ABP Angus Youth Challenge finding favour in Co Fermanagh

The E.R.G team's five Aberdeen Angus cross calves pictured during the summer
The E.R.G team's five Aberdeen Angus cross calves pictured during the summer

The ABP Angus Youth Challenge is open for entries from teams of teenagers interested in working in the agri-food sector.

One of the successful teams currently participating in the finalist programme is from Enniskillen Royal Grammar.

Pictured from left are Enniskillen Royal Grammar pupils Anna and Aaron Flanagan; Liam McCarthy Head of Supply Chain Development for ABP in Northern Ireland; Heather Kettyle, Home Economics teacher; fellow pupils James Ritchie and Thomas Kerr along with Deirdre McGowan, Northern Irish Angus Producer Group.

Pictured from left are Enniskillen Royal Grammar pupils Anna and Aaron Flanagan; Liam McCarthy Head of Supply Chain Development for ABP in Northern Ireland; Heather Kettyle, Home Economics teacher; fellow pupils James Ritchie and Thomas Kerr along with Deirdre McGowan, Northern Irish Angus Producer Group.

Their Home Economics teacher, Heather Kettyle, is quick to praise the scope and unique feature of the ABP Angus Youth Challenge. She believes that the competition has had a unique impact with all the students attending the school and the community at large throughout Co Fermanagh.

She said: “Our school has a very rural catchment area. Yet very few of our pupils come from active farming families. To find that link, there is a requirement to go back a generation.

“However, the success of our team in reaching the final stage of the competition has succeeded in re-kindling an awareness of just how important farming and food is to this part of the world.

“The entire school is delighted that the four-strong team directly involved has succeeded in qualifying for an 18-month skills development programme with ABP. Everyone is working hard to ensure that we feature prominently when the finalists are judged later this year.”

Heather has direct experience of knowing what it is like to be directly involved in beef production. Her husband James runs a very successful suckler beef enterprise on the outskirts of Enniskillen.

The team co-ordinating the Enniskillen Royal Grammar ‘assault’ on the ABP Group Angus Challenge comprises Aaron Flanagan, from Lisnaskea, his sister Anna, Thomas Kerr, from Ballinamallard and James Ritchie, another native of Lisnaskea. Both Thomas and James come from working farms.

The competition is organised in association with the Northern Irish Angus Producer Group. It provides the finalist teams with two key challenges. The first is to manage five weanling Angus steers and a heifer through to finishing weights in the most efficient way possible over an 18-month period. The calves were awarded by ABP to the first set of finalists just over a year ago at the Balmoral Show. They will profit from their sale to ABP at finishing in the Autumn.

The second challenge is to research innovative ways of enhancing the beef supply chain across Northern Ireland. This latter project will be adjudicated on, courtesy of a final presentation made by each of the finalists in 2020. So, it’s a long-term commitment on the part of both the schools and ABP over which time the participants mature and develop a range of skills.

After the weanling calves were presented to the ERG team it was agreed that they would be maintained on the Ritchie family farm.

“Everyone on the team has had a full and equal say regarding the management decisions that have been taken,” he said.

“The cattle wintered well and have really come into their own since getting out to grass earlier in the year. They will be put on their finishing ration in a few weeks’ time. But priority number one is to keep them at grass for as long as possible.”

Anna reflected on just how popular the animals have been with all the pupils at the school.

“First-off we named them. The roll of honour is Arthur, Angus, Betsy, Polly and Rosie: two steers and three heifers.

“They really have been the centre of attention at the school. Many pupils attended the weigh-in of the calves after they came off grass last year.

“Their presence at the school also encouraged the hosting of a non-uniform day, which helped raise over £2,000 for the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance.

“The calf named Angus also made a guest appearance at our 2018 School Sports’ Day. The event was re-named the Lakeland Games, given the focus that was placed on several competitions that would feature at the Highland Games in Scotland.”

But, in addition to the photo opportunities, the members of the Enniskillen Royal team, have put some very serious thought into the work they will include within their final report – upon which they will be assessed later this year.

James takes up the story: “Our intention is to highlight how relevant the Angus breed can be to the beef industry in Co Fermanagh. Up to this point, the cattle would not feature that prominently within suckler herds in this area.

“We feel this is an issue which should be actively addressed by farmers, many of whom keep their herds on heavy ground.”

He continued: “There is a bonus available for Angus cattle, given the quality of the meat they produce. In addition, breeding bulls produce relatively small calves, which make them very suited to the conditions which prevail right across Co Fermanagh.

“The relatively short gestation period of the Angus breed also makes it very suited to spring calving suckler herds, where producing a calf every 12 months is critical to the success of the entire operation.

“Angus cattle tend to be more docile, making them easier and safer to work with, from the farmer’s point of view.”

To back up their assertions on Angus beef quality, the Enniskillen Royal Grammar team carried out meat sensory and taste tests last year.

“This work confirmed the benefits of Angus beef in this regard,” said Thomas.

“We have concluded that the Angus really does have something positive to offer farmers in Co Fermanagh.”

But the team members now want to build on this, as Aaron pointed out.

“Our plan is to get out over the coming months and discuss these matters with farmers on the ground across Fermanagh,” he said. “We will be including the responses they give us in our final presentation.”

Meanwhile, ABP is delighted with the impact the Angus Youth Challenge is having right across Northern Ireland.

“Encouraging young people into our industry is something ABP is committed to. There are opportunities right across the entire scope of the beef sector, from primary production through to processing and marketing,” commented ABP’s Head of Supply Chain Development, Liam McCarthy.

“The ABP Angus Youth Challenge was conceived as a means of encouraging teenagers to consider working within our sector and to put their skills to best use across the industry as a whole.”

He continued: “Critically, the ABP Angus Youth Challenge not only has a strong focus on how best to manage cattle on farm but it is offering participants a well-rounded skills development opportunity in preparation for the world of work.

“As part of their development programme, we have taken the finalists on a farm to fork study tour to ABP in Great Britain.

“We have also helped them develop their digital communications and presentation skills through a training academy hosted by a leading media company.

“All of this is CV-enhancing and will stand them in good stead for when they leave full time education and are seeking job opportunities in agri-food.

“The feedback from teachers is extremely positive. They have cited the impact the competition is having on their pupils’ engagement with education and learning. They have told us it is offering those who may not be interested in the traditional extra-curricular activities of sport or music a way to gain recognition and excel at something they enjoy and are good at.”

The ABP Angus Youth Challenge 2019-2021 is now open for entries from teams of 14-16-year olds. Entries close at noon on 29th November 2019.

Visit www.abpangusyouthchallenge.com