traditional rural exhibitions such as sheep-shearing competitions, parades of prize-winning animals and displays of vintage machinery.
With music from Downtown's show stage, there will be plenty for everyone at Northern Ireland's number one agricultural event.
We speak to three exhibitors taking part in this year's Balmoral Show to find out what they're bringing to the event.
‘We fudged the issue and turned it into our family business’
Sisters Dorothy Bittles, Catherine Johnston and Jennifer Lowry have turned a family obssession with sweet treats and a hand-me-down recipe into an artisan business, Blackthorn Foods, which sells its award-winning hand-made fudge brand, Melting Pot, to an export market, including the United Arab Emirates. Dorothy says:
My dad Patrick Lee started making fudge when he retired from his job as a quantity surveyor. Our family has always suffered from a terrible affliction - a sweet tooth, and he decided to start making fudge for us girls when he stopped working. The recipe has been in our family for generations.
Dad also supplied some of the handmade fudge to the local Post Office and a few other shops. Ten years ago my sisters and I were looking for a business and realised that dad had a small, loyal fan base for the handmade fudge, so we took a pitch at St George's Market in Belfast where we experimented with different flavours to see if people liked it.
The business grew steadily from there and now we mostly distribute the product through large UK wholesalers and further afield with export markets in the United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
We do different flavours such as cranberry and white chocolate, Irish cream liqueur, honeycomb and dark chocolate and Christmas pudding, but the most popular variety is the traditional butter fudge like my dad used to make, with salted caramel offering a modern twist on this.
We started making the fudge in my sister's bungalow then moved to premises in Ballyhackamore which we outgrew and sold three years ago. Now, we have a factory just off the Newtownards Road in east Belfast and a staff of nine people, including my sisters and me who are all acting partners of the business.
The fudge is hand-made in open pots which is a traditional technique, then we produce small batches of the product which is hand-beaten and hand-cut. Up until a year ago, the fudge was hand-wrapped but our overseas markets grew so much that process had to become fully automated. We only use the finest ingredients with no artificial additives, preservatives or trans fats and all our fudge is gluten-free - it is a truly artisan product.
Customers say they like our fudge because it is so soft and creamy, not grainy like some other varieties.
This is our first time at the Balmoral Show as we were invited by Ulster Bank - we had thought about it before. It's a fantastic opportunity to showcase the fudge, meet local people and let them taste it and find out where to buy it."
- Melting Pot fudge is for sale at speciality food shops and online, visit http://www.blackthornfoods.co.uk/
‘How the robots help get the milking done’
Tomas Cooney works for Lely, the company behind a revolutionary robotic milking machine, which will make its debut at the Balmoral Show. He says:
We have set up a mini-diary at the Balmoral Show as it is a great opportunity to show the local farming community how the system works - it's the first live demonstration we have done at a show in Northern Ireland, and this can be seen every day of the three-day event.
We will have 40 cows from Draynes Farm in Lisburn at the show every day and will demonstrate in a live environment how the system works. Using the robotic milking machine actually offers a more natural routine for cows, as the animal can come and go when they need milking, rather than being herded in at a set time - as a result milk production goes up by 13%.
The system enables cows to be milked 24/7, therefore freeing the farmer from spending up to three hours, twice a day milking cattle. Farmers who invest in the system will also be supported by us with help on the design of an existing or new building to house the new technology as well as 24/7 back up from Lely Centre Eglish, Co Tyrone, which handles all local start-ups.
The demonstration with cattle has been in the planning stage for the last eight months and the Lely team has been busy over the past few weeks getting the site set up.
With quotas gone and farmers now having more opportunities to expand, efficiencies in working practices and farm management become even more critical.
Lely first introduced its robotic milking machine in 1992 and now has more than 21,000 working worldwide milking more than 1.2 million cows daily."
The breeder with Blond ambition
Willie McElroy (31) is a cattle farmer from Dromara who specialises in the pedigree breed British blonds. He says:
I inherited our 40-acre family farm from my grandad, and it is run by myself and my parents, Ian and Ruth McElroy.
We have been exhibiting British Blond cattle for almost 20 years, having bought our first animal in 1996.
This breed is appealing for many reasons including easy calving and their temperament.
They are light boned so they produce more meat which is very lean - and this converts well in commercial terms as there is a big demand for healthier, leaner cuts of meat among consumers.
We will be exhibiting the cattle at this year's Balmoral Show and presentation is everything to us.
It is important to present the right image to promote the breed and raise its profile which in turn creates a greater demand for it - this is particularly important for us as breeders and indeed other breeders."
What to do and see
Jason Smyth Adrenaline Tour
Adrenaline junkies will be captivated by the main arena attraction as Jason Smyth Stunt Show performs daredevil moves throughout the three days
Come and see the various competitions each day in the Shearing Pavilion. It is fast, exciting, competitive and a great spectator sport. It is said that to become a top shearer, you need the eyes and skill of a marksman, the stamina of a marathon runner and the ability to out-sprint the rivals. Good clean shearing without damage to sheep or wool remains the overriding priority. Fitness and the ability to concentrate and perform under pressure will be uppermost in the teams' minds as they battle it out
The new Spar Arena is a dedicated area for fun family entertainment. The packed timetable will ensure bustling crowds as visitors are educated and entertained with a variety of acts including everything from circus workshops to falconry
There is a wide variety of the best livestock on show each day. You will see beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, poultry, horses, ponies, ducks and pigeons all hoping to get a big red 1st place rosette
The Garden Village will feature a show garden, trade stands and demonstration clinic with daily demos on lots of useful topics
Beyond the Garden Village you will find the Activity Zone. There will be lots to keep kids entertained such as the climbing wall, ferris wheel and Hunter West shooting range
Pony Club Games
Held on the Thursday evening in the main arena, the Pony Club games are a firm favourite with our visitors. It's extremely fast with a flurry of hooves and feet as the riders make their way around a series of obstacles as fast and accurately as possible. The teams are acompeting for the coveted Wilkinson Sword trophy
Stilt Walking Samba Band
This eight-person stilt-walking samba band performs on stilts while playing a variety of samba instruments, incorporating all the sounds of South America. They will be performing around the showgrounds on Wednesday and Friday
Three action-packed days
RUAS Balmoral Show at Balmoral Park from tomorrow until Friday
Competitive events include equestrian demonstrations while exhibitors will treat visitors to the best beef and dairy cattle parades, as well as best of breed sheep, horse and pony, pigs, goats, poultry and rabbits
Contests for Beef & Dairy/Sheep/Pig and Clydesdale Young Handlers
Opening times: Wednesday, May 13, 9.30am-8.30pm
Thursday, May 14 May, 9.30am-8.30pm
Friday, May 15, 9.30am-8pm.
Admission: Adult, £18, senior (Over 65), £14, youth (12-18), £12, child (five-11), £3, under five years free with adult