They’ve got the X fac­tor

The agri­cul­tural-show sea­son starts this month and lines of gleam­ing beasts will be pa­raded be­fore judges and a cu­ri­ous pub­lic, but what makes a cham­pion cow, pig or ewe stand out from the rest? Julie Hard­ing asks leading judges why they se­lected their wi

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by John Mil­lar

Julie Hard­ing asks leading judges what qual­i­ties make a cham­pion pig, sheep or cow

‘Show­ing is where town meets coun­try’

The thought of sum­mer shows— not only the chance to pa­rade your an­i­mals in front of your peers, but the chat, sun­shine, beer tent and con­vivial mood—keeps some live­stock farm­ers go­ing through the cold, muddy win­ter months. All that hard work cul­mi­nates in the bustling yet calm at­mos­phere of the live­stock tent, where placid cat­tle, pigs and sheep stand or lie in per­fectly square pens, wait­ing pa­tiently for their chance to shine.

han­dlers in snow-white coats and tweed caps or bowlers brush or sponge a hardly vis­i­ble stain, the fi­nal touches of a prepa­ra­tion process that can have taken months. The air is full of an­i­mal mur­mur­ings, hu­man chat­ter and the aroma of warm beasts, sweet hay and crisp golden straw.

ex­hibit­ing their an­i­mals on the cir­cuit and tak­ing home a sash or a cer­tifi­cate is an im­por­tant goal for many farm­ers, with the chance to show off their lat­est home­bred or re­cently pur­chased spec­i­men to a sec­tion of the six mil­lion mem­bers of the pub­lic who flock to agri­cul­tural shows an­nu­ally.

‘It’s cru­cial that live­stock re­main a fun­da­men­tal part of coun­try shows,’ says Michael Read, whose Lin­coln Red cat­tle have won 65 supreme cham­pi­onships. ‘As well as bril­liant ad­ver­tis­ing for pedi­gree breed­ers, show­ing is where town meets coun­try.’ Mr Read is judg­ing in the beef classes at the Royal Bath & West this month. ‘A first-class an­i­mal has got to be able to walk,’ he ad­vises. ‘I’m look­ing for some­thing that walks well and has sound legs and feet. how­ever, all the cat­tle on dis­play will be of the high­est stan­dard, so it re­ally will come down to small dif­fer­ences.’

‘Shows are not only a so­cial oc­ca­sion, but also a bench­mark for live­stock own­ers to see how they’re do­ing com­pared to their fel­low breed­ers,’ ex­plains Paul hooper, sec­re­tary of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Show and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tions. ‘They’re also a great mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise be­cause buy­ers and sup­pli­ers will be in at­ten­dance. Agri­cul­tural shows are very much a shop win­dow for live­stock pro­duc­ers and, as such, we can­not un­der­es­ti­mate their im­por­tance.’

Pine­hurst Alma Rose, Mid­dle White breed cham­pion at the Royal Bath & West Show

The sow Pine­hurst Alma Rose is owned and bred by Cheshire-based Brian Merry. The judge was Chris Im­pey, who be­came a Bri­tish Pig As­so­ci­a­tion judge a decade ago

‘When a spe­cial pig comes into the ring, it has the abil­ity to draw the eye. Some peo­ple call it stage pres­ence and, at last year’s Bath & West, Pine­hurst Alma Rose had the kind of con­fi­dent self-car­riage that wins awards.

When you home in for a closer look, the at­tributes that you will be hop­ing to find in a cham­pion pig are a long body, a level back with a nicely set tail, good hams, high pasterns, a clean and silky coat with no swirls and 12–14 well-formed, evenly spaced teats. Alma Rose pos­sessed all these qual­i­ties.

Any Mid­dle White wor­thy of a prize should also be able to walk straight and stand solid and square with a leg at each cor­ner like a ta­ble. Ad­di­tion­ally, the breed should boast a nicely dished head and squashed nose, but not so short that it can’t breathe prop­erly. In fact, a Mid­dle White looks a lit­tle as if it’s run into a wall— they’re renowned for be­ing beau­ti­fully ugly.

‘As a breed­ing sow, I would have liked to see Alma Rose a lit­tle heav­ier in pig than she was at the Bath & West, which would have en­sured more “bloom”, but other than that, she was an ex­cel­lent an­i­mal. There’s a say­ing that, if you see the per­fect pig, you should shoot and stuff it be­cause they’re near-im­pos­si­ble to find.

