Dairy farmers mix business with pleasure at Balmoral

Iain McLean in the ring at the Royal Ulster Winter Fair at Balmoral
Iain McLean in the ring at the Royal Ulster Winter Fair at Balmoral

Christmas came early for dairy farmers on Thursday at the Royal Ulster Winter Fair at Balmoral when they were able to enjoy a day socialising, away from their relentless occupation.

The “must attend event for dairy farmers” provides an excellent vehicle for exhibitors to market their products and services to the dairy farming industry.

Crumlin farmer John Suffern, who has shown dairy cows at the Winter Fair since it started 29 years ago, said: “I would not miss it.

“It is the biggest winter show here and you do get many farmers at it, particularly ones who are trying to promote their cattle and trying to get them sold,” added the father-of-two.

He said the five Ayrshire cows he was showing on Thursday “could have been washed five times before they are shown in the ring”.

“Getting the cows ready involves them being shampooed, body clipped and generally cleaned up,” he added.

“It is a lot of effort. First time out they can be a little bit nervous but once they have done it a time or two, they get used to it.”

The Co Antrim farmer said the Winter Fair is “also a good place to get talking to other farmers, to socialise and to promote your cattle”.

“For farmers wanting to buy cows or a bull it is your shop window,” he added.

“Today the farmers I have been talking to are mainly discussing the price of milk. No one knows how long it is going to be in the doldrums. Genuinely it is very hard for farmers to break even producing milk at the minute. Milk is down 10 pence a litre which is a huge loss.”

Mr Suffern said he was aware “a lot of farmers talk about leaving the industry”.

“I saw figures for England where hundreds have left,” he added. “Then for a lot of people what else do they know?

“It (the industry) will pick up again but it depends on how long it takes.”

John Henning, chair of the organising committee of the RUAS Winter Fair and head of agriculture relations at Danske Bank, said the event had attracted international visitors from countries including Sweden, Canada and Asia.

He said during the day farmers showed 150 cattle in four breed classes and enjoyed perusing around 200 trade exhibitors, suppliers and stakeholders.

“Whilst the judging of livestock is important, it is primarily a business event,” he said.

“On the social side farmers get the chance to meet their neighbours and in some cases some may be persuaded by their wives to go Christmas shopping in Belfast.

“Dairy farming in particular is a 365 day a year job.”

He added that the “mood amongst farmers was resilient”.