English Winter Fair shines spotlight on next generation
23rd September 2023
Set to take place at the Staffordshire County Showground on 18th-19th November, this year’s English Winter Fair is anticipating a record number of entries from young competitors as the event continues to build its success at attracting the next generation of stock people and animal handlers from across the country.
The English Winter Fair has over a dozen classes specially for school-age competitors, as well as playing host to Young Farmers’ stock and carcase judging championships, and the final of the Young Shepherd of the Year.
Richard Williams, chief executive of the Staffordshire and Birmingham Agricultural Society (SBAS), says investing in competitions for young people keeps both traditional and commercial livestock skills alive.
“We saw a particularly large entry in the Young Farmers’ stock judging events last year, which was very rewarding,” he says.
“There are two competitions: A one-day event specially for the English Winter Fair, organised by Staffordshire Young Farmers on behalf of our committee; and a two-day competition organised by the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC). Together, they attracted well over 200 entrants throughout England and Wales last year, and we hope there will be even more in 2023.”
While competitors no longer judge the same animals live then dead, as they did when the Young Farmers’ championship was held at Smithfield, the English Winter Fair still offers the chance to evaluate both live animals and carcases because of its purpose-built refrigerated hall.
“Winners will be presented with the original Smithfield trophies during the NFYFC’s presentation of awards for its competition,” says Mr Williams.
Young Shepherd of the Year competition
Another competition which holds its grand final at the English Winter Fair is the Young Shepherd of the Year, organised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Last year’s junior champion Logan Doyle-Tyson, aged 12, started his showing career by helping his sister show Hebridean sheep.
“I started learning at home, then doing young handler competitions at shows,” says Logan, whose family farm in Cumbria. “Our family are members of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and it’s good to keep people aware of rare sheep by showing them..
“People like our sheep because they’re black and have horns, and I enjoy it when they come to our pens and ask questions because we’re helping to educate them. Lots of people think they’re goats because of their horns and how they look when they’ve just been sheared.”
Winning last year was a real surprise in Logan’s first year competing. “I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t speak and my mum was crying – happy tears of course,” he says.
“I was really pleased to qualify again for this year’s final at my first show of the season. I’m looking forward to competing – we make a weekend of it and have lots of fun. I think everyone should try the Young Shepherd competition. Even if you don’t have sheep, get into it by asking friends and other competitors if you can help with theirs.”
English Winter Fair’s special schools competition
The English Winter Fair’s special schools competition, introduced in 2017 is also going from strength to strength. Students at the Thomas Alleyne School in Uttoxeter compete each year, honing their animal stockmanship and presentation skills.
Justine North, the teacher with responsibility for farm activities at the school, says many of those who take part aspire to have careers in positions like vets, farmers, zookeepers or dog groomers.
As only 10-15% of children who get involved are from a farming background, the livestock handling skills they learn are invaluable in giving them confidence around all sorts of animals, she notes.
“The school actually has its own farm with an array of sheep, goats, cows and poultry, run by farm manager Rosie Deakin-Gallimore, who is instrumental in preparing the students and animals for the English Winter Fair each year,” says Mrs North.
“More than 20 students competed last year in a range of classes. We used to enter the stock classes but it’s hard to win against people who are breeding champion animals for a living. So we focus on the schools’ class, and compete on handling and showing skills, as well as the sausage-making championship.”
Mrs North’s students Archie Holmes and Owen Good, both 15, won the sheep handling class last year. Archie says they first halter trained the sheep, then learned to clip and brush them, which they got confident enough to do at the show in front of other people.
Owen adds: “It was a great day, particularly because we won first prize. We’ll definitely be going again this year to defend our title, and we’ll even try taking part in other classes now we know what’s involved.”
Entries for the English Winter Fair are now open, with entry forms available on the Staffordshire County Showground website and in hard copy from the organisers. Advance discounted tickets for spectators are also available on the website.