Belfast Telegraph

Why it's Game on for farmer Kenny and his rather talented crew of animal actors

Food and Drink

By Rachel Martin and Margaret Canning

Plenty of livestock farmers are proud of their animals, but only Kenny Gracey can claim to have beasts of true star quality. Pigs, hens and other animals from Kenny's Co Armagh Forthill Farms have appeared in TV productions including Game of Thrones, and the Oscar-nominated short film, Boogaloo and Graham.

His animals, accompanied by their master, are now working on location for the seventh - and penultimate - season of HBO's epic fantasy.

Kenny can claim ownership of the pigs on Game of Throne's Westeros and Essos setting, and he also supplies a donkey, goat, red deer, dogs and hens to the series.

His animals also featured in ITV mini-series The Great Fire, about the Great Fire of London, two years ago.

The Tandragee man and his wife Jennifer moved from intensive farming to focus on rarer, traditional breeds in the early Nineties.

But as well as their TV and film work, they also work in the more conventional side of farming, and sell their produce directly to the public online.

Modern technology has allowed him to make traditional methods of rearing and producing pork and beef products more viable.

Customers can buy anything from a hog roast to a few sausages online with a few clicks and an email.

Kenny has won several Bridgestone awards for his produce - but his animals' TV stardom came by chance, after Game of Thrones contacted him to ask about using his rare animal breeds on set.

Game of Thrones will end on its eighth season in 2018 - but Kenny said he was confident that his movie-related business will continue to thrive afterwards.

"Game of Thrones is only a small part of the different productions I'm involved in - for example, some of my animals were filmed for The Great Fire. And I believe that the Northern Ireland film industry is here for a long time. It's only the start of things to come.

"But Game of Thrones certainly has put Northern Ireland on the map. The place does have a lot to offer the film industry."

His animals were recently used in The Zoo, a film based on a true story about a zookeeper who took care of an elephant in her backyard on the Whitewell Road during the Blitz.

But he wasn't called upon to provide an elephant, as the animal is expected to be superimposed in post-production.

During filming a large moving object with a green sheet over it was the 'pretend' elephant'.

And while upcoming roles for his livestock are always kept under wraps, it's understood he will soon be providing some of his dogs to the production of BBC revenge drama, Paula.

Kenny breeds Belted Galloway and Longhorn Cattle as well as Gloucestershire Old Spots and British Saddleback pigs at his farm, which has been in the family since the 1700s.

The fat on traditional meat has been found to contain Omega-3, and Kenny believes is a healthier option to intensively-farmed meat.

"It's definitely of superior quality. It's a healthier, natural way to provide your family with real meat as nature intended," he said.

"We rear our cattle and pigs without using antibiotics or hormones.

"They roam freely in open spaces which means they get natural minerals found in the soil they consume during feeding.

"Consumers now want complete traceability for the food they buy and we can provide that as we breed and rear to high welfare standards using traditional methods."

Farm diversification is nothing new in recent years but despite modern technologies often changing the way we farm, Kenny's happy to go back to his roots, despite embracing the hi-tech opportunities which the movie industry has to offer.

Forthill Farms is part of the Food Heartland area which is pushing producers in the Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon council area.

The firm specialises in producing dry cured bacon and gammon using the traditional methods. And Kenny's sausage varieties include apple, garlic, leek, chives, cider, Cumberland, sweet chilli, and honey and brandy.

Belfast Telegraph