For the first time ever in the history of Balmoral Show there will be no Blackface sheep at Northern Ireland’s premier agricultural event this week, writes Chris McCullough.
Breeders of both the Blackface Perth type and Lanark type sheep have opted to boycott the show this week and instead go on a private bus trip of their own.
The dramatic stance has taken place due to what some breeders are describing as an ‘impossible situation’ resulting from ‘sheer arrogance’ of the show organisers, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS).
The problems between the Blackface breeders and the RUAS originate from the show organisers launching its four day format in 2017.
This move, say the sheep breeders, has been very hard on animals making them stand in a pen in the heat for five days, as they arrive at the show one day ahead of it starting.
“The Blackface sheep breed is a hardy breed more suited to hill land and vast areas to roam rather than being cooped up in a small pen,” said one breeder from County Londonderry.
“I, along with other breeders, have lost both ewes and lambs after bringing them home from Balmoral Show due to heat stress and the unfamiliar surroundings.
“It is simply too much to ask for our sheep to stand at Balmoral Show all that time. We were very concerned about animal welfare and were not happy that animals in the past were dying after the event was over when we brought them home.
“None of us are attending the show and instead are going on a bus trip of our own on show day.”
Ahead of the 2018 Balmoral Show the Blackface breeders met with the show organisers and asked if they could bring their sheep into the show on the Friday morning for judging, and then take them home on the Saturday evening.
This, said the breeders, would be less stressful on their sheep, and the RUAS agreed to the suggestion.
However, it seems the RUAS sheep committee has reneged on that decision ahead of this year’s show and insisted all sheep must be resident at the event for its duration.
Another Blackface breeder from County Antrim said: “This decision by the RUAS is sad and has forced us to pull all Blackface entries from this year’s show.
“Last year there were around 120 Blackface entries at Balmoral Show which attracted a large crowd of spectators from Scotland, home and elsewhere.
“We breeders paid thousands of pounds in entry fees and added a real attraction to the show. However, we are very disappointed with the attitude of the RUAS and decided to withhold entries this year.”
A RUAS spokeswoman said: “The Perth type Blackface and the Lanark type Blackface classes have been cancelled. The classes were cancelled this year due to a lack of entries.
“I don’t believe the Blackface breed classes have not run before at Balmoral Show,” she said.
RUAS operations director, Rhonda Geary added: “The arrival arrangements for all sheep breeds are such that they can arrive the day before the Show up until 10pm or the first morning of the show up until 7.30am, enabling them to stay either three or four nights depending on when they arrive.
“This is in line with other major four-day shows, for example the Royal Highland Show.
“These arrangements are in place as part of the logistical build up for Balmoral Show.”