Sheep and lambs reared by young offenders at Belfast prison facility Hydebank Wood College are among the livestock on show at Balmoral.

The Border Leicester sheep were introduced into Hydebank in September last year as part of a rehabilitation programme aimed at teaching new skills to inmates.

It is also hoped the agri-initiative will help to create working opportunities when the young offenders return to the community.

And the sheep were certainly on to a winner at Balmoral, even picking up some rosettes.

Prize-winning Hydebank ewe Iona. Credit: Michael Cooper

Ricky Graham, Vocational Training Officer at Hydebank and part-time sheep farmer, said: “When the students learn basic livestock and husbandry skills, they are tasked to look after the sheep.

“On a daily basis, they would feed them, ensure they had water, check their welfare and move them to new paddocks if they needed to be. They’ve even been involved in building pens for the sheep.

“The breeding was a natural progression. The ewes were covered by two rams in October and in March this year they produced three lambs – much to the delight of the students and staff alike.”

He added: “Showing them at Balmoral has been just a fantastic experience and probably the highlight of the whole project.”

Showing the sheep at Balmoral Show. Credit: Michael Cooper

Hydebank Wood College Governor David Eagleson said: “This has been a hugely successful project which has helped build great self-esteem among the students.

“We hope as they prepare for a return to the community, it will also steer them away from a life of crime, into meaningful employment and perhaps a better future.

“Rehabilitation and resettlement are to the forefront of the Prison Service work.

“By giving those who come into our care opportunities such as this, we are helping reduce reoffending and making Northern Ireland a much safer place.”

Johnny pictured with his prize-winning ewe Iona. Credit: Michael Cooper

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