The Balmoral Show, NI's largest agricultural event, opens today to showcase the best in rural life. Karen Ireland asks three farmers about their livestock and why the fayre means so much to them
Pig breeder Brian Kelly (57) lives in Lurgan with wife Ann Marie and their children, Connor (20), Liam (18), Sarah (16) and Niall (15). He says:
I'm not a farmer by occupation, and it sometimes surprises people when they find out I actually own a shopping complex.
Having first seen pigs at a country fayre in Lurgan, I decided to find out more about them. A man had brought some along to the event and I was really intrigued by them.
I bought my first pig about 12 years ago, and that was it - I was hooked.
While breeding pigs is not financially rewarding, it is a great way of life. I get so much out of doing this despite all the hard work.
Yes, there are early morning starts involved in looking after pigs. They need fed and cleaned out before I go over to the shop and do my day job. However, I actually find tending to the animals very relaxing and a good way of switching off.
Farming does become a way of life, and it involves all the family as they inevitably end up helping out.
Ann Marie doesn't have anything to do with the pigs, but the children all get involved - although they disappear quickly too if there is too much work to be done.
There is a lot of preparation to get the animals ready for the Balmoral Show.
I've been taking part for about seven years, and the first step is to select the pigs you want to show.
Pigs are used with being in the house as a group, so you need to get them used to being outside.
Then they have to learn how to walk while being guided with a stick. This is the biggest challenge.
Getting them on and off the trailer can also be time-consuming, but once they get used to doing that a few times, it just becomes natural.
I've won the traditional pig category for the last three years, which I'm very proud of. Hopefully, we will make it four in a row as I do put a lot of effort in.
My family always come to the show, and if the weather is good, that's a bonus. It's a great day out for all of us."
Vaughan Byrne (69) is married to Sandra. They live in Dromara and have two sons, Karl (37) a scientist, and Stephen (34), a trucker. He is an advocate for traditional farm animals and breeds rare pigs and Dexter cattle. He says:
I have bred prize-winning saddle back pigs since 1970 and have the oldest herd in Ireland. Having developed an interest in farming, I wanted to bring rare breeds back to the farming community in Northern Ireland.
By 1976, I brought in Tamworth pigs and then introduced Dexter cattle to Ireland in 1991.
I’ve always lived in the country and enjoyed a rural life. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t imagine living in the town at all.
Previously, I was a bass player with some pretty successful showbands, so it was a big leap to go into farming.
Initially, I bought the animals as a hobby, but then it took off, with many of my animals winning awards.
My desire to educate people about farming, and rare breeds in particular, means I’ve been on a bit of a crusade. Animal welfare was part of the message too.
Raising rare animals is an expensive hobby, and one which takes up a lot of your time, but the rewards are wonderful.
Thank goodness my wife Sandra has always supported what I want to do.
I bought my first pig when I was 18 and went to the Balmoral show in 1999. Now I’m a member of the RUAS council that plans and organises the event.
This year I will be compering the events and competitions involving pigs, donkeys and goats.
The show is a great week in my life and everyone in the farming community looks forward to it.
It’s the biggest and best show in town and I’m privileged to be part of it.
Modern farming is being pushed to its limits by over production.
We need to pull back on that in favour of a more traditional approach and reintegrating older breeds.”
Geoffrey Ringland (37) is married to Lorraine (38). They live in Katesbridge with their two daughters, Eva (8) and Vanessa (4). Geoffrey breeds goats. He says:
My business is a real family affair. Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and help out to make it work. Having just returned from judging a goat competition in Sydney, Australia, my family had to rally round and look after the goats, otherwise they wouldn’t have been ready to compete at the Balmoral Show this week.
It was a case of all hands on deck, with my mum and dad, Zelwyn and Sheila, as well as Lorraine and the girls all working away behind the scenes when I was out of the country for 16 days. And there is so much work to be done to prepare the animals to show standards.
I can’t really explain why I choose to breed goats. My uncle bought me my first one when I was aged 10 back in 1989, and my interest just grew from there.
The first time I ever showed one of my goats in a competition was at Balmoral in 1996. Since then I have been numerous times as I enjoy the process of breeding pedigree animals.
Having grown up on a beef and potato farm, I guess you could say farming is in my blood.
When we got married, Lorraine and I built a house on the family farm so I could be close by. Farm work never stops, day or night, and with the hours I put in it was important that I didn’t have to travel.
Rearing and breeding goats isn’t my main employment — it’s more like a hobby, although one which takes up a lot of time.
When I’m not on the farm I work for a transport company and, luckily, it’s very flexible, which works out well with my life as a breeder.
A typical day means getting up at 4.15am to tend to the goats and clean out their stalls before I start my other job.
Then when I get home at 3pm it starts all over again. I have to ensure the goats are fed, watered and in a clean environment before going to bed and getting rested for the next day’s early rise.
The Balmoral Show is the highlight of the farming calendar here and I love it. Since 2010 I have had six consecutive wins under my belt with the goats, and a total of 13 wins.
Last year my goats also had the highest recorded milk yield of their breed at any show in the UK.
The Balmoral Show may appear to be a few days a year, but in reality, for people like me, it is a year-round event. Once this week is over the RUAS council (Royal Ulster Agricultural Society), which I am now a member of, will meet up to discuss the highs and lows of the event and begin planning for next year.
As next year marks the 150th anniversary, plans are already well under way to make it even more special than usual.
I love the craic and the social aspect of the show. About 300 of us who take part stay on the grounds with our animals so I try to organise get-togethers afterwards. There is always plenty of music and food and a great atmosphere to enable everyone to catch up with one another and talk about their day and the competitions.
The Balmoral Show is so successful because it’s a real family event, and all my family come along to see me. I’m proud to be part of it.”