The second day of the Balmoral Show has seen plenty more action, with tractor skills being shown off, along with some prize-winning livestock and breeders with not-so-typical farming backgrounds.
One Bluefaced Leicester sheep to win first place in the shearling ram class has been reared, fed and groomed by young offenders at Hydebank Wood College, a prison facility near Belfast.
Richard Graham, vocational training officer at Hydebank and part-time sheep farmer, started the agri-initiative eight years ago, with the hope of providing animal therapy to the young inmate students.
“I come from a farming background and I work in the gardens at Hydebank, where we have copious amounts of grass,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It was my job to cut all this grass, so after 10 years of cutting it, I went to the governor one day and said, ‘I don’t want to cut grass anymore. I want to get sheep to graze it’.
“He said it was a great idea and that was in 2016. We bought four sheep then and now we’re in 2022 and we have something like 24.”
One of the young men, who is currently out on bail for a driving offence, was able to showcase the sheep in the Balmoral competition today.
“That is our first red rosette ever in the Balmoral show and this is our first time showing this breed,” Richard continued.
He said the effect that taking care of the sheep has had on the young men has been “hugely successful” and this year, they were even able to lamb some of the ewes without his help.
“This year we produced 10 lambs. A lamb we had bred last year, we sold him at £820 and that’s good money [which all goes back into the prison].”
According to the latest official statistics, the cost of keeping a prisoner in jail in Northern Ireland is £55,000 per year.
“I’m a prison officer first and foremost. I’ve been in the job 29 years, although I’ve been doing gardening since 2006 and only started this scheme in 2016,” Richard continued.
“See if one person this year, next year and the year after, doesn’t reoffend, because I’ve taken them and shown them what they can do, shown them how great it is to work with animals, and they then go out and get work on a farm and stay out of trouble — if we do that three years in a row, that’s £165,000 saved. It’s been a huge success.”
Another prize winner at this year’s event has been hairdresser-turned-farmer, Leanne Green, who started her own small cattle herd in 2019.
“This is my first Balmoral show with my wee herd, Derriaghy Beef Shorthorns,” she said.
“This is my first cow that I bought back in May 2019 in Carlisle — Uppermill Lovely Leanne — she came third in the senior cow class yesterday with her calf, Derriaghy Samson.”
Leanne had been a hairdresser for 13 years, before deciding on a career change at the age of 27. Now, eight years on, she has completed two diplomas in agriculture and now just has to complete her final year exams of the agricultural technology degree she has been studying at Queen’s University Belfast.
“I absolutely love it and now I’m working my dream job for the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Hillsborough, which is a research government-run farm.
“I work there full-time, still do a wee bit of hairdressing part-time and now have my own herd of beef shorthorns.
“My sister was Miss Northern Ireland 2013, so she’s the beauty queen of the family and I just love farming,” Leanne joked.
“I don’t think Meagan even owns a pair of welly boots, we’re like chalk and cheese.”
Today’s showcase of the 153rd Balmoral Show also allowed members from the Young Farmers' Clubs Of Ulster (YFCU) to compete in skilled tractor reversing, machinery handling, girls’ five-aside football and tug-of-war.
Vice President of the organisation, Lynne Montgomery (26), has been a member of YFCU for 14 years now.
The Londonderry native believes that agriculture is becoming more accessible and appealing to young women through online communities, adding: “Social media is great for getting more young women into it. You can meet so many other farming women through the likes of Instagram.
“My love for animals made me want to go on and become a veterinary nurse too. I just love animals and the health side of it — seeing nature coming into the world is lovely. It’s great to see it’s not as male-orientated.”