Magazine celebrating rural life in Northern Ireland. Gavin Andrews meets an award-winning beef farmer to learn what it takes to produce high-quality beef for the supermarkets.
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Hello and welcome to Home Ground,
the show bringing you a real taste
of all things rural
in Northern Ireland.
Yes, tonight Gavin and I bring you
the pick of the crop.
We've been digging beneath the surface to bring you some
great stories from around the countryside.
Here's what's coming up on tonight's programme.
Ruth finds out about farming for adults with learning difficulties
and how the future of one important scheme might be in doubt.
We delve into the world of taxidermy and meat the Dutch woman
using it to bring nature back to life.
And I get the Lycra and trainers on to find out about sport
and our archaeological past.
This site was built on purpose by a local community so what we're doing
here today is actually pretty appropriate.
But first, think of spring, and lambs jumping around the fields
are probably somewhere in that picture.
But they aren't the only new arrivals on our farms.
I'm here in Kircubbin to lend a hand with this year's calving.
There isn't much Sam Chesney doesn't know about beef.
He supplies the leading supermarkets here but to get to that point,
he needs this time of year to go according to plan.
Over a ten-week period, he expects 150 new calves on the farm.
Sam, how busy a time is this for you at the minute?
Busiest time of the year, Gavin.
You've just come in time because
we have lots of cows calving,
the sheep have all finished
and we're still waiting on
these ladies to calve now.
Like any expectant father,
you're not getting much sleep, I'm sure?
No, we don't really sleep too much this time of year.
We calve for about ten weeks in a batch and it's all day, all night -
nine o'clock, half two, six o'clock.
And whenever it happens, it happens, but you have to be here on call.
And you've coordinated it all that happens at the one time?
Is that just for handiness's sake for you?
It's for everything, it's for labour, handiness.
When you are on the ball all the time,
you have less losses, and it is easier to feed
a batch of calves that are all the same size and the same age.
You can appropriately tailor your market for those animals
going forward in 16 months' time.
And this whole set-up here,
-it's almost like a maternity ward, isn't it?
We have cows in other houses and as it comes to calving,
we bring them into these straw pens...big, large pens.
We group them about nine or ten to a pen
so there's plenty of room to relax
and, you know, come forward to calving,
their udders develop more, their rear end develops wider.
Their pelvic muscles slacken so that the calf can be easily born.
This lady is coming across for a look. Is she nearly ready to go?
She's looking signs that she may start.
You see her tail moving about on her back.
Is it just years of experience to know when it is going to
happen and when to intervene as well?
I think it is years of experience.
The animals are worth so much and you don't want any suffering,
you have to know when to ring the vet.
We always say ring earlier rather than later.
If we think the calf is too big or you can't easily manage,
we would get the vet.
We have had a couple of Caesareans this year,
mother and babies are doing fine.
While most of what happens is nature taking its course,
it is a carefully planned and managed process.
We've synchronised batches of cows, we've AI'd them all,
artificially inseminated a lot of cows in the one day
to make them calve in a batch before the burst of grass comes.
So it's all tailored... It's not just one thing,
it's lots of wee things add up to make the whole package.
We don't want cows calving in the middle of summertime,
because the grass is tailoring off. We want them to calve now
because the grass gets better so the cows produce more milk,
so the calf gets more milk so the calf grows quicker.
So it's lots of wee things.
Once the calf is born,
the aim is to get it tagged and out into the field
as quickly as possible.
Right, Gavin, we're going to tag this calf
and it's for traceability.
So every calf has got an individual number, so they'll go back to
a computer that is held at the Department of Agriculture
and they will know that calf belongs to me and its mother's number
and its grandmother's number and so on and so on.
We take a wee tissue sample, this goes into these pliers
and a wee sample of ear tissue is put in this wee phial.
On the wee phial is the ear number of the animal and it goes off
to a lab and is tested for a disease called BVD
which does not affect humans but it's an animal disease.
Likewise that wee sample can be used for DNA and lots of other things
for traceability, so it's very important we have this.
Why is it so important for you?
Traceability is the big thing.
