A farming family
by Melissa Rollock
They are the family you have to beat at Agrofest. The Branch’s – Ian, Dwayne and Kevin – have been dominating the livestock competitions at the annual agricultural exhibition since its inception.
Ian, the father, is known for his dominance in the sheep classes with his son Dwayne following in his footsteps. His stepson, Kevin, has made a name for himself in the goat competitions, also copping the top prizes each year.
Ian, who owns a small livestock farm in St. James, has won prizes in the sheep, goat, pig and cow categories over the years. He even has a wall dedicated to all of the prize ribbons he has amassed. The Agrofest veteran also took the Overall Animal prize in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011 for having the best animal at the show before it was subsequently changed to The Best Male and The Best Female.
Admittedly, he always had a love for animals growing up since his parents reared pigs. But that love was extended to sheep when he was gifted with his first lamb back in 1989. The following year, he wasted no time entering the Sheep Show, as it was called back then, the following year when it was held in the Pine, St. Michael.
To Ian’s surprise, he won. He seemed to have a knack for it so he decided he would rear sheep primarily for competition from then on. Wherever the Sheep Show went, Ian followed until it finally found a home in Queen’s Park at Agrofest.
His dedication to animals and his new hobby soon rubbed off on his son.
“He started from the time he was about four years old. When I got up and went outside on mornings, he was right behind me. He just had a love for animals… I remember when he was at primary school he reared a bull that gave over 500 pounds of meat when it was slaughtered and that was at primary school.
“[On another occasion], I had a ram and I came home one evening and found my son, who was about seven or eight years-old, in the pen and it was fully cleaned. I asked him who cleaned it and he said he did. I was vex and I started to quarrel with him because I was fearful that the ram would’ve licked him down and kill him because they can be very dangerous.
“But he explained to me how he took a handful of feed and lured it into a corner and tied it so he could clean the pen. From then on, I didn’t have much fear in relation to him dealing with animals,” Ian recalled.
This love for animals seems to run in the blood. Dwayne’s son, Isaiah, who is four years-old, is also showing an interest in the family hobby. Whenever he and his father visit the St. James farm, he rushes to put on his miniature boots to assist his grandfather with any small tasks.
In fact, the whole family pitches in with chores. Ian, who has another demanding full time job admits that he couldn’t do it without them.
“My son comes here every morning before he goes to work and every evening he is here sometimes until eight or nine o’clock before he goes home. If I am in real problems, I sound my voice and I call out everybody; my wife Judy she would come, my daughter comes, I have a granddaughter who lives here and she helps too, my neighbour comes.
“Without these people, I wouldn’t be able to survive; I just wouldn’t be able to handle it. I get a lot of help,” he said.
He has also hired ‘farm hands’ who look after the animals during the day while he is at work.
When it comes to competition, it is no holds barred for the Branch family. While the prize-winning rams and ewes are owned by Ian, you wouldn’t believe it from the fierce competition which exists between Ian’s brother Peter, who also helps out during Agrofest, and Dwayne.
“There is a lot of rivalry… My brother and my son choose the animals that they like and they do their separate preparations with these animals and sometimes the rivalry gets so hot that you won’t believe that the animals belong to me. I don’t go into the ring during Agrofest, they are the ones who take the animals into the ring,” Ian pointed out.
Dwayne, 30, admitted that he loved the excitement surrounding Agrofest. Taking care of and preparing the animals has kept him off the block.
“I do it because I love it; it keeps you active and out of trouble. From the time I know myself I’ve been doing this. I like agriculture; animals are fun, they relax you. Plus this is a family thing.
“It is a really good feeling being in the winners’ circle. I look forward for Agrofest. I think more young people should get involved in livestock rearing because as I said it keeps you out of trouble. When you have idle hands, you find a lot of idle things to do but when you have work — animals are a lot of work – it keeps you off the block,” he explained.
Dwayne will be showcasing an impressive looking ram nicknamed “Patchy”, while his uncle will be taking “Daylight” to the Sheep competitions. “Patchy” and “Daylight” happen to be stable mates.
Ian’s stepson Kevin, 35, has carved his own niche in livestock rearing and a name for himself in Agrofest. He owns and runs Spotlight Nubian, a farm that specialises in Nubian goats, just a stone’s throw away from Ian’s farm.
He has a small herd of about 70 of the special breed of goats but hopes to expand that figure to over 300 in the future. Just like his stepfather and stepbrother, Kevin has been entering Agrofest from the beginning and he usually sweeps the prizes each year, taking the first three spots in most of the goat competitions.
He has over 10 years’ experience rearing goats and usually earns some extra cash selling mutton (adult goat) or cabrito (young goat) to supermarkets. He said goat meat is a healthier alternative since it has less fat than other red meats. There is also a growing market for goat’s milk, Kevin noted.
As for his prowess at Agrofest, he knows exactly what the judges are looking for and he usually gives them what they want.
“They look for a 50/50 animal; they don’t want a goat that is more feet than body because feet can be cut off and thrown away but the body is meat. They also look for a strong animal and how it carries itself in the ring,” Kevin disclosed.
Ian is proud of his family and all that they have accomplished at Agrofest. To show just how serious he takes the annual exhibition, he usually takes his vacation to coincide with it each year. He also gives back by helping out “youngsters” who turn to him for advice on animals for competitions or school projects.
The part-time farmer also encouraged others to get into rearing livestock, because “they would have something to supplement their income with the economy the way it is”.
As for Agrofest, which comes off in Queen’s Park, The City, from February 22 to 24, Ian sent this warning to his rivals:
“All like now, people are asking me if I’m ready. They always have to be on the look-out for me. I will not go [to Agrofest] unless my animals are up to scratch,” he said.