Alma Rose cer­tainly came close, how­ever, and, with just 200 Mid­dle White breed­ing sows left in the UK, peo­ple like her breeder, Brian Merry, should be con­grat­u­lated for per­pet­u­at­ing this sought-af­ter rare breed that is re­garded as the best eat­ing pig.’

Blac­knor Cracker Dy­namic Laven­der, cham­pion Guernsey cow at the Royal Corn­wall Show Colin Gleed has been judg­ing Guernsey cat­tle since 1993. At last year’s Royal Corn­wall Show, he picked Blac­knor Cracker Dy­namic Laven­der, bred by Ian and David Crouch, as the cham­pion Guernsey. She was shown by Pad­stow-based Dawn Co­ryn, but has since been sold to Ni­cola Bot­tom at Tre­warnevas Farm in Hel­ston

‘When Dy­namic Laven­der en­tered the ring in the Heifer in Milk class, she im­me­di­ately caught my eye,’ says Mr Gleed. ‘I had only seen her be­fore in pic­tures from other shows and I re­alised im­me­di­ately that she was some­thing spe­cial. She had the “it fac­tor”.

I loved her tremen­dous ud­der and the way she was so well bal­anced. Usu­ally when I’m judg­ing, I would pick an older cow over

a heifer, but, in Laven­der’s case, she showed her­self off so well that she went on to claim the cham­pi­onship. Al­though that wasn’t an easy win, Laven­der proved even more eye-catch­ing later in the day due to her ud­der be­ing even more full.

In all, Laven­der was pretty fault­less. As she moved around the ring, it was clear that she had ex­cel­lent con­for­ma­tion, a good topline, a straight back and legs that tracked well and which she didn’t throw out as she walked. Ad­di­tion­ally, she had a fine head.’

Mr Gleed ex­plains the fac­tors he looks for when judg­ing. ‘I like a nicely set tail, a wide chest, a wide muz­zle and large ears, but most im­por­tant of all is the ud­der, which should be well at­tached, with well-po­si­tioned teats that hang straight. The ud­der should be well stocked, too, but not so over­stocked that milk runs out in the ring. Dawn Co­ryn is a master at get­ting this el­e­ment and the turnout spot on.’

Sun­ny­side Char­lie, cham­pion Grey­face Dart­moor at the Devon County Show Sun­ny­side Char­lie is a Grey­face Dart­moor ram bred by Ann Rick­son. He claimed the Hog Ram class be­fore go­ing on to be crowned breed cham­pion by judge Jane Ep­stein. He is now owned by Rachel Ga­trill

‘I was trained as a sheep judge and award per­cent­age points for cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics ac­cord­ing to the Dart­moor Sheep Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Flock Book,’ ex­plains Mrs Ep­stein, ‘so, for ex­am­ple, a straight, level and wide back can be worth up to 20%, as can the fleece, which in the long­wool Grey­face Dart­moor is a key el­e­ment. To earn top marks, the fleece should be lus­trous and shiny, not knot­ted and able to be parted evenly. From the skin to the tip it could mea­sure any­thing up to 8in.

The face can ac­count for 15% of the to­tal and should boast a nicely marked black or grey nose and clear, bright eyes. I open the mouth to en­sure that the teeth at the bot­tom meet the gum at the top so that in its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment the sheep can eat grass with­out prob­lems.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the legs should be straight, the thigh a good width, the neck thick and well mus­cled and the chest broad and prom­i­nent. A thick tail is an­other in­di­ca­tion of prime con­di­tion. In a ram, a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant el­e­ment is the tes­ti­cles, both of which should have de­scended and be even and firm.’

Sun­ny­side Char­lie was a su­per sheep. Af­ter my in­spec­tions of him at the Devon County, it was clear that he had all the char­ac­ter­is­tics I look for. He def­i­nitely stood out as some­thing spe­cial and he also ex­hib­ited the typ­i­cal Grey­face tem­per­a­ment, be­ing placid and timid. In my view, Grey­face Dart­moors are in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful and Char­lie was cer­tainly a fine spec­i­men.’

Nicely dished head and a squashed nose Clean and silky coat with no swirls

Long body and level back Nicely set tail

Good topline Large ears Wide chest Fine head Wide muz­zle

Good width of thigh Even and firm tes­ti­cles

Thick tail Lus­trous and shiny fleece Straight, level and wide back

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.