Mother and daughter were packed, travelling and both looking in great spirits for their week ahead. It was a fabulous advertisement for any of this year’s summer shows when I saw the radiant smiles of Gillian and 10-year old Louise Shipley lighting up social media last month. It embraced all the sense of excitement and anticipation that comes through the showing world each year.
Gillian and her husband Mark farm at Glebe Farm, Brandesburton and Eastfield Farm, North Frodingham in East Yorkshire, where Louise joins her mum in preparing and then showing their Leicester Longwool sheep, carrying the Oxgang prefix. They were bound for Harrogate for the Great Yorkshire Show in the picture that shows them all set for a great time together.
“We don’t always look that way, or I certainly don’t, but we had set off at a reasonable time, which always helps,” says Gillian, who is carrying on the legacy her father, Alan Aconley, left when he passed away in 2010. For Gillian this year’s show was a high-water mark.
“This year’s whole season has been fantastic. We had female champion with our shearling ewe or gimmer hogg in wool called Betty and also called Extra Long, which went on to take the breed championship and also reserve longwool champion. She took the breed championship and was longwool champion at Ryedale Show at the end of July and was female champion at Malton earlier in the season. Her wool just opens up beautifully and her staple looks fantastic.
“We didn’t enter her in the lamb classes the previous year as she hadn’t been big enough at the time, but I’d liked her from the start and she was just right at 18 months. Sometimes you can tell you have one that is going to be good as soon as it hits the ground and I’d had a good feeling about her. The lamb that we had shown last year didn’t become part of this year’s team. That’s just how it goes and sometimes one season is enough.”
Gillian grew up showing her father’s beloved Leicester Longwools with him and today’s flock runs to 35 breeding ewes. In more recent times her decision-making over what stays and what goes has altered.
“I’m having to learn to be more ruthless in my selection as there was a time when I would keep my ewes until they were past it. Dad would have been more ruthless, but would still hold on to those that did well and that’s what I’m now doing. As the younger stock of the right quality comes through we will retire the older ones.
“Dad started with the Leicesters as commercial sheep, but it was some of the other breeders in the area at the time Messrs Ellwood, Stamp and White who convinced him to getting into showing and he made a very good job of it.”
Today’s farming operation runs across 200 acres, involving land at both farms which had been Mark’s granddad’s farm at Brandesburton and Gillian’s parents farm at North Frodingham. It includes arable cropping with 80 acres of winter wheat, 20 acres each of spring and winter barley, oilseed rape and land rented to Bird’s Eye for peas.
Calves bought from Leyburn livestock market are currently being reared on and there is another flock with 40 Texel X Charollais breeding ewes. Mark adds to their income through agricultural machinery repairs. The couple also now operate holiday letting of a renovated bungalow where Gillian’s grandfather used to live at Eastfield Farm.
The Leicester Longwools certainly receive their fair share of attention and Gillian is keen not just on maintaining the quality of the show flock but also the breed’s status.
“I think there is still a place for them in the commercial sheep world. They have the size and shape on them, they are a good dual purpose breed and we are able to command a decent price for their wool. We had several enquiries at this year’s shows and finished at Thornton le Dale Show last week.
“They are also fairly quiet and the time that Louise and I spend with them means they are used to being around us. I’d rather have the gimmers for showing and keeping the flock going, but it is always nice to have and show good tup lambs.
"We lamb around January 5 and I like good singles. We will get some twos but our average is around 125 per cent. The past few years we’ve had more tup lambs than ewe lambs. When we trade most of our stock goes through Malton livestock market. We always have tups for sale.
“Louise enjoys showing the sheep particularly in the young handlers’ competition, and helps with washing their legs down and making sure their faces are clean. But we won’t be showing at next year’s Great Yorkshire as Leicester Longwools have both MV and non-MV accredited breeders and we alternate which classes will be run. We will still be going to Malton, Driffield, Ryedale and Thornton le Dale.”