Show Preparation

Showing is a great way to learn about what makes a good sheep by comparing your own sheep with others. Networking at shows provides helpful tips, support and information as well as competition, and there is nothing like competitiveness to foster improvement. Showing in multi-breed classes is fine for learning the basics and gaining judgement on general points like conformation but the best way to improve your own standards is to show against other Wensleydales in dedicated classes. This guide is aimed at new Wensleydale breeders who may be tempted to show and established breeders who have not shown up to now

Info Box

The show season runs from May to September with classes available at small local shows and large county shows, the former being a good place to start and learn the ropes. Preparation needs to begin in the year prior to the target show season. Lambs should be creep fed from early on to ensure they grow well and are in good condition, especially if they are to be shown in lamb classes, but they will also become yearlings and shearlings for showing the next, so need to be fed consistently throughout the winter months. A judge will not be impressed by an under-sized and under-weight sheep

It is also worth spending time handling sheep so that they are used to human contact as well as stand and walk well on a halter and attract attention for having good presence in the show ring, not for throwing themselves around. Standing them tied to a hurdle or gate for a while helps to quieten them down and teaches them patience, but do not leave them unattended as you may end up with disastrous consequences

In early spring, inspect your flock to determine which animals will be suitable for showing. Rams and aged ewes will need clipping but yearling ewes may be clipped to show as shearlings or left in wool to show in hogg-in-wool classes. Only keep ewes for showing in wool that have good length of fleece – almost to the ground, and the wool opens well and is free of cots. If not, shear them, they may make good shearlings instead

Clipped sheep will need shearing around five to six weeks before the show to have sufficient wool re-growth to display the quality of the fleece – that is a full curl. Too far in advance and the wool starts to get fuzzy and loses its pristine appearance by the time of the show. The judge will want to see consistent staple width all around the body and a purl that originates at the body and curls to the end of the staple. A flat staple with no purl at the body for the first centimetre or so of staple is a fault. Staple width may vary but should be neither too fine nor too strong. Fine fleeces will only get finer with age. Black patches of wool in white sheep are also a fault but small black spots up to around two centimetres are often overlooked, particularly when on a less important part of the fleece. It all depends on the judge!

Info Box

Use only hand shears for show clipping – single or double bow to suit your preference. Machine clippers not only take the wool off very close to the body but also leave ‘tram lines’ resulting in uneven re-growth. Hand shearing is more controllable, especially if leaving a skirt of wool. Remember that you cannot put it back on once it has been cut off!

Leaving a fringe or skirt is best for shearlings because there is more wool to work with than on older sheep. Opinions differ as to how much wool to leave so it is a matter of taste, but the point of a fringe is to create a line across the body from front leg to rear leg, across the brisket and between the rear legs. It only needs a hint that will thicken as the wool re-grows, giving the sheep a finish and emphasising body length. It is worth having a play to develop your own style, but initially on a sheep that you do not intend to show to allow for errors as you develop the skill and confidence

Start clipping either at the neck or the rump and work along the body one side at a time. Always clip down following the line of the staples. Cutting across the fleece will leave steps that will make the fleece look ragged as the wool grows. Cut down to a line just above the flap of skin at the top of the back leg and through to the shoulder and use your eye to ensure it is straight and level. Remove the fleece down to that line. Clip the wool off the other side the same. Once the fleece is removed, cut a corresponding line to form the bottom of the fringe but leaving plenty of scope to trim to shape later and then remove the belly wool. All that remains is to thin the fringe to the desired thickness, and remove wool from the head and cheeks remembering to leave a decent forelock. Wash the sheep over with soapy water and tidy up where necessary. Traditionally, show sheep would be purl dipped to tighten the coat and provide some colour, but this is a matter of choice. A high quality, clean but not over-washed fleece is perfectly acceptable to show in its natural state

Info Box

When preparing a hogg-in-wool do as little as possible. The more you work the wool, the greater the risk of messing it up. Wash through with cold water or use a cold waster dip if available. Some people advocate purl dipping but there is a view that a hogg is best left natural and applying dip will spoil the wool. Minimal careful opening up of the fleece may be necessary but if too much is required, you have chosen the wrong sheep for a hogg! Otherwise, treat your hogg with kid gloves – keep in a clean, thistle-free area and avoid access to any obstacles the sheep can rub on

Before entering the show ring, remove all straw bedding from the fleece and apply baby oil to nose, ears, and to the knees on clipped sheep. Clean any soiled areas of fleece and check all is in order. Lastly, trim the tail wool on a hogg to form a neat horizontal line – it really improves the back view of the sheep. Once in the ring, be aware of how your sheep is standing and correct it where necessary and always keep your eye on the judge – they may look back along the line and you want to ensure they see your sheep in its best light. Be prepared to walk your sheep on a halter, or at some shows the sheep may be run as a group. There is nothing more spectacular than to see a group of beautifully prepared Wensleydale hoggs running free showing off their long wool to the delight of the crowd

Scroll to Top