Yorkshire vet opens up about 'crazy' experience saving endangered animals through the night as Masham Sheep Fair returns

Young farmer and veterinary nurse Hannah Chapman, of Ripon, who looks after her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep
Young farmer and veterinary nurse Hannah Chapman, of Ripon, who looks after her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep
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Last week the rustic splendour of Masham was all about cycling once again with the UCI world championships flashing and, in some cases, splashing through while this weekend it reverts back to its roots with the ever popular Masham Sheep Fair.

The fair was reignited just over thirty years ago when Susan Cunliffe-Lister and her merry band brought it back from the dead, initially to raise much needed funds for farmers in Africa, Sheep Aid.

Young farmer and veterinary nurse Hannah Chapman, of Ripon, who looks after her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep

Young farmer and veterinary nurse Hannah Chapman, of Ripon, who looks after her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep

Going back even further in time, Masham Sheep Fair would see over 70,000 sheep in the town as sheep farmers cashed in on their harvest and replenished their flocks for the following year. Today it is a celebration of sheep that still raises funds for all kinds of charities.

At its heart is the sheep show with an amazing array of breed titles to be won over both days. Sheep racing is just one of the many fun attractions. Fleeces are traded, there are sheepdog demonstrations and with Masham being home to two famous breweries both run tours during the weekend.

“It’s probably one of my favourite shows that’s not a show,” says veterinary nurse and Lincoln Longwool sheep breeder Hannah Chapman, who had bred a champion here last year and will be hoping she can repeat the feat.

“We must have been showing at Masham for five or more years now and our classes are always on the Sunday.

Young farmer and veterinary nurse Hannah Chapman, of Ripon, who looks after her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep

Young farmer and veterinary nurse Hannah Chapman, of Ripon, who looks after her flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep

“My boyfriend Jim and I are members of Masham YFC so we will help out with the setting up and steward on the Saturday. It’s an event that never gets boring. We’re taking seven sheep this year and we will have a couple of fleeces we hope to sell.”

The Lincoln Longwool fleece, like many other longwool breeds, can command a reasonable price from spinners and weavers and Hannah already has one lady who purchases approximately half of the fleeces from her flock of 30 breeding ewes and shearlings.

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“The gimmer shearlings give the finer fleeces that hand spinners are looking for as they need the best quality.

“At present the rest go to the wool board, so if we can sell a couple at Masham we can perhaps make a little bit more.

“The Lincoln Longwool breed is now really rare and it is important that as a society we encourage new breeders. We recently started a new flock at Mowbray School in Bedale with three ewes and lambs.

“The school now borrows a tup from me each year and showed for the first time at Masham last year. The children just love the sheep as they are so quiet they can sit and feed them.”

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Hannah started with Lincoln Longwools eleven years ago when she was just 11 years old.

Hannah’s parents, Keith and Brenda, moved to Ladyriggs Farm, near Greenhow, from Wormald Green in the noughties and on their relatively small acreage they grew an all-encompassing range of cows, sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens, goats, ducks and geese.

“Dad’s main job is a gardener and he used to milk cows when he was younger. My first cow was a Jersey called Galaxy.

“I halter trained her and she was my pride and joy.

“Sheep wise we had always had a bit of everything. We had Leicester Longwools before going with Lincolns because they were easier to handle.

“I’ve always been obsessed with animals. I went through a stage when I wanted to be a butcher, but I always really wanted to be a vet. I then realised I didn’t want to study as much as you need to, so I have become a veterinary nurse.

“I worked at Oak Beck in Harrogate during the time I studied on block release at Myerscough College in Preston and when I qualified I joined Bishopton veterinary practice, which is just 20 minutes away from where Jim and I now live in Kirkby Malzeard.

“At the moment I’m working predominantly on small animals, but I also moved to Bishopton to work with larger animals. I currently go out on occasional TB testings for cattle on farms and I’m on with my surgical nursing award which will see me more involved in stitching and anaesthesia rather than patient care.

“I love my job and do a week of nights per month starting at 7.30pm through to 7.30am. It gets really busy.

“We get a number of RTAs (road traffic accidents) usually cats, but we also get some crazy things. We had a heron brought in the other day.

“And we always have a hedgehog. I never get into work without there being a hedgehog in. They are really endangered at the moment.

“I’m probably one of the least emotional of veterinary nurses because I’ve grown up on a farm and you get used to the whole life and death thing, but occasionally if one looks like one of your own or you’ve been particularly close to one on a nightshift it can pull at your heartstrings.”

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The Riggsfarm flock has already become well known in the Lincoln Longwool breed.

Hannah’s a regular at the annual breed sales at Melton Mowbray and Heckington Show, the breed’s premier show and sale.

Hannah started her showing career in fine style, winning first time out at Pateley Show (Nidderdale) in the Any Other Rare Breed class and regularly attends Ripley, Nidderdale and Masham with occasional runs out at Weeton and Arthington, but eleven years on she hasn’t yet shown at the Great Yorkshire. It’s a situation that may change for 2020.

“It has always been a bit of a goal and every year we have tried to lamb earlier. This year I bought a tup from Keith Harding at the Great Yorkshire Show who we will be showing at Masham.

“We popped him and our other tup in with the ewes on September 1. We’re hoping our lambs will be born from the end of January, which will hopefully give us a chance at Harrogate if we can get in.”