This year’s Balmoral Show served to demonstrate that the gulf between country folk and town dwellers is narrowing while it also marked another remarkable chapter in the story of a rare breed of cattle in Ireland.
While a few farmer stereotypes were ticked off the list – checked shirts, feet tapping to country music and a fondness of the word ‘yoke’ – the majority of visitors to Balmoral Show came in all ages, shapes and sizes, none of which you’d be able to single out as an obvious ‘culchie’ should they be thrust into a busy city centre.
Perhaps the change in the DNA of agricultural types is down to the work of the Young Farmers Club of Ulster (YFCU). Stuart Mills, YFCU programming committee chair, said the aim of the group which has over 3,000 members from the age of 12 to 30 is to attract young people from all backgrounds.
He said: “You don’t have to be a farmer to join, there’s plenty of things to get involved with that have nothing to do with farming – football, public speaking, flower arranging – and there’s plenty of trips and educational activities as well.
“Being at Balmoral Show is about raising the knowledge of the YFCU and attracting new members. This is one of the biggest, hard-hitting weeks for getting new members in through the door, chatting to them, making everyone feel welcome.”
Just before speaking to Stuart we witnessed him indulging in some friendly debate with some young people who told him they were ‘townies’ and went on to discuss the differences between themselves and ‘culchies’.
Stuart said afterwards: “It’s a bit of banter. If you can get everyone together working as a team it doesn’t matter if they’re from the town or the country. It’s team spirit and team work that gets you further in life.”
Mike Frazer is proof that it’s never too late to take up farming. The 57-year-old from Templepatrick only became a farmer when he turned 50 and left his job as an accountant.
He said: “My work took me to places like Sudan and Ethopia. I lived in Bangladesh for 10 years putting in financial systems.
“Because I was travelling a lot, my second son ended up spending a lot of time with his grandfather who was a farmer, so that’s where the link came from. When I sold the business I went into farming having never done it before.”
His specialism with Dexter cattle has earned him the title of Chairman of the Dexter Society of the UK and Ireland – the first chairman from Ireland in 100 years.
In the 1940s the Dexter breed – now associated with prime cuts of beef – was driven to almost extinction, however at the annual event in Balmoral Park the small cows were out in big numbers.
Mr Frazer said: “40 years ago Belfast Zoo was the only place you’d see Dexters in Ireland. They are a small cow and everything went towards bigger cows – more for your money – which is why they died out.”
When Dexter cattle came back to Balmoral Show three years ago Mr Frazer was the proud owner of the first Dexter champion – Bonnie.
“Four years ago they weren’t even at Balmoral, this year we’ve the biggest number of cattle of any breed,” he said.
Mr Frazer added: “If you go to a fancy restaurant you’ll get a Dexter burger and a portion of chips for 16 quid.
“It’s that sort of specialist Irish beef thing. The chef James Martin likes it, everybody likes it. That has led to a whole growth of breeders.”
While Balmoral Show may only run for four days, for exhibitors it is much longer in the planning.
Rathfriland man Sam Thompson who sells Kubota vehicles in Northern Ireland explained: “You’re planning things nearly a year in advance.
“In saying that, the week before the show is bedlam.
“We had five forty foot low loaders delivering our ride-on mowers, compact tractors, construction machines – all the vehicles you can see on our 15 by 30 metre pitch.”
Meanwhile the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland have chosen the Balmoral Show to launch their new television advertisement reminding farmers of the dangers of working with animals.