Belfast Telegraph

Balmoral Show: Animal magic! The endangered breeds on show


Pig breeder Brian Kelly with one of his pigs
Pig breeder Brian Kelly with one of his pigs
Sam Forbes with his rooster
David Whiteman with his Kerry Hill sheep
Caroline Lyons with her Irish Moiled cow

By Linda Stewart

Four enthusiasts tell Linda Stewart why they have decided to concentrate on these intriguing rare breeds of cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry and how they are being saved from extinction.

Showing: two Landrace pigs and a Gloucester Old Spot

Brian Kelly (59) from Lurgan owns a petrol station and shopping complex and is married, with four children. He is chairman of the Rare Breed Survival Trust NI (RBST) support group and will be bringing some of his pigs to Balmoral.

"Years ago my father had pigs and I just decided about 15 years ago to get back into them. I was at the Country Comes to Town event and Kenny Gracey had two saddleback pigs on the side of the street and I decided I would like to get back into pigs again," he says.

"It was just a hobby then and it still is a hobby, but I've had a few more pigs since then. I have eight or nine sows - Large Black, Large White, Landrace, Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spot and Oxford Sandy and Blacks."

Brian has entered two Landrace pigs and a Gloucester Old Spot at the show.

"The Gloucester sow, she's about four-years-old. Last year she was on The One Show. She has a good temperament, chatty, a nice sow," he says.

Brian says that, soon after starting to keep pigs again, he became aware of how rare some of the breeds were becoming, especially after it was highlighted on an episode of Countryfile some years ago.

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"I've just got the watchlist for 2019/20 and most of the pigs would be rarer than pandas. You have the likes of the Landrace or the Large White and there's only about 200 sows - and that is in the whole of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

"There are a lot of good people out there who are taking an interest now and you're starting to see different celebrities catching on to the way things are going. You have a lot of F1 pigs (first generation offspring of two different types) but to get an original Landrace sow, they are few and far between.

"I have one pig of the Asa breed and she's the only sow that is left. She came from a man, Billy Allen in Strabane, who kept a lot of rare breeds. I took the Asa sow off him and a few different lines and he's out of the pigs now., Going by the British Pig Association (BPA), she's the only one there is - you're not going to get any rarer than one pig."

The rare breeds always spark a lot of interest at Balmoral, he says.

"Everybody is very interested in pigs. You can see sheep and cattle outside in the countryside, but you don't see any pigs," he says.

"I'll be taking a litter of 10-week old Gloucester Old Spot piglets to the RBST display at the show, along with a Tamworth sow and two Berkshires."

Showing: her Irish Moiled cattle

Caroline Lyons with her Irish Moiled cow

Veterinary nurse Caroline Lyons (21), from Ballynahinch, lives with her mum Gillian (55) and dad David (57). She will be showing her Irish Moiled cattle.

"My mum and dad have been showing horses for 38 years at Balmoral and this is the first year my dad has nothing going, because the mare didn't hold in foal," she says.

"I used to show sheep and then two years ago I started showing Irish Moiled cattle.

"I didn't really take to the horse showing. I've been at the show for the past four years, giving a hand with it, but my main focus would be the sheep and the cattle."

Caroline says that she got her first couple of sheep when she was just eight-years-old.

"I got two sheep from a neighbour and it all started from there. I still like them, but a couple of years ago I decided to try something different."

Caroline decided to try showing Irish Moiled cattle, which is the rarest of the surviving indigenous breeds of Irish cattle and the only surviving domestic livestock native to Northern Ireland.

Irish legends refer to 'red, white backed cattle' and polled (hornless) skeletal remains have been dated to 640 AD. The breed was popular throughout Ireland in the 1800s but numbers began to decline with the introduction of more specialist dairy and beef breeds.

By the late 1970s, only 30 breeding females and two bulls were left in Northern Ireland, maintained by only two breeders, and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) placed the breed on its 'critical' list in 1979. Since then, the breed has recovered but is still rare.

"I always like that they were a breed that was traditional to Northern Ireland," Caroline says.

"They are a small, hardy breed and they are easy on the ground. They were close to dying out at one point, but they dropped a category last year. I think there are now 50-odd breeders in Northern Ireland. The showing lines have picked up on them and all the publicity that there is, is helping the breed.

"You still find that a lot of people come to Balmoral and they have never heard of them."

