First he introduced the Wool Village, and now Matt Cradock, chairman of the Sheep Section, has launched the first G&S Sheep Shearing competition
This is Matt’s seventh year in charge of the sheep section at the G&S and changes keep coming. After two successful years of shearing demonstrations, he had a new idea – a shearing competition. It has never been done before at the G&S Show, and Matt’s keen to share how exciting it will be to watch. There will be seven contest categories in all. On the Wednesday, it will be the junior, blade and veterans (over 50s). And on Thursday, the intermediate, senior, open – and a fancy dress category too! There could be entrants on the day, so it’s hard to gauge how many will take part.
‘I reckon 40 shearers across all classes would be optimum,’ Matt says. ‘We’re also trying to keep the education going with a lot of demonstrations.’
The desire to educate is what inspires Matt. ‘It is important for the public to see – it’s the audience I want because it’s a big part of the education side of it. People understand that sheep get sheared, but they don’t really know what’s involved. They have to see it for themselves.
There are always masses of questions and I love that!’
The Wool Village, which made a successful debut last year, is also returning for 2023, and in a bigger space. The Village aims to tell the background story of sheep, with spinners explaining how the wool is turned into yarn, as well as talks and exhibits.
There are fleece classes, where those exhibiting their stock bring along fleeces for quality judging. And of course there is also the showing of sheep, with competition classes and prizes for all the pedigree breeds. Having a rosette on your animal is very good for business.
Rumour has it that a jumper was recently made for Matt from his own sheep’s wool – it may make an appearance at the Show !
From two to 3,000
The weather has apparently been kind to shepherds this year. ‘Six weeks of hot, dry weather means you don’t have to shear wet sheep!’
Matt began shearing in late March, then moved straight into lambing from early April through to mid-May, with shearing ending by the end of July.
Matt has 1,500 of his own sheep – a mix of breeds including Charollais, Border Leicester and Poll Dorsets. They are spread over 300 acres of rented land across North Dorset.
He will shear 3,000 sheep this year, including his own, working with all sizes from a two-sheep ‘flock’ to one in the Sparkford area with 1,100 sheep.
Poll Dorsets are notoriously tricky to shear. ‘One gave me a black eye this summer with a swift kick. I didn’t think it was that bad but when I wiped my face, there was blood. My shearing customer was laughing but hadn’t told me about the blood because it was the first one of the day and she thought I might have just left!’
Matt is well qualified to chair the Sheep Section at the show and is clearly highly regarded in the area. The Sparkford landowner had just lost their shepherd when they called Matt in to shear. They offered him a full-time job – and the gap in pay expectation was small enough to make him seriously consider selling his own flock of 1,500. But he remains, for now, his own boss.
More work than ever
Matt lives in Stour Row and had 30 customers for shearing this year, from the Dorset coast to the Somerset borders. He also does lot of shepherding.
‘I’m getting more work because there are not enough people doing it – there aren’t enough people going into farming itself. A couple of local shepherds have given up their round. People are pulling out of farming so plots of land do come up now. Farming never gets easier and there is a shortage of farm workers too.’
His dad does all the machinery maintenance ‘for little reward,’ jokes Matt. His dad also drives and delivers dairy products for Crook & Churn.
The Dorset Dairy Co has recently announced that it will sell its dairy herd and milk refill business and concentrate on dairy products such as yoghurts, kefir, cream and butter. Matt Cradock says: ‘It tells you the way it’s going. In the last 18 months the shortages and losses you make if you sell at the wrong time of the week can mean you don’t have a gross margin left.’
Last year he sold 40 tonnes of wool to the Wool Board at 35p a kilo – netting around £1,500.
‘The wool is just a bit of a bonus, so when I come to shear my own sheep, it’s all paid for.’
- The shearing competitions begin at 10am and run throughout both days in the Wool Village.