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
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