Rugby-playing sheep breeder leaves Ulster for pastures new

Callum Patterson with his Suffolk sheep
Callum Patterson with his Suffolk sheep

Armed with a list of Suffolk sheep farmers in the southern-most tip of England, Callum Patterson has left his home in Broughshane behind to follow his dream as a professional rugby player.

The 25-year-old said it was a tough decision to leave Ulster Rugby and join the Cornish Pirates, but an even tougher decision to leave his family and friends and the farming lifestyle he loves.

Callum Patterson during the pre-season friendly between Ulster Rugby and Wasps at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mandatory Credit �John Dickson/DICKSONDIGITAL

Callum Patterson during the pre-season friendly between Ulster Rugby and Wasps at Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mandatory Credit �John Dickson/DICKSONDIGITAL

He faces 10 questions from GRAEME COUSINS about leaving behind his family, friends and beloved sheep as his rugby career takes him to Cornwall.

1 Do you feel you got the opportunities you deserved with Ulster Rugby?

Last season I think they opted for experience a lot because it was a tough season. When you’re training all week and not getting any games for the first team, it plays on your mind. You question why you’re doing it. Every team needs a certain depth of squad. It would have been different if I had got my chance and not taken it but I felt I took my chances but didn’t get rewarded.

2 Did that prompt the decision to join Cornish Pirates?

Callum Patterson on his US road trip with best friend James Allen

Callum Patterson on his US road trip with best friend James Allen

I felt I needed a change to freshen up. It was a big move for me, after studying at Harper Adams university, I had been back home for four years. I’d got back to normal. I’m 25 and I didn’t want to be looking back thinking ‘what if’, so I went for it. I was too young to give up on professional rugby. I’m looking forward to the season ahead and looking forward to the change.

3 Can you tell me a bit about your farm, and how hard it was to leave it behind?

Our small farm is just outside Broughshane, and my father and I run a flock of 20 pedigree Suffolk ewes and about 40 commercial ewes. That was a big thing for me to leave behind, however I still stay very much involved in what is going on.

I was very lucky that a good friend of mine Trevor Robinson agreed to look after the pedigree ewes. At lambing time it’s like a full time job. It was Trevor who introduced me to Suffolks back in 2015.

4 How did your Suffolk sheep fare at this year’s Balmoral Show?

Balmoral probably has the best show of Suffolks in the UK. I was pleased to get a third in the Shearling Ewe class out of 30 and also third in the Sucked Ewe class.

5 You’ll clearly miss your sheep, but what about friends and family?

It was really tough to leave my two best friends (Jordan Armstrong and James Allen) who are also farmers and live in the same road. We’re all the same age, are very close and help each other out whenever needed.

I’m going to really miss my family and friends, especially my grandfather(Maurice Taylor). Although he is now 93, he has always had a keen interest in all types of livestock and always got me involved with all the various animals he has kept over the years. We get on very well and he has given me a great love for the countryside.

It’s going to take a while to adapt, but I’ll get home every now and again to make sure everything is alright.

6 Do you plan on doing any farming in Cornwall?

I’ve actually got a list of all the Suffolk sheep breeders in Cornwall. I’ve already been in contact with a couple of them to keep active in it. The plan is to use the weekends during pre-season when I’ve got a couple of days off to go and help out.

7 Is sheep breeding labour intensive and how does it affect your rugby training?

Pre-season is very intense. We get our weekends and our Wednesdays off. During the season you might have a day and half off during the week and it’s nice to be able to go and clear your head and get away from rugby.

That was one thing I loved at Ulster. After training in the evenings, I liked to get outside and be around the sheep. It was a great way of life. Playing rugby full time, which was your job, but also doing a bit of farming on the side.

8 Did you do anything to blow off some steam before moving to Cornwall?

Me and my best friend James (Allen) did Nashville, Tennessee. I am very keen on American Country music so we went there for the CMA festival.

We spent five days in Nashville and then toured up the coast to South Carolina and then on to New York.

We hired a car and drove over 1,200 miles through some fantastic scenery. I suppose that was the blow-out before getting down to the tough work of pre-season training.

9 Are you expecting any visitors in Cornwall?

My friends have said they’ll be coming over for a road trip and my family will be coming over a few weekends to see a game.

10 What have you brought with you to remind you of home?

I’ve got a couple of hand drawing of my Suffolk sheep – two of the sheep that have done well for me in breeding terms and in the show ring. They were drawn by a girl in Scotland, a talented artist. I also have a photo album all around my room of family, friends and farming.

Callum Patterson started playing rugby as a P2 pupil at Ballymena Academy.

In 2010 the grammar school won the Schools Cup with Callum kicking the winning drop goal.

“That was the first time we’d won it for 22 years so it was quite an achievement,” he said.

After leaving Ballymena Academy, Callum attended Harper Adams University in Shropshire, when he played rugby for Newport Salop and Shropshire.

After university he returned to Northern Ireland and began full time employment and also took up his interest in farming, while also playing rugby for Ballymena.

In 2016 he was awarded a place in the Ulster senior squad after impressive performances for Ulster A. He scored in a pre-season friendly for Ulster against Wasps and also made a scoring performance against the famous Barbarians touring side.

He said: “I scored against Wasps and against Barbarians and thought – this is going to be me. But when the team was under so much pressure they went for experience and I didn’t get a chance.”

That prompted a move to the Cornish Pirates, where he hopes to help the side reach the English Premiership.

As well as rugby, Callum is a keen tennis player and golfer: “We have a tennis court at home and all my family play regularly. I am a member of Royal Portrush Golf Club.”

Callum’s cousin is Steve Davis, captain of the Northern Ireland football side. Of his rivalry with Steve, he said: “Beating him in the garden at penalties is a personal highlight.”