Angry owners pull sheep from Balmoral Show
No show for Blackfaces over health concerns
There will be no Blackface sheep at this week's Balmoral Show for the first time in the history of the flagship agricultural event.
Breeders of both the Blackface Perth and Lanark type sheep have opted to boycott the show this week and instead will go on a private bus trip of their own.
The dramatic stance has taken place due to what some breeders are describing as an "impossible situation" caused by the show organisers, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS).
The Blackface breed is one of the highlights of the annual show. The problems between the breeders and the RUAS originate in the launch of a four-day format in 2017.
This move, say the breeders, has been very hard on animals, making them stand in a pen in the heat for five days, as they arrive at the show one day ahead of it starting.
RUAS said their procedures are in line with other major four day shows. But breeders are critical of the changes.
"The Blackface sheep breed is a hardy breed more suited to hill land and vast areas to roam rather than being cooped up in a small pen," said one breeder from Co Londonderry.
"I, along with other breeders, have lost both ewes and lambs after bringing them home from Balmoral Show due to heat stress and the unfamiliar surroundings.
"It is simply too much to ask for our sheep to stand at Balmoral Show all that time. We were very concerned about animal welfare and were not happy animals in the past were dying after the event was over when we brought them home," he said.
Ahead of the 2018 Balmoral Show, Blackface breeders met with show organisers and asked if they could bring their sheep into the show on the Friday morning for judging and then take them home on the Saturday evening. This, said the breeders, would be less stressful on their sheep, and the RUAS agreed to the suggestion.
However, it seems the RUAS sheep committee has reneged on that decision ahead of this year's show and insisted all sheep must be resident at the event for its duration.
Another Blackface breeder from Co Antrim said: "This decision by the RUAS is sad and has forced us to pull all Blackface entries from this year's show.
"Last year there were around 120 Blackface entries at Balmoral Show which attracted a large crowd of spectators from Scotland, home and elsewhere."
The breeder from Co Londonderry added: "We have heard this has all come about because one other sheep breed at the show complained.
"A group of the Blackface breeders got together and decided we would not be entering any sheep for Balmoral Show as the welfare of our animals comes first.
"It is very disappointing the RUAS sheep committee refused to work with us this time. None of us are attending the show and instead are going on a bus trip of our own on show day."
The RUAS confirmed the Perth-type Blackface and the Lanark-type Blackface classes have been cancelled due to a lack of entries.
Operations director Rhonda Geary said: "The arrival arrangements for all sheep breeds are such that they can arrive the day before the show up until 10pm or the first morning of the Show up until 7.30am, enabling them to stay either three or four nights depending on when they arrive.
"This is in line with other major four day shows, for example the Royal Highland Show. These arrangements are in place as part of the logistical build up for Balmoral Show."