Courtesy of Helen Sloan / HBO

Kenny Gracey's rare livestock are right at home in Westeros.

July 25, 2017

Part of what makes Game of Thrones so compelling is that the fantasy world the series is set in feels so real – like an alternate past that secretly existed that we’re just now learning about. One of the ways the creators achieve that sense of realistic fantasy is by steeping the show in artifacts of the past, borrowing from medieval life and other aspects of traditional culture. Turns out that goes for the animals as well.

As this short for the YouTube channel Great Big Story explains, the production crew behind Game of Thrones wasn’t content with simply using boring ol’ modern livestock; they wanted to use rare and traditional breeds of animals reminiscent of days past. So the show reached out to Kenny Gracey, “a wee farmer from County Armagh”, as he puts it. At his Forthill Farm in Northern Ireland, he specializes in raising these kinds of animals – Longhorn cattle, Jacob sheep and Saddleback pigs – breeds that are native to the British Isles. Gracey is now an on-set animal handler, supplying the show with his livestock for some important “extra” work filling out scenes.

However, what makes this story even more heartwarming, according to Gracey, is the timing of it all. “I was going through difficult times, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, I was struggling,” he says in the video. “Game of Thrones afforded me the luxury, so to speak, of doing what I love, and that is working with animals.” As Great Big Story quips, Gracey’s farm is one of the few things that hasn’t died in the series.

And Gracey’s animals haven’t just appeared on HBO either. According to a 2015 interview with the Belfast Telegraph, they’ve been on a BBC comedy and in a sci-movie. They were even in a short film that won a BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy Award. “This has been a godsend to me,” he told the paper. “Rare breeds don’t fund themselves, they’re not profitable and there is an expense with keeping these animals. But this has helped saved them.”

Still, Game of Thrones is probably the animals’ biggest role. And diehard fans might find this interesting: Gracey also sells his “free range pork and free range beef from traditional breeds” on the Forthill Farms website. Yes, the only thing cooler than saying you’ve met an actor who’s been on Game of Thrones is saying you’ve eaten one.