How to look the part on four legs in the show rings

Ashleigh Fenwick, working on the youth development programme for the North East Aberdeen Angus Club at Treebridge Farm, Nunthorpe.
Ashleigh Fenwick, working on the youth development programme for the North East Aberdeen Angus Club at Treebridge Farm, Nunthorpe.
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PEDIGREE BEEF cattle will once again be the highlight for many attending the Great Yorkshire Show and two weekends from now magnificent beasts of all breeds will be unloaded from trucks and trailers in Harrogate ready to be shampooed, brushed, fluffed up and pampered before making their entrance into the show rings – but what about the people who get the animals ready?

While the preparation of an animal is important the role of the handler is vital too and can sometimes make the difference between a place or two especially if the judge is having trouble splitting the animals on quality.

Ashleigh Fenwick lives with her partner Matthew MacDonald in Kildale where he runs the farm for his step-father Ian Barnes who also owns two butchers shops in Great Ayton and Stokesley.

Ashleigh is 21-years-old but has been showing cattle since she was four. Her father Ron is a livestock haulier and growing up she was always around cattle either travelling with him to livestock markets or being around the family farm in East Harlsey.

Ashleigh recently took on the role of secretary and youth co-ordinator of the North East region of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society and one of her tasks is to encourage more young people to get involved with showing cattle.

“Cattle handling has a lot to do with confidence. You have to know what you’re doing and accept that the judge is the most important person in that ring. You have to please the judge and make your animal as presentable as you can. Of course a good judge can see past certain things but if he or she has a big class in front of them it is up to you to catch their eye and create that instant first impression.

“Preparation is essential and I love doing all the background work such as clipping the animals and have learned so much about the best techniques.

“The youth development programme we run within the Aberdeen Angus Society breeds greater confidence through learning together and I’ve learned everything from clipping to making a halter, washing and drying a beast properly and ring technique.

“We have around 240 members of the youth development side of the breed society in the UK aged eight to 24 and regular events are held throughout the year. Our next one is to be held at Adrian and Penny Johnson’s farm at Yearsley in August.

“Before I got involved in the youth development side my knowledge of clipping was minimal, but by being with other like-minded people you get the benefit of their experience and opinion. I like to keep my young calves looking young and to me that means leaving them fluffy rather than matting down their hair or cutting it too much.

“Getting an animal prepared means also having the right products. If your animal has a lot of hair then you use soap to get it fluffy. If it hasn’t a lot then you might use an Amy Winehouse kind of look with hair spray that provides a kind of black adhesive.

“I became a finalist in the youth development competition the first year I was involved. Back then the final was held in Carlisle, these days the main event of the year is held over a weekend and last year we all went to Ireland. It’s a bit like having a young farmers club that is specific to the Aberdeen Angus breed, but we also encourage anyone from any other breed to come along. We learn a variety of new skills as well as having a good time. Last year we learned where to inject an animal so that it doesn’t affect its meat quality.”

Ashleigh hasn’t always been associated with Aberdeen Angus. When she was very young she would travel around the shows with her mum Brenda and grandma Hazel Chapman who showed Limousins for GP Robinson in Carthorpe.

“I have a photograph of me holding a bull at Aldborough & Boroughbridge Show when I was four. Mum was about to receive the trophy for champion bull and they wanted me in on the picture for the local newspaper.

“I also showed Jerseys when I was little for Wilf and Marjorie Gill of Osmotherley before helping Jamie Cooper with his Limousins at the Great Yorkshire Show about seven years ago.

“The following year I started helping Juliet Swires of Dacre with her Aberdeen Angus herd. Juliet had been struggling to get a cow and calf out of her trailer at North Yorkshire County Show and my passion for the breed hasn’t stopped since.”

When Juliet was forced to retire from showing due to back problems Ashleigh started showing for the Dobsons of Holme on Spalding Moor. She’s now helping with David Evans’ Angus herd at Nunthorpe. David is the current national president of the breed society and as Ashleigh lives close by the arrangement has made good sense.

Ashleigh only has one Aberdeen Angus heifer of her own at the moment amongst 120 Texel X ewes that she helps out with looking after in Kildale with Matthew. She has plans for her own herd.

“As well as working for Ian in his butcher’s shop in Great Ayton I’m also working evenings in our local pub the Dudley Arms in Ingleby Greenhow. The evening work is my cow fund to help me start my own pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd.”