Showmanship is more than just entering a show arena during a livestock event. Along with the opportunity to present your sheep comes the responsibility of following a certain standard of etiquette.
This customary protocol of behavior is something long time Rhode Island sheep breeder Debra Hopkins is quite familiar with. Hopkins has been actively involved in the raising and showing of purebred sheep going all the way back to her youth. In 1980 Hopkins established a 40-acre farm in North Scituate, RI called Hopkins Southdowns which she uses to produce over 100 lambs a year.
Aside from raising her own sheep, Hopkin’s full time job is registering other people’s sheep. Hopkins also stays active in various sheep industry organizations such as the Continental Dorset Club, where she serves as executive secretary and the Rhode Island Sheep Cooperative, where she acts as treasurer.
Hopkins recently took time out of her busy schedule to offer sheep showing etiquette guidelines during a clinic at the inaugural Southern New England Shepherd’s Forum in Walpole, MA.
Proper etiquette starts well before the show even begins. It has a lot to do with knowledge, preparation and basic organization. If you do not have a lot of show ring experience, it is helpful to attend several shows to familiarize yourself with the basic procedures.
At most shows your sheep will be judged based on certain association standards. Each association may have a unique set of criteria when it comes to judging sheep so it is in your best interest to understand it. Take the time to find out which association is connected to the show you want to attend and carefully review their by-laws and regulations. The information may be extensive but you will come away with a clear understanding on what the show judges will be looking for and how to better prepare your sheep for showing.
Once you feel you are ready to participate, begin by obtaining a show catalog from the livestock event you want to enter.
You will find health requirements on your sheep are a crucial part of the registration process. A certificate of veterinary inspection is among the main items you will need to have to prove your animal has had all its required shots and vaccinations. Also keep in mind all out-of-state sheep usually need to be accompanied by an entry permit. In addition to this each animal should have an individual identification number on it, such as an ear tag, which matches what is written on the registration form. Scheduling veterinary visits and obtaining the necessary permits and tags can be a lengthy process. Hopkins recommends not waiting until the last minute to get these done.
When filling out a show entry form take the time to fill it out properly and completely. Accurate information ensures your sheep will be placed in the proper class and you will be competing against the correct age group. Hopkins said it is helpful to make a photocopy of the entry form so you can remember what sheep you’ve entered when the week of the show arrives.
Always make sure to submit your entry form by the deadline along with the required entry fee. Prompt submission will be greatly appreciated by show management because it gives them adequate time to process all the entries they receive so they can properly setup the show area. When it comes to fees, keep in mind show management is counting on this to help pay for ribbons, trophies, prize money and other essential materials.
Hopkins says to be proactive and use the pre-show period to practice basic show techniques with your sheep such as leading, driving and setup. It can take a great deal of time to train your sheep with these three techniques but it is necessary if you want to do well at the show. Time comes into play with leading because it will first require using a halter. From there your animal must be trained to walk by hand control which usually includes putting one hand under the chin and the other hand on the back of the head.
It may take a while for your sheep to get accustomed to driving and setup as well. Driving involves properly setting your sheep’s legs and teaching the animal to push up against you while the judge is handling them. Setup consists of making sure your sheep’s body and neck are straight, the head is in a high position with the ears up and forward, front legs are in line with the neck, the back is level, and the hind legs are square. It’s a lot of work but know a sheep which is acclimated to these techniques will be less of a disruption to other competitors and allow judges to properly evaluate your sheep.
The pre-show period is also a good time to practice a process known as fitting. This usually includes shearing and cleaning. Shearing methods will differ among exhibitors so use this time to find the best procedure for you. Also keep in mind the type of fitting often depends on what kind of show you’re attending.
One additional factor to consider at this time is whether or not you will need a “pit crew” to help you along the way. Who you choose to bring and how many people will depend on several factors including your level of experience, the number of animals you are bringing and whether you will need help moving and setting up equipment. Be courteous and reach out to people well in advance so they have the necessary time to make travel arrangements.
Your goal on check-in day should be to make it as stress free as possible on you and your animals. This starts by arriving during the designated time. If you show up too early don’t expect to be let into the facility as staffing and equipment may not be fully in place yet. If you know you are going to be late have the courtesy to notify show management.
Upon arrival check-in with show management for any health inspection requirements. If for any reason you cannot exhibit one of your animals, you should let show management know as soon as possible.
Hopkins reminded everyone that sheep tend to get tired and stressed during travel so you want to get them settled and sorted as quickly and efficiently as possible. Before unloading your animals, you should first locate and prepare their designated pens. Be mindful of other exhibitors by unloading your animals and various tack items in a timely manner. When you are finished promptly remove your vehicles to the designated parking area to free up unloading space for the next person. Debra also pointed out that when setting up equipment and supplies to be considerate of other exhibitors by adhering to the space allotments.
For more information about Debra Hopkins visit her website at www.hopkinssouthdowns.com .