Consumers again, going back to consumers, are very important,
they want to know exactly where their meat comes from.
The scandal of horsemeat going back three or four years ago -
it wasn't beef we were actually eating, it was horses.
The Northern Ireland traceability system is second to none
in the world.
We can trace animals right back to the batch that it's in.
You go to the supermarket, pick a batch of beef up,
and you can trace it back to me.
We stand over our product.
It's just another layer of quality, isn't it?
It's very important, quality is utmost here.
Northern Ireland produce is built on this, whether it's beef,
lamb, pork, whatever, vegetables.
Northern Ireland products is built on the quality we produce.
Less food miles, traceability, carbon footprint -
all those things that for the consumer are very important to have,
we have it here, but we have to keep reinforcing it.
This is another step forward - taking a tissue sample.
And for you quality means a good price?
Quality is good price, yes. We need to...
Our best market is supermarkets, that's our best premium price.
Probably the best price in the world for beef in Northern Ireland
is from the supermarkets in the UK.
But they demand lots of layers of traceability, hygiene
and different things. We produce that, so we deserve the price.
So are we going to go and shock this little one?
We're going to have a... I'm not going to do it,
you're going to do it.
-I feel sorry enough for them without...
It's very painless, it's just like getting your ear pierced.
You haven't got your ear pierced?
-Neither have you, I see.
-Neither have I.
Quick, quick. Harder.
-Do I click?
-That's it, let go.
There you go, that's it.
Sorry, boy. He took that well.
And there is the sample.
There we go. So we can trace this wee man
-back to this very shed.
-There's the wee sample.
And at this time of year,
getting the new calves to good grass will give them the best start.
-They don't know where to go.
-They don't know what's going on.
They're only learning.
Do you have to be careful with them, are they still a wee bit protective?
They would be very protective.
If you want to catch a calf, you would get other mothers
coming to gang up on you, never mind the mother of the calf.
Come on, dear. Come on.
This is the joy of beef in this part of the world,
that lush grass that we get here.
It couldn't be healthier than that, that beautiful fresh grass.
On a day like that, you wouldn't want to be anywhere else, would you?
No, not really. Beautiful day.
Showers forecast, but it takes showers to grow grass.
And fresh grass means happy cows and that means a happy farmer.
You may think that taxidermy is all about hunting trophies
and antlers above the fireplace but I have been to County Down
to find out how it's being used to promote conservation and learning.
Cockerels, badgers, foxes and owls -
they might not enjoy each other's company in the wild,
but in this Bangor studio, they're not complaining.
Oh, my goodness.
Look at this.
-You must be Ingrid?
-Pleasure to meet you.
-What an amazing studio.
-Thank you very much.
Wow. You kind of just feel like
you're being watched from every angle.
It's not often people get this close to this amount of animals.
It's just incredible.
And who is he?
This is a roe deer
that was actually brought to us
and I'm currently working on him.
As you can see,
I was finishing up around the eyes,
getting the detailing right before the skin has to dry
which is a process that takes about two weeks' time.
Ingrid receives specimens from wildlife groups,
park rangers, museums and members of the public,
before transforming them into works of art.
I like this fella.
There's a bit of a Donald Trump kind of look about him, is there not?
-He does have a bit of a fashionable quiff, doesn't he?
He is a Chinese golden pheasant.
I mean, look at the colours, nature is just incredible.
Do you do many pets?
I try to talk people out of it, mainly because whenever
people come to me, they come to me in a moment of grief and their
initial idea is that I can bring the animal back
and although I'm good at taxidermy, I can't do magic.
It's a courting bee-eater, so it is the male offering the female a piece
of prey, and the whole wire suspension goes through the bird,
-through the beak, bee, beak, and back into the legs.
Ingrid works for museums and conservation charities and is
passionate about using nature for education.
I could spend all day admiring these works of art
but Ingrid has work to do.
So what have we got here?
We have an unfortunate window collision victim,
a little starling that we're going to be working on.
So we'll take a scalpel.
The perception is that you are cutting open animals
and blood and guts...
It really isn't as bad as most people think.
I thought I would be more squeamish about this but it's fine.
