11 June 1999

Top-class judge

of sheep is all set for Ardingly

Show season is in full swing – and competition will again

be fierce as exhibitors battle it out for the coveted first

place. But there can only be one winner. Tim Relf talks

to one of the people who has the tough job of judging

stock at one of this years premier events

DAVID Darke, who will be picking the supreme sheep champion at this weeks South of England Show, is no stranger to the judging hot-seat.

Its a job hes done at some of the countrys top events – including Smithfield and the Royal – as well as in Kenya, France, Ireland and New Zealand.

"My wife would say I wouldnt go abroad unless it was for something connected with sheep," says David from South Huish, Devon.

The New Zealand trip in 1994 saw him on duty at the centenary event for the countrys sheep breeders. "It was an honour to be asked."

Judging may be an honour, but it can be tough at times. "Its the same as showing stock – you feel the tension. You wouldnt be human if you didnt. There are generally only two happy people – the winner and the judge."

Its also a responsibility David takes seriously. "I feel as if I dont want to go out there and let myself and the rest of my family down.

&#42 Thats why…

"I have always felt happy if I can go back to the exhibitors and say This is why I chose it and persuade them to understand my reasons."

It all dates back to his Young Farmers Club days when he won an international competition for England. He still remembers how challenging that was, with males and females of six breeds to judge. "I was never one for writing down long strings of notes. I always kept a picture of the animal in my mind."

Davids prowess as a judge also reflects his own long and successful showing career. "My mother would complain in the 1950s and 60s that I spent every Sunday preparing sheep for shows," he laughs.

David has a simple approach to his task. "I only judge the animal in front of me. Ive never believed in getting involved with the people. Some tend to judge on past results, but the only way to judge an animal is on the day."

Its also important to stand a reasonable distance away from the animal to size it up. "A lot of people make the mistake of standing too close. Usually first impressions are not too far wrong.

&#42 Disguised faults

"You get to know the quirks that certain exhibitors use to disguise faults – like people trying to hide an animals leg with their own because it is not quite as straight as it could be."

His judging philosophy can really be summed in one sentence. And its something, no doubt, hell have in mind today (Friday) as he picks a winner at Ardingly in East Sussex.

"Its like farming – if you put your heart and soul into it, youll do well."