We came, we saw, we conquered

At the end of last month I decided it was finally time to exhibit my sheep at a show for the first time, and what better show as a novice than the Edenbridge and Oxted Show.

In the weeks leading up to the show I pestered other Downs sheep breeders, studied books, watched videos, practiced carding techniques on my unimpressed terrier and experimented with different brands of washing up liquid to see which one turned my sheep into sparkling canvasses of excellence. It turns out washing up liquid alone can’t do that, if you’re wondering.

My evenings were spent bribing lambs into halters who I was convinced wouldn’t stand still for a second when we finally paraded around that ring. Even if we left empty handed, better to lose looking good.

The day finally arrived and after a ten minute crash course in showing etiquette from a Young Farmers Club chairman, we timidly arrived at the showground bright and early, armed with carding brushes and damp halters from their express wash the night before.

In total I took three of my Southdown lambs to the show – a promising ram lamb from my best ewe, and twin ewe lambs, one significantly fatter than the other, all born at the end of April.

After a warm welcome from fellow contestants, intrigued by new faces on the white coat scene, we prepared for the first class – breeding pairs with the ram lamb and one ewe lamb.

Leaving the ring with a blue rosette and very big smiles on our faces, we were over the moon – what a great result for our first class.

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The next class was ram lambs, and not surprisingly, we weren’t placed. The quality of Southdown sheep in this area is quite extraordinary and even at a smaller show such as Edenbridge, the competition is stiff. Last of all was the ewe lamb class. I showed the fatter, more awkward of the pair who hadn’t been paying much attention during her extra curricula halter training classes, while my friend Emma took Goldwell Galina who had helped in our blue ribbon in the pairs class.

As the judge moved me further down the line Emma seemed to move further up and I peered over to see her proudly stood in second place. Despite being placed at the wrong end of the line, I had the biggest grin of all.

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Then the lady next to me laughed: “Oh I’m so pleased with that, well done you” as I looked to see Emma grinning from ear to ear and a red rosette in her hand. As the judge was handed the microphone he justified his decision in crowning my ewe lamb as champion. “She has the best carcass I’ve seen on a Southdown in a very long while.” If it hadn’t have been for the angry ewe lamb trying to drag me off in the wrong direction I might just have toppled over. As I was ushered out of the ring, Emma was told stay in for the breed championships and I heard my mostly male show team squealing with delight.

The breed championship consisted of the winners of each previous Southdown class including ram lamb, shearling ram, and the ewe classes. After much knowledgeable poking, prodding and patting it looked like the judge had it down to two finalists: a ewe from Messrs Wakeham-Dawson and Harmer, and my ewe lamb.

You could see the judge’s mind ticking over, carefully comparing each individual trait. At this point in true Alice style my mind had wandered off into a daydream imagining where I would proudly display my reserve champion rosette.

Then there’s a gasp and the person next to me grabs my arm. I look up to see my ewe lamb with a breed champion rosette carefully balanced on her back alongside a green rosette, the Southdown Sheep Society’s special prize for the best Southdown. The judge went on to say how incredibly impressed he was with the carcass and form of my lamb especially considering her age; and how great it was to see some new faces in the ring shaking things up a bit – and shake things up we did.

With my lambs not being born until the end of April, the Edenbridge Show is great for exhibiting lambs which have a little growing to do when the earlier shows are on. It is one of those shows that, despite being one of the oldest in the country, has managed to maintain its agricultural routes and stay at the forefront of the countryside but with sufficient competition to allow a challenging victory.

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It was certainly a great setting for my first show and I would urge any readers considering dipping their hooves into the world of showing to take the leap.

After collecting my prize money, which swiftly transformed into a bottle of bubbly, I was congratulated by other breeders, and welcomed a few glares from others. Not even the bank holiday downpours could dampen our spirits.

This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read online: http://www.southeastfarmer.net

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