As I said, there's no real blood or guts or anything,
because obviously the specimen has been frozen.
I'm glad it's not a rat, all the same.
Some specimens are more interesting to work on than others, I suppose.
But in regards to wildlife education, everything has its place.
So once you've got the skin away from the carcass,
what do you do with the body then?
The body doesn't get used, I just take measurements to make sure that
I have the right size and everything of the form that I'm making.
And then obviously the skin gets cleaned, washed, tanned.
Now this process does take time.
Typically how long from start to finish?
Well, a bird skin can tan in 24 hours, but mammal skin such as foxes
or things like that can take easily two weeks
before they are workable and the tanning process
is a process that stabilises the protein in the skin
so it basically turns the skin into wet leather.
While our little bird heads off to the tanning bath,
Ingrid has another one ready for the next stage.
Using measurements of the body, Ingrid has created
a mould that the skin is placed over.
Wires are then inserted to give the bird its shape.
I've put too much pressure on the wire.
Here's how not to do it.
I've put too much pressure on the wire and I've actually bent it.
Not all is lost.
Can you redeem?
It should be doable.
Let's have a wee look.
I think I'll stick to the day job.
So with the blow dryer, you can hold it by either the legs or the wires,
whichever you prefer, and you just work until all the feathers are dry.
What have you worked on - what was the best thing?
Anything that is used for education is the best thing for me.
Anything that inspires kids about nature, wildlife,
and obviously the importance of taking care of it,
for me is the best thing.
It really doesn't come down to a specimen.
Sparrows can be just as impressive as peacocks in my eyes, because...
Size doesn't matter?
No, size doesn't matter.
-Everything is beautiful in its own right.
So is this your favourite bit, then, when you get to pose it and...?
This is the part where all the patience and the work comes in
and eventually rewards when you have something that just looks
like it's alive.
This will now take many hours and I might revisit it tomorrow and think,
"Hold on, the pose isn't quite right."
or, "The feathers don't quite sit right,"
so it will be a process of returning and brushing and keeping up
until it's... Well, until it's perfect.
It's preserving that moment in time and getting
a close-up look at nature at its absolute finest.
Now the farming life can be hard at the best of times, but for adults
with learning difficulties, it is extra tough.
Ruth has been to County Fermanagh to visit one farm opening its doors
and giving people with disability the chance
to get stuck in to work.
I'm here to spend time on a very special farm.
Two days a week,
Simon and Jennifer host adults with learning difficulties.
Ben and Matthew are here today and I've been roped in to helping
in the cow shed.
So how often are the boys here, then?
The boys are here two days a week. They've been here for the last
six months and we've seen great improvements.
What sort of things have you seen develop and improve?
Certainly, Matthew and Ben have been
more confident around the animals.
When they came at first they were
afraid of the chickens, you know,
but now they're able to walk...
-And now they're here.
-Now they're here walking amongst the cows.
They've just been in great form since they've came here.
Do you think people can be a wee bit sceptical
about how well this might work because it is dirty and cold
and, you know, you've got sharp things and you've got danger?
It certainly wouldn't work for everybody now,
but certainly for half the population of Northern Ireland
who live in the countryside, it would suit them better
than obviously somebody coming from the town.
'As I found out,
'they're keen to get on with lots of tasks around the farm.'
They were painting this last week.
Were you painting this?
That's brilliant. Very good.
Did you do all this yourself?
It's a nice colour, isn't it?
They really enjoy... Well, Ben, in particular, the animals,
and Matthew the tractor.
But now Ben is starting to take increased interest in the tractors.
But that's what we're seeing all the time -
every week you see their interests grow.
-What's next, then?
-What's next? We're going to do the sticks.
You've been very patient.
He's doing the sticks and the thatch.
OK, let's go and do that, shall we?
The boys themselves, they love to lift big weights.
It's very therapeutic for them, we find it gives them
a sense of confidence.
"I am a big guy, I can lift this big weight," you know.
Although it might not be that big really,
but it's just exercise as well, it's great for them, you know.
Which presumably has a knock-on effect to everything else?
It affects their physical and mental health as well.
