Livestock showing – a family affair

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Livestock showing has its serious, professional side – but there’s also a lot of fun to be had for the whole family. The Ryeland Flock Book Society held its national lamb show at the English Winter Fair, attracting a wide entry of both Ryeland and Coloured Ryeland sheep.

And scooping several prizes were the Carter family from Ryecroft Rare Breeds near Wigan. “The society puts on the national show to attract new people and give them advice,” said owner Jayne Carter. “We come to the shows with our children to catch up with our whole Ryeland family – it’s so friendly.”

Jayne started out with Rylands when her children were little – and hasn’t looked back. “We wanted a breed that is quiet and easy to handle. But they’re also an amazing meat animal, they’re hardy and they do well on grass. They’re a really good all-round breed.”

The family now have 60 Ryelands at home, as well as Oxford Sandy & Black pigs which they buy as weaners and finish for sale. “We butcher everything on site and sell it online or in our pop-up shop – everything we produce, we sell to the public, including sheepskin rugs from our own sheep.”

Educating the public about where their food comes from is important, so the Carters open their doors to school visits, lambing events, and farm walks. They also sell their pedigree stock to other breeders to improve their bloodlines. “The lamb who won the champion Ryeland ram lamb and was overall reserve champion will hopefully go on to sell for breeding,” said Jayne. “He was a March-born triplet who’s grown so well. He’s got great length and a deep chest, with an amazing back end – I was so pleased when he won.”

Day two of the Fair brought even more family fun for the breed, with a fancy dress competition themed around sporting events. As well as being some light-hearted entertainment for all the family, it raised money for the national charity, the Farming Community Network.

Day two also saw the best young handlers go head-to-head in age-restricted classes, culminating in the young handler championship, which was won by 17-year-old Libby Garth. “I’ve been showing ever since I can remember,” she said. “It’s a real family thing; I enjoy getting the lambs ready with my dad, and it’s a good social.”

Libby and her family; father Robert, stepmum Sarah, brother Matthew and sister Rosie, keep about 180 Beltex, Suffolk and Texel sheep at Peaks View Farm in Lancashire, and Libby likes the Beltex breed the best. “I just like the look of them. I’m good at standing them correctly and showing them off well – I was ecstatic to win.” Her success was even sweeter given that she pipped Matthew to the championship – he was placed in reserve position a few years ago.

But the highlight of her career was this time last year: “We won the interbreed champion and reserve champion at the Fair last year, that was really great.”

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Print resolution images from the 2023 English Winter Fair can be found here.