How do I get myself into these things? What on earth would the younger me make of the lengths I seem to go to these days to ‘have fun’ – I have now reached the point where I can assure you, dear reader, that all sheep do not look the same and I am starting to be able to appreciate the differences between good and bad but I am now wondering just how far this crazy journey is gonna take me. Sorry to those expecting holiday tales from Cambodia, I need to tell you about my weekend before reflecting on such normal activity. This weekend we entered the Native Breeds Show and Sale at Melton Mowbray with 2 of my pedigree ram lambs.
So the pedigree story starts with buying the Kerry Hill’s last year and hoping for ewe lambs from them so we could start to adjust the makeup of the flock towards a pedigree focus. Unfortunately 3 of the 4 pedigree lambs were boys, for whom we needed to consider a plan, clearly they would make excellent meat just like the other lambs but you cant help but wonder whether they are capable of just a bit more than that. Thus at 5 months old we took the decision to enter them into the show and sale, with a bit of luck they would be viewed positively by judges and buyers and move on to new homes where they would do what rams do and live a productive life producing more Kerry Hill sheep.
And so we collectively started to climb yet another learning curve…
Preparation started with halter training the 2 selective lambs in an attempt to get them to behave during the showing and selling activities. Showing sheep involves walking them around a show ring for the judge to examine them and since this is not always a fenced in area you cant just chuck them in and hope for the best. Short training sessions every few days for a couple of weeks and the boys were at least a little calmer and could be handled. Success.
The next step was cleaning and fettling, yes I was gonna clean, trim and brush my sheep. This was not to be just the usual task of cleaning off the crap from their back ends to keep them healthy but hopefully to show them off to their best. Thus after much washing up liquid and combing plus clipping off the worst bits they looked……….a tiny bit better than before I started. Success.
We then had to fit their official Kerry Hill Flock Book Society ear tags in exchange for their non-official ones with the same number they had been wearing for 5 months. Also for the society rules they had to have Lot Numbers 979 and 980 applied to them, this initially looked good but after 30 mins looked like a huge red splodge with no discernible numbers. Fail.
Off to market we went on Friday 9th September, made all the more nervous by facebook posts from the previous evening of some beautifully turned out ram lambs that would be in the pens adjacent to us from the Cardington and Wrotham flocks. Once all the sheep had arrived however it was clear to my eye at least that although my boys were a little smaller than their rivals they were not so far away that we would be laughed out of the ring. The standard of clipping, cleaning and condition on the others was way ahead of anything I could aspire to at this stage but at least we were in the game. The first hurdle was inspection by the Kerry Hill judge to ensure all bits were in the right place and compliant with the breed standards and that we would be allowed into the show and sale. Success.
So as show time neared I donned my white coat and did some last minute random clipping to give the appearance of knowledge. Being honest here, apart from clipping off bits of sheep shit I didn’t have a chuffing clue what I was doing but I look pretty expert in the photo don’t you think?
One of the other Kerry Hill owners kindly offered to lead one of my lambs into the show ring since taking both on my own would have been close to impossible. Out we paraded into the Leicesterhire sunshine to be judged, oooh the excitement. We seemed to spend a lot of time on our own at what we later discovered to be the ‘wrong’ end of the line up as the judge carefully but the lambs into his preferred order. So we finished outside of the rosette places in 5th and 6th place so I have decided to show a photo before the sort was complete suggesting more success than we actually managed, that’s me in 5th with my better lamb up in 4th.
We got some positive comments and feedback from the judge, Tim and some very encouraging words of support from the other exhibitors. All saying basically that the lambs were both good quality, nice clean shape and markings, good length of back but that they are too small within this class of entry to win prizes. Good potential that could have been better with higher feeding rates as they were growing rather than a reliance only on grass as per my approach to the flock. Although their turn-out could be improved I was encouraged to know this would not have made much difference so the guilty red splodge all over the back of one lamb had not done too much damage.
The main lessons from the weekend were to keep trying and if the sheep have got the basic elements right through their breeding then it is worth a shot at showing them. Everyone gave us a warm welcome all weekend and some very helpful and sound advice was freely shared so thanks to you all. I set a reserve price on the lambs and they didn’t meet that price with bidding only reaching £95 each so I was disappointed but happy enough to be taking them home where we have the option of growing at least one of them on to show as a Shearling (1 year old) next spring/summer. I have left Melton market in the past having sold sheep too cheaply and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth so I left this time with my head held high, having learned loads from some very nice people and basically had a great weekend.
Thanks to Jeremy, Jim & Jackki for the support over the weekend. Thanks to all the Kerry Hill folk for your help all weekend.