The cream of Ulster's dairy herds at annual Winter Fair
A thoroughly festive air filled the King's Hall yesterday as hundreds of dairy farmers gathered for the annual Winter Fair.
The air was also heady with the scent of manure as the South Belfast venue performed a quick turnaround following last weekend's boxing extravaganza.
Trade stands plied potential customers with sweets, chocolate coins and tea in what was one of the most positive shows for a number of years.
Festive garlands twinkled over the heads of farmers investigating the latest trends in dairying and one trade stand was even defying the seasons by dishing out pokes of ice cream. Another had rubber ducks floating in its Milbury Aeromixer, a machine for mixing slurry.
And a Hereford calf offered as a prize in a draw by the Northern Ireland Hereford Breeders' Association proved a popular attraction with the youngsters.
Royal Ulster Agricultural Society President John Kelly said it had been an excellent show.
"We've been very pleased with the numbers and level of interest. We've had very good feedback from the trade exhibitors saying they've had lots of inquiries and lots of business being done," he said.
Ulster Farmers' Union Deputy President Graham Furey said the atmosphere had been more positive than other years.
"There are a few question marks going around about the last auction - is it producer friendly or is it processor friendly?" he said.
"It seems to be what people are talking about, that and the Farm Nutrient Management System.
"There's a more positive atmosphere but I think that last auction has brought a wee bit of reality to the situation."
RUAS deputy president Brian King said companies such as Semex had reported receiving a lot of inquiries.
"I would think numbers would be on a par or up on last year. The upturn in milk prices is probably encouraging farmers to go out and have a look and maybe spend money. Last month's milk price dip hasn't dampened spirits," he said.
"Farmers being farmers, they realise milk can't be worth 30p a litre to processors and it has to find a level.
"There's never been as much optimism about the Winter Fair for many years."
Mr King said the standard of the animals seemed to improve year on year but admitted numbers in the competition were lower than hoped, due to local outbreaks of brucellosis and TB.
"There's quite a bit of that around the country at the minute but the quality of stock is on a par or better than last year's," he said.
Semen company Cogent captured the award for best large trade stand with an eye-catching display including two tethered cows, the daughters of two of their best sires.
Alison Millar of Cogent said: "We wanted a farmer-friendly stand that was bright and vibrant and attracted the farmers.
"These cattle have never been on the stand in Northern Ireland before. They're kind of tired now - they'll sleep tonight."
SUPREME INTER-BREED CHAMPION: Ivan & Louise Robinson. Reserve champion: S & J McCormick. Honourable Mention: Fleming Family.
DERRY SHORT HORN CHAMPION: George Booth. Reserve Champion: N & R Booth.
JERSEY CHAMPION: Fleming Family. Reserve champion: Clandeboye Estate.
AYRSHIRE CHAMPION: John W Suffern. Reserve champion: James Getty.
HOLSTEIN CHAMPION: I & L Robinson. Reserve champion: S & J McCormick.
BEST LARGE TRADE STAND: Codent. Runner-up: Semex.
BEST SMALL TRADE STAND: Scotmin Nutrition Ltd. Runner-up: TMC Dairies.