Meet the Great Yorkshire Show-winning sheep breeder who isn't from a farming background and has a full-time job

One of the noticeable absentees from this year’s sheep exhibitor list at the Great Yorkshire Show was the 2019 Jacob breed champion owner from North Yorkshire.

Gavin Haworth keeps his sheep on land above Skipton

Two years ago, Gavin Haworth had fulfilled an ambition he had given himself 30 years to achieve when a ewe from his and his wife Becky’s Hurrsdale flock took the title.

While Gavin was understandably disappointed not to be able to attempt retaining the crown, he and Becky are still more than involved with the Jacob Sheep Society and Gavin has organised the judges for the Jacob classes at Gargrave Show and Kilnsey Show.

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Becky and Gavin are presently getting set for the annual pedigree Jacob sales which start in early August in Worcester and include the Northern Jacob Sale at Skipton in early September.

Gavin with his wife Becky and children Isaac and Emily

Gavin said it is a massive part of his and Becky’s calendar, as well as running their son Isaac to football competitions.

“Thirteen years ago the Northern Jacob Sale moved to Skipton livestock market and Becky and I have run and organised it every year. I’ve also auctioneered. It is now the biggest pedigree Jacob sale in the country and holds the breed record.

“Winning at the Great Yorkshire Show is my biggest achievement. It’s the one I’ve always wanted to win and what I set out to do. I won with a two-horned homebred ewe. For me it has to be homebred, something that you’ve bred through your own breeding lines.”

Gavin wasn’t born into a farming family. He said he simply had a love of having sheep from an early age.

“I used to get my dad to take me to the old auction mart that’s now Morrisons as often as possible to look at the sheep, pigs and cattle. It’s like when people say something’s just in you. That’s how it has always been."

As Gavin came closer to leaving school he mentioned to his parents that he really wanted to be involved in farming and have his own sheep. Gavin said his father told him the facts of life about a farming future, but that he also helped him try to achieve his dream.

“Dad said I needed to do something that would earn me a living, as with not being from a farming background it would be difficult. He told me there was no money in farming, said I should go to art college because I’d always been good at art and design, but also took me around the local area to see whether any farmer would take me on for weekends or evenings.

“I found a job on a farm for a man called John Pringle who everybody knew as JP.”

Gavin said that he had also taken on his own five pet lambs, initially in his parents’ back garden.

“They were commercial Texel and Suffolk crosses. I had them the entirety of their lives. They are the only sheep I’ve ever said I’d keep until they day they died. They all made it to 15 years plus.

“I bred my flock up from those five females, took on some land and bought a few more, including an Oxford Down cross out of Skipton that I bought out of the fatstock hall and took home in the boot of my Peugeot 106. I called it Boot too.”

Gavin’s flock grew to 150 breeding ewes, while he was working variously for dairy and sheep farmer Martin Jennings at Cowling, as a sign writer in Skipton and for 14 years with a local DIY firm called JACS until 2019. He’s now a meat inspector with the Food Standards Agency and monitors slaughterhouses.

Gavin said all of his roles have allowed him to carry on with his sheep but that he has reduced the number to 45 breeding ewes at present.

“I’ll increase numbers again once our children - Isaac, eight, and Emily, three, - are settled down and can be involved. At the moment we are running everywhere for Isaac’s football. He’s a chance of being on the books at Accrington Stanley.

“Becky and I would still love a farm of our own and we have been close to a tenancy twice.

“I love my Jacobs. We lamb in January. I started with them 18-19 years ago after talking with Ross Greenwood and Mick Thorpe in the auction mart café at Skipton. Mick said he had loads of them and Ross asked him to bring him half a dozen. I went for a couple because I had no money.

“A short while later I met Robert Locker, who is now my best mate, at the Royal Show. We bought a tup together. The rest is history.”

Becky and Gavin met when Becky, who grew up in Warwickshire and studied business and tourism at Cheltenham University, came to Skipton for her work placement year.

Becky said they are looking forward to Emily joining Isaac in young handlers’ competitions.

“We always try to support our local shows as much as the big ones and we are looking forward to being back in Harrogate next year.”