Hard work, dedication and a will to succeed are traits needed to excel in farming and Cork sisters Lucy and Emma Harrington possess these traits in abundance. Despite being aged just 14 and 12, respectively, the sisters have established their own sheep flocks and have blazed a trail to glory on the show circuit and in breeding top-quality sheep.

Lucy’s flock of Perth Blackface sheep were established in 2016 and have excelled in recent years. A fan of farming from a young age, Lucy purchased her first Perth Blackface ram in 2016 and with the support of her parents, Tim and Carol, set about breeding with a small number of Blackface ewes.

Emma, Lucy and Tim Harrington gathering their prize winning Scotch Ewes on land at nearby Durrus on Sheep’s Head Peninsula. / Valerie O’Sullivan

She explains how it all began: “Dad used to show sheep when he was younger with Grandad, and I thought it was a nice idea to do the same and carry on the tradition. I really liked the look of Blackface sheep and have been lucky to be able to have my own flock. There is a lot of work with them, but everyone in the family all helps each other out and it is something we all love doing.”

Top performance

The flock of sheep have excelled in the last two years, in particular. A ram lamb she bred and sold at the Munster Scotch Blackface Association annual show and sale (at Cahir Mart in 2022) was this year sold in the Waterford Perth Blackface Sheep Breeders sale and set a record price of €5,200 for a hogget ram in Dungarvan Mart. A hogget ewe bred and sold by Lucy also grabbed the headline in 2023, selling for €1,760 in Cahir at the annual show and sale.

Lucy and Emma Harrington, Bantry, Co Cork with their Scotch Blackfaced hogget ewes at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska. \ Donal O' Leary

These were big accomplishments for the young breeder, but it is the enjoyment from showing and competing in shows that stands out for Lucy. Having won two All-Ireland titles with her hogget ewe and pair of ewe lambs in 2023, Lucy was rewarded for her hard work and dedication and got the opportunity to exhibit sheep at this year’s ploughing championships.

Her mother Carol explains: “From a young age, Lucy would ask why sheep like hers were not at the ploughing. It was a big ambition of Lucy’s to make this happen and, with the kind help of Robin Darker from the National Sheep Breeders Association, her dream came true in 2023.” Lucy’s ambition for 2024 is to show sheep at Tullamore Show.

Picking a winner

So what stands out for Lucy when selecting sheep for breeding and the show ring? She says, “I like a Scotch with a black face – a small bit of white like a star is OK. It must have really nice wool, be a tall, blocky frame and have good coloured legs and jawline. The lambs we pick for showing are usually picked the day before shows or what we think look the best on the morning. We don’t do any dying of wool or pampering”.

Emma is quickly following in the footsteps of Lucy and is carving her own breeding path with Cheviot sheep. She says, “The Cheviot sheep need to be all white with no black spots. They must have a nice white face and ears cocked up. Dad helps to pick and says you need a long ewe to breed good lambs. I am excited this year as the ewes were bred to a Suffolk ram up to now, but we bought a Cheviot ram in Blessington - so I can’t wait to see their lambs.”

Weekly chores

The two sisters help with all sheepwork on the farm and also help older brother, Patrick, who has taken a shine to Texel sheep. He won the supreme Champion with his Texel hogget ram at the South West Texel Breeders show and sale in Milltown this year.

On the agenda at present is ensuring rams are breeding with ewes and health tasks such as dosing ewes for fluke. Lucy is keen to learn about the best way to manage sheep and says local animal health advisor and supplier, Terence O’Shea, who works for Natural Stockcare has been a great help in advising about the importance of dung sampling for worms and other health tasks. Regular mineral supplementation is vital to have thriving healthy sheep.

Training Emma’s sheepdog, Rocky, is also high on the agenda. “We take him out every day and when we are training him we let him see Buddy, our older sheepdog, working. This helps to show him what to do.”

It is not a case of all work and no play, Lucy and Emma juggle farming with sports and school. Lucy and Emma enjoy GAA with local club Bantry Blues while Emma also plays basketball and soccer.

There is no doubt a bright future lies ahead.