Matt Cradock, local sheep farmer and chairman of the G&S Show’s sheep section, discusses the sheep of things to come with Andrew Livingston
For the second year running, sheep shearing demonstrations are back at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. Organisers say that it was the public interest at last year’s display which means that it’s bigger and better than before.
Matt Cradock, chairman of the sheep section, is excited about this year’s ‘Wool Village.’ He says: “[Last year] there were so many people asking what the price of it was, what the procedure was … there were so many questions that we just couldn’t get enough information out to everyone who was interested.
‘This year we’re doing the shearing and then we can see the fleece-judging classes of people who are exhibiting their pedigree stock at the show.
We also have a couple of spinners – the process of getting the wool into yarn – and then we have a representative from the British Wool Board who is coming to talk about everything else in between. This way, the public is getting the whole picture.’
Twenty-nine-year-old Matt, who keeps more than 1,700 sheep on 300 acres around North Dorset, was brought up on his family’s dairy farm. They diversified into sheep to keep their business running.
Matt, who bought his first sheep at the age of 16, is the perfect expert to guide the public through the shearing demonstrations, so he will once again be commentating on the shearing.
‘It’s a time when livestock farming is getting hammered left, right and centre from those who are opposed to it.
Shearing can be a big thing. The public need to see it for themselves to make up their own mind on it. I did the commentary on the shearing last year and the public loved it. We could have spieled and spieled and sheared and sheared, but the public response was what really made it.’
No one likes a Poll Dorset
Originally farmers sheared their sheep because the wool itself was the product … and a big income for sheep farmers. Today, however, a sheep’s wool – which weighs around two kilograms – will only be worth about 70p, with the average shearer costing double that just to remove the wool.
‘Shearing is mainly for welfare reasons now. It helps prevent fly strike, reduces the risk of the sheep getting stuck on their backs. Sheep left unsheared are at risk of rain scald, which is a skin disease.’
Once again, Henry Mayo and Ben Doggrell will be aiming to shear 180 to 200 of Matt’s sheep for the show demonstration –around 30 each an hour. That’s just two minutes per sheep.
In 2019, 20-year-old Henry, from Hermitage in Dorset, became the first English farmer to win the top shearing competition in New Zealand for 30 years.
Matt, who usually shears his own sheep, describes the pair as the best. ‘Put it this way, I’m really particular about what happens with my sheep and I’d be happy for them to come in and shear my own flock. If I didn’t think they were the best, I simply wouldn’t ask them to be at the show.’
Suffolk, Charollais, Poll Dorsets and Llyns are just some of the breeds that will be sheared at the G&S Show.
‘Everything being shorn at the 2022 show is called a shearling – a young sheep which has never been shorn before. They are going to be a challenge, the Poll Dorsets being the worst. I’ve never met a shearer who likes shearing them!’
Accompanying the shearing is the showing of sheep, with competition classes and prizes for all the pedigree breeds. Matt explains why having a rosette-winning animal is big business.
‘It’s advertising your breeding. You get to compare your breeding with another breeder of the same or similar breed.
‘Exhibitors do go to a lot of effort – there’s a lot of preparation work. To achieve a prize winner, they’re obviously breeding the right animal, and that’s what’s key to them. They enjoy the day. They get to go to the show, but their animals – they sell themselves.’
Next year, Matt’s vision for the sheep section at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show is once again bigger and better. ‘Why keep something the same? It’s worked one year, so let’s build it up to encourage people.
‘The idea is (we’re always full of ideas, whether they actually work or not is another matter!) we will have had two years’ worth of shearing demonstrations, so we’ll go for a competition shear next year. That way people will understand what the competition is, because they’ve listened to it being explained for the last couple of years. Then they can see what it REALLY means to be a professional shearer.’