The world of showing cattle

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One of the most competitive places on the Turnpike Showground is the cattle showing ring – Andrew Livingston explains why

Amy with her Champion Dairy Shorthorn at the 2021 G&S Show

It may seem strange to those outside the world of agriculture; why take a lot of trouble to walk a near one-tonne animal around a field?
The answer is that farmers are passionate about their work, whether that is the crops they grow or the animals they raise.
One person who knows more than most the rigmarole and the joy of showing cattle is Amy Wonnacott from New Park Farm, Lytchett Matravers. “Some people enter to showcase their breeding and their herd – it can raise the value if and when they sell them. Others just do it for the joy of demonstrating their herd’s potential.” She added: “I treat it as a hobby – it’s time with my cows and very enjoyable days out.”
Once again, Amy will be entering the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. Last year she won first place for her 36-months-and-under heifer in the dairy section, while also picking up three other rosettes on the day.
“I am currently in my 13th year of showing. I have won many rosettes, many different championships and have had some amazing achievements. I usually try to attend four or five shows a year.
“Gillingham and Shaftesbury is one of my favourites – it’s local for me and I see so many people I know. It has the proper country feel to it.”

The night before the show the cows are put to bed to keep them clean overnight

Trust the process
It takes three or four months to get your cattle reading for showing, but, says the 24 year old Puddletown Young Farmer, the hardest part is getting the right animal. “One of the most challenging parts of showing is picking your show team. It’s not an easy job to select who you want to halter train and take showing.
“I usually take a walk around different-aged cattle and just look at them. I’m looking at how their body is structured, how well they walk on their feet, how straight their back is and if they look big for their age. Preparation for a show starts early – it is a long process.”
Once you have assembled your team, the majority of your time is spent making the animals comfortable being handled and walked with a halter (effectively a dog collar for cattle). The cattle you see at the G&S Show will have been walked every day for the last few months by their human companion. Some handlers play loud music to the cows to get them ready for the noise of the show.

“Some breeds of cows are harder to train than others. I find that Holsteins are the easiest and quickest to train, for example, but the Jerseys and Ayrshires are harder – it’s just in their nature to be a bit stubborn!” Says Amy.
In the run-up to the show the cattle are pampered to perfection for the big day. “The lead-up to the show is very busy. We clip them so they have nice short hair. Once they arrive at the show they will get washed again so they are sparkling clean, and put them in their beds to keep them clean overnight.
“They will also get their topline clipped to help make their back look even straighter. Finally, they get a last brush and are taken into the ring. They are paraded around the ring at a steady pace with their heads held high. The judge will assess the animals and select first, second or third.”

Amy doing some last-minute clipping ahead of a Jersey class

Pampered cows
Champion cow or not, the animals who are shown have a special place in their handler’s hearts. Amy explains: “Once they have become a show cow, especially if they have done well over the show season, they do become one of your favourites from the herd. You have been pampering them for the last couple of months and you can’t help have a soft spot for them.”

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