The hugely popular and successful ‘RARE BREED – A Farming Year’ returns to our screens this week, and it is all change again with new families, new farms and businesses, and new challenges, with some familiar faces thrown in!
‘Rare Breed – A Farming Year’ is the ground-breaking year-in-the-life observational documentary series charting the reality of farming in 21st century Northern Ireland, giving a unique insight into one of Northern Ireland’s largest and oldest industries. For more than a decade the series has taken viewers into the farming world through the lives of farmers across the country. Now in its eleventh year, this series follows 12 families as they deal with one of the most unpredictable periods in living memory.
The twelve families featured reflect the diversity and innovation in Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector. Be it traditional beef, sheep, dairy and produce enterprises, or social farming, breeding alpacas and sport horses, we see how they face daily challenges and constantly work in all weathers against a backdrop of Brexit, climate change and the War in Ukraine.
In the first episode we meet six families, and we’re off to Rosslea in Fermanagh where award winning farmer, John Egerton farms with his three sons, William, Robert, and Samuel. The family have a suckler beef herd of 90 cattle and a flock of 250 ewes.
In January, John and his sons are looking forward to the arrival of new calves to the farm. John says all three boys are “mad about farming” so he’s had to push the farm to make it sustainable venture for the future for the whole family.
Near Limavady, we meet Richard and Leona Kane who have a 750 acre arable farm. They grow a range of crops including wheat, barley, oilseed rape. They also produce carrots and in January, Richard is busy lifting them -- he’s learnt that “it’s a really tricky game to get a nice carrot”. Despite the challenges, harvesting carrots is still one of his favourite jobs.
We’re also off to Streamvale Farm on the outskirts of Belfast where Tim Morrow runs a dairy herd of more than 200 cattle. In January, Tim is preparing for their busiest time of year- calving season. Streamvale is one of the longest running Open Farms – it’s been welcoming the public since 1989. It’s very much a family enterprise and later in the series we meet an in-law to the Morrow family, Chris Wilson who runs the open farm business.
Our next stop is in Armagh where William Gilpin manages the family vegetable business. The family have been growing vegetables for 50 years and William remarks the business has continued “to grow depending on what the opportunity is and what the market needs.”
The family supply supermarkets across the country. In January, they’re busy harvesting savoy cabbages, some of which will be making their way to Spain. It takes teamwork to get the job done and William is joined by his cousin Richard who oversees the field work.
Joining the line-up at Churchview Farm in Katesbridge, Co. Down is a former Rare Breed participant, Geoffrey Ringland who produces and rears award-winning goats. In January, it’s all about the day-to-day routine on the farm as Geoffrey feeds and keeps an eye on his livestock. Recently, Geoffrey cut the goat numbers and turned his attention to starting a small beef suckler herd. It’s a steep learning curve but Geoffrey says, “I’m always looking for a bit of a challenge.”
Next door in Dromara in Co. Down, Michelle Dunniece keeps a more unusual herd of animals - alpacas! Michelle’s been running Mourne Alpacas for 16 years with her husband Stephen and their four children.
Originally from Chile and Peru, alpacas are used to a different climate to that of Northern Ireland. However, Michelle notes that their farm at the foot of Slieve Croob offers “five star pastures”. In January, Michelle and Stephen are making sure their herd is topped up with vitamins especially through the darker winter months.
In the February episode we meet five more of the families. Dale and Vicki Byers have a dairy herd of 150 cattle at their farm in Ballinamallard in Fermanagh. And near Aughnacloy in Tyrone we meet Paul Beatty who runs Tirelugan farm alongside his grandfather Cecil, and his dad Donald.
We also meet a couple who split their farm between Portrush and Dungannon - Shay O’Neill and Susan Chestnutt.
In Templepatrick in Antrim, we get an insight into the equestrian world with rider and sports horse breeder Lucca Stubington who runs the family business with her mum Georgia.
We also re-join Áine Devlin who featured in last year’s series, a 25 year old shepherdess who farms in Kilcoo in the Mourne Mountains, and also runs her own sheep scanning business.
Finally, joining this year’s Rare Breed are Kathleen and Margaret Finnegan, sisters who run a 56 acre farm in Silverbridge in Armagh. In 2018 they opened it as a social farm and they haven’t looked back since.
Tony Curry, Programmes Editor at UTV said:
“Rare Breed – A Farming Year” is a firm favourite amongst UTV viewers. Our agri-industry and the quality of its produce and output are outstanding. The fantastic ratings year on year for Rare Breed shows the support and pride that the Northern Ireland people have for the sector.
“Rare Breed is an education in itself and it’s great that our audience is not only enjoying a behind the scenes look at the day-to-day life of a farming family but hopefully learning a thing or two they didn’t know before.”
The series is produced for UTV by Belfast’s Strident Media. Producer Cara Dinsmore said:
“This series just like previous, was a joy to film. I and the crew certainly can’t complain about filming on the odd late night, early start or in bad weather when you realise that this is what our famers and producers are doing 365 days of the year! We had great fun as always and met some great personalities!”
Strident Media Managing Director, Kelda Crawford-McCann said:
“We love making Rare Breed, getting to meet the farmers who produce the food that ends up on tables in Northern Ireland and further afield. This series has a fantastic mix of the traditional with the new – farming is a hi-tech, highly diversified business and the families’ activities this year are a true reflection of that.”
UTV’s Mark McFadden once again narrates the series. Sponsored by Dromona, ‘Rare Breed’ – A Farming Year starts on Thursday 19th January at 8.30pm on UTV.