She is the 'lady of the mic' having graced many livestock judging rings around the UK, both offering her expert opinion as a judge and commentator. In his next exclusive interview for The SF, Chris McCullough chatted to Libby Clarke about her childhood farming memories and a Royal Highland Show without an audience.

Chris McCullough

Chris McCullough

Based at Magheralin, in Northern Ireland, Libby is a busy mum, juggling between organising two teenage daughters, Lucy and Kate, running a small herd of cattle and managing a busy estate agency.

Well known for her work with Beef Shorthorn cattle and closing deals on properties, Libby is on the go from early morning to late evenings most days, but how did her interest in farming cattle begin?

Tell me about your farm – how many cows do you keep and what breeds?

The farm is just over 100 acres, part of which is in arable production. We run a small herd of pedigree Beef Shorthorns under the Maralin prefix and a few pedigree Charolais cattle under the Springfield name. All told, there are currently around 25 cows with followers.

You have had a long association with farming in Northern Ireland. Briefly outline your childhood farming memories.

I was always out on the farm with dad and from an early age loved cattle and the outdoor life. We had Charolais from the early import days and a herd of commercial cows, so there was always plenty to be done but it was always enjoyable.

I guess the sun always shines when you look back at your childhood!

My late dad, Tom Clarke, was a livestock auctioneer and ran Automart Livestock and property sales until he retired and sold it in 2002. I loved the mart as every day was different and there was always plenty of craic on sale days.

It fitted in round our farm well and taught me how to work hard and plan ahead. Most importantly, I made lifelong friends both through my mart days and at Greenmount College, where I did agriculture for three years.

I love the fact that my eldest daughter, Lucy, is planning to head to Greenmount in the autumn. She really loves the farm and livestock.

Participating in agricultural shows across Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK, both showing cattle and commentating, is part of your DNA. Explain how this interest evolved?

We showed cattle from when I was young and it is something that we continue to do to this day. It has a massive social aspect to it, as well as a fantastic way to promote your livestock.

As well as supporting our local shows we have also ventured to the Royal Highland Show with both Charolais and Beef Shorthorn cattle. Dad worked at Balmoral Show before moving to auctioneering and he had a real passion for the May event.

Libby Clarke judging at the Royal Highland Show

Libby Clarke judging at the Royal Highland Show

I was at my first show when I was just 14 weeks old and have never missed one since! I used to love listening to him commentate on the championships in the cattle, sheep, and pig rings as a child.

I have been on council at Balmoral since 2006 and held various positions. I’m the current chair of the cattle committee, as well as chair of the Royal Ulster Beef and Lamb Championships, and also on the finance committee.

I’m the type of person that if I’m involved in something, I’m in it 100%. I’m a born organiser and love to set a goal or target and work towards it in terms of shows or various sales I help with, as well as charity events.

You’ve experienced the buzz and atmosphere at the Royal Highland many times. What do you honestly think of the RHASS hosting this year’s event behind closed doors, with no public allowed?

It’s a challenging time for agricultural societies. I fully understand that the Highland’s decision to run is not an easy one, but I commend them for driving towards hosting an event even if it is not ideally how any of us would like it.

Their charter is to promote agriculture and if they can livestream the judging, they will have fulfilled this. I will definitely be watching.

We had to make a similar decision for the Royal Ulster Beef and Lamb Championships, and it was a hugely successful event. It was watched online by tens of thousands of people all around the world.

Surely it’s the public that gives the Highland that feel good factor and without it the event will have lost its mojo – especially as Northern Ireland exhibitors cannot even attend?

If you are asking me will I miss the banter and the craic, 100% 'Yes'. It is one of the most sociable shows in the UK, but we are in unprecedented times when we have to adapt in the short term and be positive.

We will make up for it in 2022 ... and that’s a promise!

You work both in farming and in estate agency, how do the two businesses and your skills complement each other?

Farming teaches you how to work hard and do long hours without question.

Having previously owned a livestock mart and being involved in the cattle show scene gives you great communication skills and that is key to success in the estate agents.

My property clients are well used to my early starts and late finishes to ensure that their property is marketed to the best of my ability and receives the attention it deserves.

I also sell a considerable amount of land right across the Province and that is down to my connections in the farming world. They like to have a familiar person they can trust handling their business for them.

Last year most, if not all, farm shows were cancelled thanks to Covid-19 and it is looking like the same will happen this year. Do you think all those show societies can survive?

Local shows have minimal fixed costs and overheads which should mean they will bounce back in 2022. The societies with substantial overheads will, I have no doubt, overcome their challenges to drive forward.

Balmoral continues to be in a strong position and I very much look forward to the September show that is planned for this year.

You recently won the RUAS President’s Plate Award recognising your efforts to the society and Balmoral Show. How did that make you feel?

It is not often I’m stuck for words, but I was genuinely knocked for six when I heard I had received the President’s Plate Award.

I always have considered it quite an accolade and have a real feeling of pride and accomplishment. The messages of congratulations also took me by surprise, really heart-warming. My late father would have been delighted.

Finally, who breeds the best cattle – Scotland or Northern Ireland?

Oh Northern Ireland all day long!