An agricultural show is a holiday for farmers. We love meeting up with farming friends, gauging their stock against others and generally relaxing for three or four days, still within a few hours of the farm should any emergency happen. Other family members may be organising two weeks in the sunshine by a pool or with the sea lapping at their feet but, for my husband Aubrey and I, this is obviously just a dream.
No self-respecting farmer could go away for two weeks during the summer months, although in fairness I have wonderful memories of sitting at outdoor cafes during long hot evenings in Transylvania in March, while at an agricultural event and late October trips to both Venice and the Amalfi coast where the weather was superb.
Here we certainly can’t complain about the weather, although I was pleased we only had a short window of dry weather forecast when we went to Devon County Show, otherwise my husband would have been champing at the bit to go haymaking. But no, luckily there weren’t enough good days forecast and they were right. Haymaking would hopefully happen when we returned home.
The shows are fun and suit us all. For a three day show we arrive the day before to set up camp, settle the animals in and start to relax. A long list has been left at home for Mark, who is in charge while we’re away, and hopefully all eventualities have been covered. Should a drama arise it will only take three hours or less for us to return home.
As livestock farmers our stock are of great importance to us. With the forecast for hot weather it is important the sheep are in fields with ample shade, although we are lucky to have a farm where the majority of our fields offer this. Water troughs must be checked as fresh clean water is also imperative and final checks are always done just before we leave. The two young sheepdogs stay with a friend who runs a local kennels as Jess, Aub’s young dog could take off to look for him. Maisie is more mature, and happy to go with Mark but they are happier staying away together. Finally, arrangements have to be made for the cat, who now has a thyroid problem and needs medication twice a day, but eventually all is sorted.
Day one of the show involves our presence in the show ring for at least the morning, if not the entire day, if showing more than one breed. In the heat it can be exhausting for both animal and handler, but usually judges are sensible enough to send sheep they don’t think good enough for an award back to the pens in the cool marquees, rather than leaving them stood at the back of the ring.
After judging and the final awards, there is usually a party in the sheep lines, where the sheep are penned, so everyone can admire the winners, agree or disagree with the judge and eat and drink to celebrate. Later in the day private post mortems of the judging will be held back at the caravans and camp sites, more is eaten and drunk and gradually we all slip away to our respective beds.
The following day brings Championships and Grand Parades. Less work and more time to meet up with others who have been busy showing the previous day. Local businesses, auctioneers, insurance companies and feed merchants invite us in to chat over teas and coffees, and at Devon, Cornish Pasty for lunch and cream teas.
At Three Counties, our local show, I was asked to steward the sheep Young Handlers, which I thought would be chaotic. Not so, the parents knew which ring their offspring should be in, and made sure they were there, looking immaculate so everything ran smoothly. Glancing at the adjacent ring the pig Young Handlers didn’t seem to be going so well, with small children running round the ring very fast after their recalcitrant animals. Order was eventually restored to everyone’s amusement.
The days go far too quickly, but at least this year we all know we will meet up again soon.
Did you know that sheep farmer Sue Andrews is a successful author? Read more from her and about her books