Belfast Telegraph

Balmoral Show: Ulster sheep are cosying up to President Obama

By Rebecca Black

Wool from sheep reared in the Co Down countryside is keeping the most powerful man in the world cosy.

Melvyn Dorman from Ballynahinch has been farming his distinctive black woollen Zwartble sheep for eight years.

The breed was brought to the UK from Holland in the early 1990s and has become a common sight in fields across the country.

Melvyn's flock is sheared each July, and their wool sold to a woman in the Republic who makes luxury blankets. These are given as gifts by Irish President Michael D Higgins to visiting heads of state.

Melvyn said one was given to US President Barack Obama when he visited Ireland in May, 2011.

"Their wool ended up in the White House," said Melvyn.

Zwartbles have black wool with flecks of white, and Melvyn said the wool was not dyed, but left in its natural colours. The judges were left extremely impressed by the three sheep he brought to Balmoral yesterday.

A ewe won first place in one category, a ram lamb second in another and a ewe lamb fourth.

Unlike some of the other livestock, which require months of preparation, Melvyn's sheep only took three weeks to get ready.

"I brought them in from the field about three weeks ago so they would get used to lots of handling before coming to the show," he said.

"I shampoo them four days before the show, they don't mind that, and there is a lot to grooming to make sure their coats are looking right."

Despite celebrity chef Rick Stein highly recommending meat from the Zwartble breed - it is very lean compared to most breeds of lamb - Melvyn's flock are not sold for meat.

Although Melvyn is from farming stock, he worked as a plumber for most of his life and got into farming on a part-time basis later in life when he spotted the breed at a show and decided to try farming them himself. He now has 10 ewes and 20 lambs.

He suffered a heart attack several years ago, and said that the sheep have been great for helping him take it easy and relax.

"I like to go out and sit with them, they are a very placid lot," he said, adding jokingly. "And I think the wife likes me to go out and do that too!"

What's your show highlight today? 

Dominic  McCrory (28) from Castlederg

"We've really enjoyed the whole show. It's a great day out. The whole experience is good. My son Dylan (5) really enjoyed seeing the cows."

Peter Harvey (40) from Magheralin

"It's a great family day out - a fantastic range of activities and things to see. My son Seth (4) especially loved the tractor displays, and the girls loved the Women's Institute tent."

Michael Diamond (42) from Garvagh

"We're showing cattle so we like the competition part best. Otherwise, we enjoy seeing cattle and sheep. My son Kyle (10) loves the livestock and entered the young handlers' competition. He wants to be a farmer."

Belfast Telegraph