A young Killeshandra farmer was thrilled to even get the chance to represent her region in Limousin stockjudging, so when she proceeded to get on the national team, and then win honours, well she was ecstatic.
Sarah Armstrong’s passion for farming is obvious from the moment the Celt arrives at their Gartenardress farm. Its elevated site gives a beguiling view across Cavan’s lush countryside, with the rotating ivory turbines of Mountain Lodge a distant reference point from which to get your bearings, rather than a blight on the landscape. It’s little wonder Sarah and her younger sisters - twins Jacqueline and Amy delight in rearing their steadily increasing herd of pedigrees.
Despite the Armstrongs’ grá for farming, when Sarah, her mum Susan and the twins ventured north to Antrim Show for the Anglo Irish Finals - the main stockjudging competition for young Limousin breeders in the various parts of the UK and Ireland - it was more in hope than expectation that they travelled.
“Honestly I didn’t expect any of it,” says the modest teenager. “I didn’t even expect to get on the Northeast team to begin with, so to even get this far,” she said, the pause reflecting she’s still a little lost for words.
She brings us back to that rain drenched day.
“It was pouring rain – it was terrible,” she says laughing at the memory. “Awful! And we had to go out in the rain stockjudging.”
They judge four bulls and four heifers and give reasons for putting the bulls in whatever order they put them. “A lot of people complained about that because it’s easier to give reasons on the heifers. It was fine and we were delighted to get out of the rain for a while.”
With the judging and reasons sections completed, they awaited the handling section.
“A thunderstorm started,” recalls Sarah, “and for our own safety they said no they weren’t going to do the handling anymore.”
At a barbecue that night with the other clubs they discovered from elite Scottish breeder Stephanie Dick that the Irish team had won.
In the individual competition Aidan Kinahan claimed the overall prize, while Sarah won joint second along with teammate Michelle Tarpey.
“We were delighted to come away with something becuase we weren’t expecting anything at all.
“We took all the awards that were there, honestly they said that we’d never cleaned it out like that before.”
Had the handling section not been cancelled it seemed nigh impossible that their lead would have been overturned by any of their competitors. She does accept that sometimes the handling section can be, well for want of a better word, a bit of a handling.
“When I was trying to get on the Northeast team, my calf just ploughed his head in the ground and ran around!
“It is nice when you do actually get one that is so well handled – you can show off that you actually know what you’re at. When your calf is just pulling you around, you can’t really show them.”
The handling proved irrelevant in the end as they won without getting saturated for a second time.
“It was an honour,” she says of representing her country. “Maybe not everyone would know about the Limousin YMA, but for anyone who is a breeder and would know about it – it is something that people would want to do, is get on the Ireland team, especially if you are in the YMA – that’s why people are competing; to get on the team. Honestly – it was so good to actually win – not just to be on the team, but actually come out and win something in the end is really the cherry on top for everyone.”
Sarah was delighted to share the special moment with her family.
“There were great celebrations after,” enthused Susan. “When we were travelling down I never thought in my wildest imaginations that we’d come home with anything really, when you are competing against teams from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.”
Sarah joined the Young Members Association (YMA) since she was 14, but Susan explains that her eldest daughter’s interest in farming has been a life long passion.
“I remember when she was very very small in the winter time, she was down at the farm and the next thing I heard everyone shouting,” says Susan suppressing laugh, “She had went into the little calves and let them all out - so she always had an interest in them.”
A recurring name which Sarah raises is that of her grandfather, the late Robert Armstrong, who she credits for inspiring her interest.
“My grandfather used to judge cattle – so I wanted to keep up that as well. I think he’d be happy that I’d come so far in stockjudging.
“He did have a big impact on all of us – I don’t think any of us would be too big into cattle if it wasn’t for him, because he always had us out with the cattle – he had us started young.”
Amongst the Armstrong herd are a few Herefords, and again it was her grandfather Robert who, in his day enjoyed some notable
wins in the RDS, was the inspiration behind the choice of cattle.
“We only started Herefords last year but my grandfather used to have Herefords back years ago – back from the 1920s, but we stopped in the year 2000. He passed away last summer, so we started up again last summer – we decided we wanted to get the Herefords back.”
While none of Sarah’s school friends are farmers or in the YMA, at this stage they don’t raise an eyebrow at her hobby.
“They well know what I’m like. It’s not as if I go around school talking mad about cows either,” she jokes. “They’d be happy for me as well, they were well chuffed that I won.”
Sarah, who has entered Leaving Cert year in Carrigallen Vocational School, hopes to study agricultural science in a level eight degree course divided between Dundalk and Ballyhaise, and then progress to become either a college lecturer or agricultural adviser. At the minute she will keep her hand in agriculture by rearing her beloved pedigrees.
“It’s enjoyable, especially with cows calving – welcoming new life into the world. There are a few days you think – why do I even bother with this? Honestly, you could have a real downer day, but every other day it’s the best coming out – all of them just chilling, minding their own business, enjoying life.”