My first year studying at Bishop Burton College is over and, for me, the highlight of the past month has been the college Stockmanship Competition.
After years of being a spectator at shows, it was incredible to witness first hand what time and effort and artifice there is behind every animal entered. Categories this year included sheep, dairy, beef and (for the first time) calves.
I was given a Holstein heifer calf (February-born) to halter-train and prepare for the show. She’s officially named Bishop Burton Amateur Magpie, a weird concoction of her sire’s name, Bay Bob Amateur, and her dam’s, Zenith Magpie. Unofficially, she’s “Rosie”.
Rosie and I first met a few weeks before the competition. I put the halter on the wrong way and we went on our unsteady way from there.
She loved being pampered. Except for the washing, which she really hated, the whole experience of beautifying her for the day of the show suited her to the core. This was a calf more girly than I ever was.
It seems strange to someone new to the world of livestock showing to see the care taken over the appearance of each animal. Using hair spray, hair dryers, WD40 and talcum powder seems a bit surreal.
Many of you will be familiar with how craggy and pot-bellied Holstein calves can look. Compared with a beef breed, they certainly look the poorer cousin. But just trimming them resulted in an almost magical transformation.
With the long belly hair gone, the bloated look vanished and shining coats showed off the dairy bone structure. Where the correct attributes weren’t naturally there, snipping and fluffing of hair caused the fault to vanish.
The competition also brought out the best in the people taking part. Whether it was sharing their own equipment, helping with washing, or giving advice on the clipping of a sheep.
I was told it’s always sunny on Stockmanship day. And this occasion was no exception. True to say, the animals looked more comfortable with their halters than some of us looked in our stiff-collared shirts and ties. Some more volatile cows and bullocks provided excitement by making a run for it or deciding to lie down… immediately before entering the ring.
Rosie and I were called sixth overall in the calf entries. When I took her back to the shed after a long day on the halter, she fell asleep with her head across my lap. That trust felt like success more than anything else could.
I said it was incredible to realise the extent of work and effort that goes into preparing show animals. New to farming, if I’m honest, I had barely a clue what work and skill is involved in so many aspects of agriculture. The enormous complexity of the job has been a revelation.
I’m reminded of what people so often said to me when I first told them I was going to be studying agriculture. “What do you want to do that for?” At the end of my first year at college, it’s still as complicated to answer that one as it was before. The simplest way I can find to sum it up is that I’ve caught the bug. No escape now.