Showtime at Otley has a long pedigree

It’s almost curtain-up time for the start of a new season of agricultural shows throughout Yorkshire. Chris Berry reports.

Brushes are at the ready, white coats laundered, pampering kits restocked.

The county’s livestock show community is collectively limbering-up because next Saturday a new five-month long agricultural show season gets under way at Otley.

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It will be the 203rd Otley Show and Julie Hobson of Meadowcroft Farm, Hawksworth has been involved with it since she was no more than a toddler.

Now a new generation is picking up the torch as her children Georgina, 12, Eleanor, nine, and Bethany, six, take on an increasing role.

“The girls love it, but it’s not as easy as you first think it will be,” says Julie.

“I remember when we started I thought it would be very straight-forward but the clipping out and preparation have to be done a number of times before you get it right.

“My husband Stephen is better at preparing our Charollais sheep than me.

“I’m a bit slap-dash, but I enjoy showing. I used to do it with my mum, when we would show Shetland ponies.

“When mum died 21 years ago my dad decided to retire not long afterwards.

“My sister and her husband took on part of the farm while Stephen and I took on a smaller acreage as Stephen works as a civil engineer. We had cattle up until last year, but we have always had sheep.

“Now Georgina, Eleanor and Bethany all really enjoy showing them with us at a number of shows, starting with Otley each year.

“Georgina has just joined Aire Valley YFC and she has already taken a third place in the Young Handlers competition at the Great Yorkshire Show. I think she’s looking forward to taking my place in the show ring. I might find that a little hard but I won’t discourage her if she wants to do it.”

The Hobsons were introduced to the Charollais breed through one of the most well-known ladies in the show world, Margaret Watkinson. “Margaret is my auntie and when we were looking for an appropriate breeding tup she mentioned the Charollais.

“She told us that it was an easy breed to deal with, that the ewes lambed easily, that they generally lamb on their own, are good mothers, give plenty of milk and grow fast – and that’s all you need in fat sheep.

“She was right. We now have a flock of 70 ewes and lamb over three periods each year, including early lambing at Christmas. These are the ones we hope will give us a chance at the shows.

“Otley is one of the bigger local shows and in our five years of showing our Charollais we’ve had a few seconds and thirds, but no champions yet.”

Julie has seen how Otley Show has changed since the 70s when she first attended. She recalls the days when show people met in the now demolished Bridge End Livestock Market on the edge of the showground.

“I think the show lost something when the old auction mart went because that made it quite different to others. Everyone used to meet up and have a good natter in there on show day.

“But it has a really good character about it today alongside the lake. It gives the show a whole new look. Last year it was so hot everyone kept going for a paddle in the lake to keep cool.”

Janet Raw has been secretary of the show for the past 18 years. Her first date with her husband was coming to the show in 1968.

Janet will be praying for good weather once again and believes the gradual shift of the showground over the past three years has created a “wow” factor.

“When people now come in to the showground the first things they see are Otley Chevin and this wonderful lake. It is the most fantastic backdrop to any agricultural show and we are grateful to the Lister family for all their help in letting us make use of their land each year.

“Since 2001 when Foot and Mouth Disease decimated farming, and livestock in particular, we have seen Otley Show going back to being a real, true agricultural show.

“We are now at capacity.We have had a big increase in the number of Hereford cattle entries, the Holsteins have continued their strong recovery after a lull and the Highlands are very popular once again. The biggest surprise in the sheep classes – and very welcome – is that we have had a big influx of Dalesbreds this year bringing them on a par with Texel entries.”

A good deal of the stock being shown next Saturday will be coming from much further afield than a 10 mile radius.

“Very few of the entries in any of our classes actually come from around this area,” adds Janet.

“We get many show people from North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.

“A lot of show people come to see how their new stock looks like against the rest. Quite a number of the stock will be on show for the first time.”

One of her concerns is whether younger people have the time or commitment requuired that will secure the future of Otley Show.

“We are always stretched over the number of stewards we have. We need more.

“None of us are getting any younger and it would be good to see others come forward to relieve some of the burden.”

Otley Show facts

Otley Show is organised by Wharfedale Agricultural Society.

It was founded in 1796 and is the oldest agricultural show in Yorkshire.

It attracts an attendance of 12,000.

This year they have just under 300 entries in the cattle classes and increases in the sheep, poultry and rabbit classes.

As well as a farmers’ market, there will be a tug-of-war competition, fly fishing, gun dogs, donkey rides and trade stands.

Otley Show is also famed for its funfair which is not organised by the agricultural society.