Sheep Young Handlers put their best foot forward at Balmoral

Livestock & Meat Commission May 22, 2024

SPECTATORS lined the ringside as up on 60 young handlers put their best foot forward to take their place in the lineup for the Sheep Young Handlers competition at Balmoral Show on Saturday 18 May.

The growing popularity of the event, sponsored by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), saw this year’s competition subdivided into three age categories: 8-9 year olds, 10-11 year olds and 12-14 year olds. First up was the youngest of the three groupings. The 16 strong class entered the ring and took their positions. It was then over to Dungannon judge Marjory Blackburn to make her way around the ring. Stopping to speak with each exhibitor, Ms Blackburn was keen to gauge the young handlers knowledge of their animals. After some deliberation, a final shortlist was pulled forward. Placing first in the category was Samuel Flanagan, followed in reserve by George Waldie.

Following swiftly into the ring was the 10-11 year old group, and with 18 exhibitors Ms Blackburn’s task of placing the hopeful young handlers was no mean feat. Again, after careful consideration a shortlist emerged, taking the top spot in this category was Lara Taylor, with reserve going to Mia Sloane.

The final age grouping to enter the ring was the 12-14 year olds, and with a bumper entry of 20 exhibitors, the competition was high. The winner’s rosette in this category went to Jake Piggott with Amy Murray taking reserve.

The champion and reserve young handlers from each class then made their way back into the ring, each hoping to clench the overall champion and reserve titles. As anticipation around the ring grew, Ms Blackburn stepped forward to announce Lara Taylor as overall champion and Jake Piggott as overall reserve champion.

Commenting after the competition finished, Ms Blackburn remarked that she did not have an easy job. She said, “The standard of the exhibitors showing their sheep today was exceptional. There was nobody but winners in all three classes.”

Speaking at the event, LMC chairman Joe Stewart said, “At the Livestock and Meat Commission we are keen to sponsor competitions such as this, which is about the future of the sector. Here today we have dozens of young people keenly showing their sheep, illustrating in a clear way that the future is bright for our industry. Over the years this competition has expanded, showing the very real interest there is in it.

“On behalf of the Livestock and Meat Commission I congratulate all the young people who participated in the Sheep Young Handlers class, the level of professionalism, knowledge and enthusiasm they demonstrated was commendable.”

LMC chief executive Colin Smith extended the Commission’s thanks to all those involved in planning and co-ordinating the event. He said, “LMC was delighted to provide sponsorship for this event. We wish to take this opportunity to thank the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS) for facilitating this competition, Ms Blackburn, for giving of her time and expertise to judge the competition and finally, all young handlers; events like this would not be possible without their enthusiasm to showcase the very best of our local livestock.”