13 teenagers representing four Northern Ireland schools have been presented with a mini-herd of Angus-cross calves to rear.

It's part of their reward for reaching the final stage of the Angus Youth competition and agri-skills development programme with meat processor ABP.

The winning schools were announced by the well-known farming programme presenter and journalist, Nicola Weir, at the first live agri-event to take place at Balmoral Park since the Beef and Lamb Championships in November 2020.

"I think this competition is particularly impressive and important as it gives young people, no matter what your background is, the opportunity to be involved in agriculture," Weir told attendees.

"It also allows you to find out exactly where your food comes from - this is a great process for that because you follow it from farm to fork."

The ABP Angus Youth Challenge aims to bridge the skills gap between school and gaining employment in the sector.

The pupils range from 14 to 16 years old and have a common interest in working in the agricultural and the food production industry.

The four finalist schools include:

  • Cookstown High School;
  • Dalriada School Ballymoney;
  • Friends’ School Lisburn; and
  • St. Kevin’s College, Lisnaskea.

Each team was presented with their finalist trophies and calves at Balmoral Park showgrounds by George Mullan, managing director of ABP in Northern Ireland, which is sponsoring the competition, and Charles Smith, general manager of the Northern Irish Angus Producers Group.

The finalists will rear their calves through to beef and sell them to ABP, sharing in the net reward after sale.

They have also been assigned special projects to work on over the next 18 months. These will challenge them to explore innovative and forward-thinking ways to support the sustainable development of beef production in Northern Ireland. Mentoring them throughout the programme will be College of Agriculture Food Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) advisors.

2021 ABP Angus Youth Challenge finalist team from Friends’ School Lisburn, Meabh Quinn; Molly Nelson and Rachel McEntee

Among those picking up calves this year were Friends’ School Lisburn students Meabh Quinn, Molly Nelson, and Rachel McEntee. Meabh and Rachel both have rural connections in their families but it was Molly who encouraged the team to enter.

"They announced it in class and Molly just turned around and said 'I want to do that'," Meabh said.

"So we went to the meeting about it, and it looked interesting, made our video to enter, and eventually we ended up here."

"I don't have any farming connections at all," Molly said. "I just thought it sounded interesting.

"I wanted to learn more about agriculture and get hands-on experience with cows - even the research skills and the skills you learn through the development programme sounded like they would be useful to learn and great for our CVs."

The girls have yet to decide what they want to do after their school days but are open to inspiration. Their project will examine how livestock genetics could influence the sustainability of local beef farming.

The teams’ performance across all aspects of the final stage will be continually assessed. At the end of their programme, one overall winning team will receive a £1,000 cash prize for their school.

At the ceremony, Emma Turner and Samantha Todd, from Wallace High School, Lisburn, were presented with a cheque for their school.

The next intake for the ABP Angus Youth Challenge will open again for entries in September 2021.