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July means pig tagging, sheep selling and goat grooming for the Rare Breed Farmers

It’s July 2020 for the Rare Breed farmers we’re in Larne, Randalstown, and Co Down for this episode, and we see how busy the farmers continue to be despite the restrictions over lockdown in the next episode of ‘RARE BREED – A Farming Year’ on UTV, Tuesday 2nd March.

First off we’re back with Jonny Hanson at Jubilee Farm, outside Larne. It’s a community enterprise owned and worked by its members and volunteers. They produce vegetables, pigs, geese and goats. Jonny and the vet are tagging piglets. It’s not as easy as it looks, with Jonny remarking, “You have to outthink them!”Sophie, a young volunteer from Larne Grammar, who hopes to be a vet, gives him a hand.

Jonny tagging the piglets

They then move their attention to the goat herd. They get the full treatment today, with hoof grooming, worming and treatment for flies and lice, all ably carried out by vet Laura Beattie. Jonny shares his hopes and dreams of one day being able to increase the goat herd, and use them for their milk, as well as meat, but he needs a new barn for that. After a busy day he comments. “The day went well, with no major drama.”

James with the auction technology

It’s a big month for James Alexander, from Randalstown. With lockdown relaxed he’s now able to run his annual sheep sale. It’s his “favourite day and least favourite day of the year.” With a whole shed to fill, he has a lot to get ready. He has to sort hundreds of sheep into smaller batches according to size, type and look, and he’s trying to accommodate everyone who may want small or large herds. He’s also put in extra measures including online bidding and temperature checks. But he’s delighted with the quality of the animals this year, and is hopeful of a good sale.

Sheep waiting for the sale at Alexander’s in Randalstown

Despite it being July, Adrian McGowan is thinking about Christmas already! At the farm outside Killinchy, he is working with the Brussel sprout crop. He’s planning ahead to ensure continual supply for hungry customers in Christmas. They’re just finishing off planting season,which started in March. He explains the advantages of planting re-raised veg as opposed to straight from seed.

Adrian McGowan with a Kohlrabi

Adrian is delighted with his workforce, some of whom have been with him for over 20 years as well as some new members to the team, whom he describes as “great young guys, mad keen and very capable.” He explains the damage that pigeons can do to a crop in the matter of a few days, and how the team do the ‘back breaking work’ of getting rid of weeds which is a ‘constant battle’!

Adrian tends to look after the shop orders himself, and ‘when the ping comes through, you’ve got to go!’ He quickly gets the shop more of what they need. He also talks about unusual varieties he’s growing, including Golden Beetroot.

Back at the Alexander’s, the sheep sale has started. He’s following the lead of the marts and has put in extra measures in line with Covid restrictions, for those people who turn up in person. He says he’ll “leave the auctioneer and the technology to do its job”. The bidding is intense both on line and among the buyers who have turned up in person. The sale goes really well, and despite being “shattered, dizzy and hungry” at the end of it all, James is delighted!

The final stop of the episode takes us back to Co. Down, to Claire Shearer in Comber. Despite there being no competitions this year, there is still plenty to do. She and partner David are disappointed at not being able to show the new foal, and they both miss the competitions as “that’s where the entertainment is…” They are also important events where they can normally sell horses on.

Davy with the horses in the field in July

Claire introduces us to Dara her apprentice, and ‘adopted little sister’. They both chat about the horses and Claire laughs that Dara doesn’t like the early starts. Claire talks emotionally about Bonnie, her latest foal, named at the request of her grandfather before he passed away. She talks of how the horses are her coping mechanism when times are tough – “They are always there to give you a hug,” she says.

UTV’s Mark McFadden narrates the series. Sponsored by Moy Park, Rare Breed – A Farming Year continues on Tuesday 2nd March at 7.30pm on UTV.