Have their parents seen a difference over the six months
-of them being here?
-I think they have.
We've had great feedback from the parents,
-especially about Matthew and Ben here.
-Yeah. What sort of things
-are they noticing?
-They're noticing that they're sleeping better
and they're more concentrated with things
and they're a lot happier about life, you know.
I guess a bit of fresh air, a bit of exercise.
There's something to look forward to each week as well.
Why did you get involved with this in the first place?
We have two boys, David and Mark,
who have autism and a learning disability
so back when David was only about ten or so, I was looking...
what will he do when he leaves school?
I came across a farm down in the south that was doing sort of
similar things like this and we went and visited it and we came
back and we thought that we could do something similar.
So that's how we started.
Jennifer and Simon are part of the social farming scheme
which operates on both sides of the border.
There are 15 farms involved at the minute but with lots more
interested in taking part.
However, the funding is piecemeal and there are questions over
the continuing future of the service.
So is that the problem as to why more farms aren't signed up
to this, because there's just not the money?
It would be a key issue in terms
of getting that sustainable
funding, so across Northern Ireland
we would have pockets of activity
with different farms engaged,
but in terms of it being
a regional practice,
it isn't well-established yet and that's what we're moving towards.
Is one of the issues that it's very expensive?
Because it's very much a one-on-one thing. Whereas maybe other provision
in towns or cities, everybody's coming to a centralised place and
it's not as active, there's not as much resource involved in it?
I suppose it is a more bespoke service that you are catering for,
a smaller group of people when they come out,
and that's the benefit of it,
that you are getting that interaction with the farmer and with
the number of participants that are out -
that is a small group that are doing the activities, it's not
well suited for 50 people to come out for a morning or the full day.
But it shouldn't be prohibitive, the cost.
It is in line with other opportunities and is just something
that needs more consideration as to how it can be funded.
Social inclusion is the main benefit, being in your local
community instead of going to a big centre in the local town.
There's farmers out there who want to deliver,
there's people who can benefit from it, so it seems straightforward
in that sense but obviously funding has to match up with that.
Through opportunities like this, we're increasing choice.
For people who want to engage in it, the opportunities should be there.
-But you just need the money to get it there?
Has it given you both more of a hope for the future for your own boys?
That is a lot of the reason.
We hope to improve the lives of our children by doing this ourselves.
It would probably suit better for them to go somewhere else more
than our own farm because this is home for them.
But there are other social farmers in County Fermanagh as well,
so we're hoping that our boys will maybe go to their farms
and we will still hopefully host other young people.
So it's about keeping young people who are from the countryside
-in the countryside?
-Yes, that's right.
A lot of parents are fearful of the future and really do lack
a hopeful future for their loved ones and that is very difficult
to hear. So, yes, what we're doing is hopefully making the future
a lot more hopeful and brighter for people with learning disabilities.
Northern Ireland is dotted with lots of ancient monuments, but you
probably don't expect them to be visited by Lycra-clad gym bunnies.
Well, I've been taking part in a new scheme aimed at getting us
to move more and learn a little bit about history too.
The Giant's Ring, one of Northern Ireland's best-preserved ancient
sites, sits outside Belfast and marks the start of the countryside
as well as telling us a lot about our own history.
We refer to it as a henge, it is a henge monument.
And this was built
about 6,000 years ago.
You can really appreciate here
the scale that we're talking -
banks that are four metres high.
It spans a distance of 200 metres.
So it was a considerable effort by the people who built this,
it was very significant to them.
There's a lot of information we don't know
about these type of sites. They're quite rare -
we only have about 11 of these across the entire Northern Ireland
and this is probably one of the best preserved ones.
We think that they were ritual and religious.
They were built... They're not defensive, they were built by...
As you can see, it's scooped out there from the insides,
sort of a dish profile, so they dished out from the interior
to build up a bank so it wasn't defensive.
But it is an enclosure,
so we do think it was for community gatherings.
But today it's being put to a different use.
The idea is that we're trying to get people out and get them
active and we've got a sports coach here who's going to beast them
and make them understand and realise,
"This is a shared space, it's free,
"it's open, it's on the doorstep and why not use it?"
