2013-05-15 xml
Could Sheep Shearing become an Olympic Sport?

Competitive Sheep Shearing requires incredible precision, speed, endurance and strength combined with thousands of hours of practice; all of the qualities we attribute to Olympic athletes.

Rachel Lumley, Secretary of the Shearing Section at this month’s Northumberland County Show, believes it would make an interesting competition for an international audience. She said, “Although for many, shearing sheep is a full time occupation, those involved in the competitive side wholly recognise what they do as a sport. Shearing 250 sheep in a day uses the same amount of energy as running a marathon. If curling and table tennis can be classed as Olympic Sports, then surely shearing should be included?”

Adam Berry  – world class shearer attending this year’s Open Shears Competition

Adam Berry – world class shearer attending this year’s Open Shears Competition

To strengthen its case, the British Isles Shearing Competitions Association (BISCA) aim to get shearing recognised as an official UK sport. The organisation is campaigning for 1700 members to sign their petition to get the proposal in motion. Colin McGregor, the Vice-Chairman of BISCA explains, “The shearers have to be 100% physically fit, have the mental aptitude and determination to focus on competitive success and believe that they are athletes in a respected sport.”

Northumberland County Show, held on Bank Holiday Monday 27th May, is proud to be part of the ‘English Circuit’ that showcases some of the best shearers in the world. Ambitious contestants work their way through the rounds by attending at least 5 out of the 7 regional shows, (the Devon County Show; Great Yorkshire Show; Lakeland Shears; Northumberland County Show; Royal Bath & West Show; Royal Cornwall Show and Three Counties Show) culminating in the National Championship. Points accrued during the Circuit contribute to their qualification at the World Championships, held in Ireland on 21-25 May 2014.

Bob Hindmarsh, Chief Steward of the Shearing Section explains, “We are delighted to welcome over 40 shearers from all over the world, and top class judges who come from as far away as Northern Scotland, Ireland and Devon. We have always had a great attendance as the Northumberland County Show, being early in the season, means many of the shearers haven’t started on their commercial work yet.”

One such hopeful is Adam Berry, from Kendal in Cumbria. He’s been shearing since he was only 10 years old and attained 6th place in the World Championships held at Masterton in New Zealand in 2012, followed by a top twenty position at the prestigious Golden Shears, where the crème de la crème of Kiwi shearers – the best in the world – come together for their national contest.

But last year’s star, Welshman Gareth Daniels, will be returning once more to defend his title of Northumberland Shears Champion. Twice crowned the Champion Shearer of Wales, he is a strong supporter of the Northumberland County Show. There will be some fierce rivalry with his team mate, Adam Berry, as he pipped him to the post, coming in 5th place in last year’s World Championship. Organisers are predicting a very exciting final.

Chris Chomse, this year’s County Show Chairman, has been a leading figure in the shearing section for many years. He said, “I’d like to encourage all young shearers to enter. You need to have completed a short course, register with BISCA, and you take part in any of the Circuit Shows. It’s a great way to improve your skills, keep fit, and meet likeminded people.”

The Northumberland Shears Contest, held at the Show, includes classes for a range of abilities, starting with the Junior Shearing, supported by the North of England Mule Sheep Association. Carrs Billington Agriculture has sponsored the Intermediate Section, and Rumenco have put their name to the Senior Shears.

The most challenging contest for competitors is the PK Nutrition Open Shears. In this class, shearing a sheep in less than 30 seconds is a regular achievement. But winning is not all about speed; the condition of the fleece is taken into account. If it has been clipped through twice, called 2nd cutting, it is devalued; and the animal is closely examined for nicks and cuts when it is released to the pen. The penalties attributed from these three criteria (called pen, board and time scores) are then added together, and whoever has the lowest score wins.

This year’s show will see up to 900 sheep sheared in the course of the competition, all delivered in fleets of wagons throughout the day courtesy of Dave Hall, the manager of Chipchase Farms.

The Young Farmers have one of the least glamorous jobs; their volunteers trim the sheep bellies and around their tails prior to the competition in a process called ‘crutching’. Bob Hindmarsh explains “With so many sheep to clean and clip, it takes nearly 30 of them working in shifts to get through them all. We’re really grateful to everyone who helps behind the scenes, especially Whitley Chapel YFC whose members provide essential wool handling, time keeping and sheep handling on the day. Without their goodwill the show couldn’t go on.”

Rachel Lumley concludes, “Whether or not Sheep Shearing attains Olympic status, I’m glad to see wool prices stabilising worldwide, making this a viable area of the sheep industry to be involved in and justifying the commitment by the shearers who do an excellent job.”

Northumberland Show

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