By Tria Stebbing.
It is show season, and after the last few years of cancellations, livestock is finally being shown and prizes are being won to celebrate the best that the breed can have.
Showing sheep is not just about waking up the week before a show and deciding to take them – it takes a lot of preparation, for some going right back to the lambing the year before. There are no rights or wrongs, it is down to what works for you. Preparation starts in January, usually being organised enough to have prepared a diary of the shows you hope to attend, as paperwork needs to be in and flocks registered.
Just about all breeds of sheep will need to be shorn in the year in which they are to be shown and when to do it will depend on when your first show of the season is. Like a good haircut the regrowth needs to be just right, with just enough fleece to be worked with – it is slow to regrow but should still be workable at the end of show season.
The condition of the sheep is just as important, so feeding needs to be thought about. If the sheep has been shorn it will need to be kept in to keep warm, so feeding it just the right amount becomes easier.
Halter training needs to be started at a young age – we are all used to watching that line of sheep in the show ring, behaving beautifully with their halters on, but that takes practice. My own sheep have perfected the art of throwing themselves on the floor and wriggling sideways when a halter is put on them, closely followed by a flat refusal to stand up, let alone walk nicely.
Halter training starts early with young lambs, getting them used to being led and standing and waiting. It is a long process requiring patience from you both and not hurrying – never hurry a sheep to do anything.
Just before the show a last-minute trim to define the best bits is a must. Bathing the sheep about five days before being shown to ensure that they are dry, then at the last minute remove any straw and card the fleece. The carding comb makes the fleece stand up – the comb goes in just deep enough to lift the fleece and make it stand up – and then trim the raised fleece with hand shears. The whole job is finished off with a spray of woolfast and patted down firmly. Serious sheep exhibitors will have a rug ready and waiting to keep the sheep in pristine condition and ready to face its public.
Good luck to all the exhibitors this year, enjoy every minute, celebrate your breed and do us all proud.
By Tria Stebbing.