Why do you think people don't use it?
It's a good question.
Maybe we need to promote it more, maybe it's one of those things
that you just don't appreciate what's on your doorstep.
Maybe people think that to get fit and healthy,
you need to go to the gym.
And we're here to show you that you don't.
These sites are here for you to use and you don't need anything,
you don't need a commitment, you don't need anyone telling you
what to do, so come along and join in and get fit, get outdoors.
Today we'll be doing a lot of stuff today
that anybody who's here can take home,
use it in their back garden, use it in a field in the Giant's Ring,
in a park, a forest, anywhere.
So that's what we're aiming to today.
Up to 25% of children at the age of 11 are now obese,
which for me stems actually
from their parents,
it's not from the kids.
So if we can be re-educate the
parents, if we can get them involved
in being outside, using our green spaces, you said it as well,
we just don't appreciate what we have here.
Well, I suppose there are people that might say this is
a place of great historic significance.
Is it inappropriate to use it as an outdoor gym?
We think basically the total opposite.
This site was built on purpose by a local community that worked together
to build this site, it was very significant to them.
And while there's a lot we don't know about the site, we do know
that it was used for community gatherings and such.
So what we're doing today is actually pretty appropriate.
We are bringing people together here, we're getting them active
and bringing communities together, basically,
so it's quite appropriate.
Alternative uses for our heritage.
Getting people out here, actually getting them physically out to these
spots, I suppose you get them to appreciate the history inadvertently
almost without throwing facts and figures down their throats.
Exactly, that's what we're hoping through this project actually
is to draw attention to these sites in the first instance of
just having activity here and getting them out and then if they
get interested in archaeology and history after that, then fantastic.
But these are special places and we want people to appreciate them
for whatever reason that might be.
This is only one of a couple of projects we have this year.
We have another couple of events at different historic monuments.
-Well, we have about 190 of these State Care monuments alone,
so we've a lot of scope there, a lot of potential.
The aim here is to combat rural isolation and unhealthy
lifestyles. However, the Giant's Ring has been the site of some
antisocial behaviour, a reputation that Stefanie is keen to change.
We want all of our visitors to feel welcome and safe when they
come to the site and obviously we want it used for different reasons,
various reasons, we want people to come here and appreciate it
for whatever reason.
So we would like to discourage any kind of activity that makes
people feel distressed or that doesn't respect other visitors
and the heritage as a place.
We'll hit this nice and hard.
The rain is on today but those who have turned up to brave it
seem pretty keen.
Go. 20 seconds on, good.
Keep your tempo high. Keep your tempo high.
What do you think puts people off exercising out in the countryside...
..apart from the rain and the wind and the cold?
What puts them off?
I guess obviously weather-dependent is obviously one thing
in Northern Ireland but from the perspective of...
The hardest part of any kind of exercise
is getting out the door.
Once you get out the door
and you get into the fresh air and an open space,
that initially gives you a sense of awakening energy, ready to go.
It's just trying to convert that into an exercise.
I don't think people necessarily always consider outside
and free space as an option, erm...
Again I think it's a matter of trying to communicate that
information and people knowing where they can go to that are going
to be free areas.
If you're interested in taking part, you can find out more online.
Let's go, quickly.
Double time. Double time.
That's a high-five, that is.
-How do you feel after that?
-You're a laugh.
My legs are still sore but I learned a good bit
about history too, it's a great initiative.
Yeah, it was a great day. Now that is just about it for this episode
and this series of Home Ground.
We'll be back in September, we'll see you then.
See you then, bye-bye.
It's the final episode in the series, and Gavin is in the Ards Peninsula to meet an award-winning beef farmer to learn what it takes to produce high-quality beef for the major supermarkets. Jo meets an ethical taxidermist who uses her work to educate the public about nature, and also works up a sweat when she meets a group who are using the Giant's Ring as an outdoor gym. Meanwhile, Ruth is in Fermanagh to hear about a scheme that gets people with learning difficulties working on a farm - a vitally important scheme whose future funding is uncertain.