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Showing the ancient type of Hebridean sheep

To show or not to show?

Why you should:
Showing is the best way of showing your ancient type sheep to the world and
other sheep breeders. If people never see them, they will never know they exist.
There are so few of them around, they need every bit of publicity and exposure
they can get. Showing can be great fun. Its a chance to meet up with other
breeders and enthusiasts and is a great way to socialise. People are fascinated to
see a mature 4 horned tup in his pen. At the Royal Highland Show we had the
delight of watching the Queen abandoning her official escort and picking her way
through assorted debris to see and ask about Gladstone Laughing Boy and his
magnificent horns.

Why you should be wary:

Showing any breed of animal is the enemy of diversity the very thing we are
trying to conserve with our ancient type of sheep. The Storrs Hall photograph
shows a wonderful diversity in one small flock. Look at any show of Hebridean
sheep and you will usually find a very uniform array of two-horned, jet black
sheep with long straight fleeces. Peas in a pod and bearing scant resemblance to
the original Storrs Hall sheep. Very few judges have experience of breeding the
ancient types and many will look askance at them if they appear in the show
ring. Be prepared to be sent to the end of the line.

Sheep preparation:
The Hebridean Handbook has a good section on showing sheep well worth a
read. Ideally, and this is what we do, you should select your sheep, load it into
the trailer and take it to the show. However, most breeders go to greater lengths.
It is said that you cant fool the judge, but people do try and give their sheep a
competitive advantage.
Halter training.
All shows in England and indeed some in Scotland expect you to have your sheep
on halters. If you are going to do this, it is best to invest in a webbing or leather
head collar with a clip-on lead. The rope ones you see can tighten badly which is
not good for the sheep. Start by just putting the head collar onto the sheep for
15 or 20 minutes a day for a few days. Next, clip on the lead and stand with the
sheep with the lead loose for a few minutes for a few days. Next let the sheep
walk and follow it, again keeping the lead loose. Finally, get the sheep used to
walking with you on the lead. It doesnt take long to get the sheep used to the
idea and it makes standing and walking in the ring easy.
Your sheep should be in good condition whether showing or not. Some breeders
adopt an intensive feeding regime prior to the show season. The downside of this
is that should you buy a show sheep which is used to special feeding, it will

visibly lose condition once out in the field and your recently purchased
magnificent beast will soon look rather sad and scrawny.
In the showring, judges generally look for long and intensely black fleece, even
though Hebrideans, the ancient types in particular, have a wide variety of fleece
types and shades. The guide to showing mentions that the fleece can be wet the
day before and the sheep allowed to shake dry to remove any dust. What you
will see just before the show is breeders spraying their sheep with various
assorted mixtures (usually from the horse or cattle section of the agricultural
suppliers) to give the fleeces a gloss appearance. What has even been known is
for sheep to have been treated to black dye not quite the straight off the field
look. The other strategy adopted by many breeders is to shear the sheep early in
the season to give good fleece growth prior to the show season. Not good for the
sheep if you get a cold and wet spell and of course it ruins the fleece. Do not
brush out the fleece.
Almost invariably, the sheep will have their horns treated to make them look
lustrous. There are many options, the favourites being baby oil, neatsfoot oil and
increasingly horse hoof salve in clear or black. At the Highland one year Kiwi
black shoe polish was seen to be used. If you are going to do this, it is best to do
this some days before the show. Judges are not keen on getting black grease
from horns on their expensive pale linen jackets. In some breeds, bending horns
is accepted and the Sheep Book for Smallholders by Tim Tyne had a chapter on
how to do it. Just dont.
Choose your sheep.
You will of course choose a sound sheep in good condition. But which one? If you
are after a rosette, you want the one with the blackest fleece and the most
imposing symmetrical horns. However, a typical ancient type if there is such a
thing may have a topknot, be polled, be scurred, have a splendid silver or
brown fleece and the horns could be curled or fused. You should also bear in
mind that 4 horned sheep tend to be longer, taller and thinner than 2 horned
sheep. This is true of all 4 horned breeds. Some judges appreciate this diversity,
some do not. You will learn to choose your judge. It can be quite disheartening to
have a judge dismiss your sheep without a second glance because he or she has
no understanding of the ancient types. On a more positive note, a number of
shows now have a trophy for the best non 2-horned sheep. These are the ones
you might consider entering. However, if what you want is for people to see the
ancient type of sheep, consider local shows, shows which are likely to attract
small flock owners (for instance smallholders shows) and shows with classes for
primitive and northern short tailed breeds.
A final note on showing.
Showing sheep tells you nothing about how the sheep performs. It does not tell
you if it is hardy, what its breeding performance is like, if it lambs easily, will it

keep its teeth for a good number of years, how long it will live. All it
demonstrates is how closely the sheep resembles an artificial ideal. The ancient
type sheep as shown in the Storrs Hall photograph do not conform to this ideal.
Does that make them any worse (whatever worse means) than the glossy 2-horn
show winners? I leave you to judge.