Caroline will be showing Daisy in the senior heifer category and Thelma in the junior heifer class.

"They are very quiet and docile and very easily managed - that's the best thing I've found about them," she says.

"Daisy is great. She's the ideal first cow that you'll ever have, as she's easily broke and it's very easy to learn how to walk her and stand up."

The Moilies always attract a lot of attention at Balmoral, she says.

"I think it's their colour, because they are red and white and you are drawn to them," she says.

"They are very quiet. Back in the day, families would have had one or two of them and would have milked them for the household. That is where they get their quietness from, I would say."

Caroline is no stranger to the Balmoral Show.

"From no age at all, it's been our family holiday, because dad always had horses going," she says.

"Last year was my first year of showing cattle and I walked into the cattle shed and there were people lying on their bellies and trimming the cattle with scissors and using hoof oil on them and the rest of it.

"And I thought 'Jeepers, I'm out of my depth here'. But I pulled it off, because she won her category!"

Showing: Kerry Hill sheep

David Whiteman with his Kerry Hill sheep

Baker David Whiteman (36), from Saintfield, lives with his mum Kathleen and dad John, both in their 70s. He has an older brother, John (42), and sister, Kay (40). He is showing Kerry Hill sheep.

While David comes from a farming background, his dad was a commercial farmer and they didn't show pedigree breeds. "My granda was a farmer and my dad was a part-time beef farmer - he was also a mechanic for Ulsterbus," he says. "I always worked in a bakery, but I would have given my dad a hand.

"I just got into showing livestock - my friends would have done it, so I got into it with them.

"Last year was my first time showing and it was a Zwartble (black and white sheep). Then I got into the Kerry Hill sheep and sold the Zwartbles and I just have Kerry Hills now.

"They're a bit more lively than the Zwartbles - I'm worried they won't stay in their pens at Balmoral. I've had them from Christmas and they don't even stay in their pens at home."

David says Kerry Hills have been endangered for a long time. While they were removed from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist in 2006, their numbers are still low.

"They are hill sheep from Wales. A lot of people can't be bothered with them because they're a bit wild," he says.

"They still have the mentality of a wild hill sheep.

"I have three going to the show - my two-year-old ram Hill, my three-year-old ewe Keako and Luna, a shearling," he adds.

"They are very sharp. Hill is probably half settled, but the two girls are always trying to jump out. They are a bit crazy."

David says that last year was the first time he showed at Balmoral and he enjoyed the experience.

"I kind of didn't know what to expect, but it was great - everyone was really friendly. I've stayed in touch with a lot of people who I met there.

"Luckily I only live a 15-minute drive away, so I go up and down from home.

"A few of my friends stayed over and I think one of them woke up in the cow shed the next morning.

"I prefer my own bed, thanks very much!"

Showing: Kraienkoppe rooster

Sam Forbes with his rooster

Sam Forbes (15) lives with his mum Lynne, a classroom assistant, his step-dad John, an electrician, his brothers Reza (13) and James (4) and his sister Katie (10). He is a pupil at Saintfield High School and will be showing his Kraienkoppe rooster at Balmoral this year.

"My family are into horses, but I'm the only one who is really into the agricultural stuff," he says.

Sam says he doesn't really come from a farming background, but does help out at farms around his area.

"My sister got me into the chickens. I am into the Kraienkoppes. I just breed them, along with five or six other breeds of poultry," he says.

The bug bit when a couple of his friends asked him to help them show livestock at the Balmoral Show.

"That got me really big into the show and it gave me the courage to bring the chickens out and show them and see how it went," he says.

"I had a very good first year. I had two on championship row, so that was it.

"I've had sheep all my life and I would just have kept a couple of laying hens around the house, but last year I got really into the pedigree breeds. I'm really looking to the rare breeds this year, just trying to keep them going and so on."

Sam says he acquired his rooster when he was at an auction one day.

"I liked him so I brought him home and I've been showing him ever since. I have chicks due to hatch in a couple of days, hopefully," he says.

And he says no-one at school finds his hobby unusual.

"Our school would be mainly culchies," he says. "There's a friend of mine at school and he would show poultry. We've become really good friends because of it."

The Balmoral Show runs from today until Saturday at Balmoral Park, Halftown Road, Lisburn. For further infor mation, visit or tel: 9066 5225

Belfast Telegraph