Shearing sorts the men from the boys

Roger Ingham
Roger Ingham
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The shearing classes at the Great Yorkshire Show always prove popular and this year there will be a new category, Chris Berry reports.

Sheep shearing is one of the toughest sports in the world, as well as a back-breaking job. It’s also a young man’s game. But next week sees the first ever Great Yorkshire Show competition for those over 50 years of age and there is still time to enter.

Whilst the six-packs may not be as rippling as those that the female spectators look forward to watching each year, this looks set to be what renowned show commentator Roger Ingham terms a “battle royal”.

Roger, who received his MBE for services to sport in 2007 and has the most distinctive voice in fell racing commentary, became a sheep shearing commentator at Harrogate 10 years ago. He knows just how difficult the job of sheep shearing is and he’s looking forward to the new event with relish.

“There’s some fit lads that take part in these competitions.

“Over the years we have had some Kiwis who have played for the junior All Blacks and lads who have played rugby for Wales under 21s. Without question they will all tell you that sheep shearing is the hardest game they will play all season.”

“These over-50s who will be taking part really can graft. What they have on their side is experience.

“There won’t be a situation that they haven’t come across when shearing. Some of the lads who are still doing it at their age truly amaze me.

“Lads like Dick Charnley of Upper Wharfedale and Johnny Hind of Ennerdale are still going strong today.

“It takes some doing and you have to be fit.

“What I try to do, whether I am commentating on fell running at Kilnsey Show or the other shows and galas, or the sheep shearing is to get the crowd involved.

“They have paid their money to get in and they are part of the show. In fact they are the most vital part because if they didn’t come there would be no show at all.”

The sheep shearing competitions attract a massive audience at Harrogate and sheep farmer Bob Richardson has been the steward of the section for the past decade.

He is responsible for the new competition this year.

“Although the over-50s is a new section for us there are other veterans’ competitions at shows throughout the UK.

“We thought it was about time we gave the opportunity to those who may have thought their competitive days were over. We also wanted to create a new event for the Thursday morning of the show.

“Because it is a new event we are not certain on numbers so we will take entries right up until the last minute when we start at 9am on Thursday.

“George Mudge of Devon will be competing but getting the message out that we have this new competition, to the right people, will probably mean that it will be those who come on the Tuesday or Wednesday who will fancy their chances.

“We have organised some good prize money for the event so it’s well worth taking part and anyone who wants to compete will get free entry to the show on Thursday.”

One man who won’t be competing will be Bob himself.

“I still shear, but I don’t think the suit and bowler hat is quite the outfit, even though I’m sure there would be many who would find it funny.”

During the three days over 2000 sheep will be sheared, largely Swaledales and Dalesbreds. Sheep shearing first came to prominence in medieval times.

“We source the sheep from 11 farms across the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. The show pays for the transport costs and the farmers get their sheep shorn for no cost. As a show we are grateful for their support.’

“To ensure that all shearers compete on equal terms all sheep are ‘crutched-out’ and all belly wool is taken out. All of the competitions including the veterans’ are run under BISCA rules, the shearers’ association in the UK.”

You can expect any prospective champion shearer’s first sheep to be “dropped” (completed) within 40 seconds at Harrogate, and many will be even faster.

The current world champion in the sport is Gavin Mutch of Scotland. He competed for the “Golden Shears” title at Masterton in New Zealand earlier this year. Adam Berry of Endmoor, near Kendal, and the current English champion came in sixth, shearing 20 sheep in just 21 minutes 49.4 seconds. The Great Yorkshire Show is also the home of the English Championships.

Irishman Ivan Scott of County Donegal achieved a new shearing world record in January when he sheared 744 lambs in just eight hours, also in New Zealand.

Shearing on farm is usually carried out in early summer to avoid sheep overheating or suffering fly strike.

It can also be carried out before housing in the winter.

More than 500 shearers come across from Australia and New Zealand every year.

Typically a shearer can earn around £200 a day. They are generally paid on a “piece rate”, which is per sheep.

If you are interested in competing in the veterans’ sheep shearing competition on Thursday July 12 you can contact Bob on either 01964 542234 or 07986 733568.

More details are available on the Yorkshire Show website at

Cutting edge competition

There are two main methods of shearing – blade shearing and machine shearing.

The blade shearing method involves two blades that look to all intents and purposes like a large pair of regular scissors.

This is typically not as close a shave as machine shearing, leaving some wool on the sheep and is usually undertaken in colder climates.

There will be both blade and machine competitions at the Great Yorkshire Show this year.

For more information visit the British Wool Marketing Board website at www.britishwool.