Monday portraits from Masham

farming, Festivals, North Yorkshire

Yesterday, we went to Masham. Here were gathered sheep: dozens of sheep; hundreds of sheep, from every corner of North Yorkshire and beyond. They were all to be put through their paces and judged on whatever esoteric characteristics sheep are judged on, hoping to be awarded rosettes – even cups – as evidence of their good breeding and upbringing. We went early, and talked to owners, many of whom were keen to save rarer breeds from dying out: dying out because their meat is too slow-growing, maybe too flavourful for the mass market. And, as we discover round here every year at shearing time, the wool they provide is no longer a passport to wealth, or at any rate a steady income, but quite simply a drain on the farmer’s budget as there are shearers to be paid. With some exceptions, only traditional spinners, weavers and knitters seek out traditional wool.

Now then, hands up if you thought a sheep was just a sheep.

Or that wool was – quite simply – wool.

Here’s judging taking place ..

And they start ’em young here. There were classes for Young Handlers, and even an Under Fives category …

Wool, anybody?

We had to go to the Sheep Dog Demonstration, of course. But that’s worth a post all on its own. To be continued …

70 thoughts on “Monday portraits from Masham

  1. Yorkshire life, hey? You almost have me feeling sorry for the farmers. I watch the Yorkshire Shepherdess on telly, you know! Seriously, these are great photos of our woolly friends and their handlers, large and small.

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  2. Despite the many and very real difficulties the farmers must deal with, I’m delighted that these traditional fairs continue and that the young are encouraged too. Fab photos. Such a variety!

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  3. Wonderful post, with all it’s sheeply variety! Good to see this traditional way of life continuing to some degree. Interesting that people don’t like strong flavoured lamb these days…I love a bit of mutton!

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  4. Love stuff like this, keeping tradition alive. I’m impressed by the young handlers, I can just about wrangle the dog and there they are, navigating the ring with farm animals!

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    1. In truth, in one or two cases, it wasn’t clear whether child or sheep was in charge. But most of them acquitted themselves with assured professionalism.

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  5. What a fabulous collection of sheep and wool. It’s hard to believe these days that keeping rare stock is a financial drain when in the past wool brought fortune and titles to families such as the de la Poles and the Spencers to name but two.

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    1. And indeed the monks of Fountains Abbey, who exported beyond Europe, back in the day. One of the saddest sights of a summer country walk is seeing the shorn fleeces cast into some underused barn, not worth the trouble of selling.

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  6. Oh my goodness Margaret, I’m so glad I popped in for this one! We visited a sheep farm in New Zealand years ago and it was fascinating. But I had NO idea there was so much variety. I so loved the little one with the long ears – who knew!! Terrific post!

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  7. We saw signs about this when we were in Masham last month and wished we would be around to see it. So thanks for sharing it – seeing it through your eyes is the next best thing! And the different textures of wool in your close-ups are amazing 😲

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  8. I have had the wool pulled over my eyes many times – but never with such delightful photos. Alas, I wish that your tale of fading customs and ways were just a story. We are all rushing away from what made us unique and proud.

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      1. Oh, I don’t know. They did make me smile. Every day is a new day, but it’s a challenge to feel sanguine for a whole day, unless you are willing to take your lead from the three monkeys.

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  9. Wow, I love the detail pictures of sheep wool in your blog post, Margaret. What a festival of different textures and colours. I have to admit, up until your post, I thought wool was pretty much just wool… Learned something new here… Fascinating shots!

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  10. I like sheep. My favorite were those we met in Norway, on a walk up a mountain. Apparently when a car pulls up they think it’s dinner time and they all run down from their places up in the mountains and then they all followed us for a time on our walk. Each had a bell around it’s neck. It was quite nice.

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  11. What a fascinating variety of sheep! And wool too. How sad that there is a struggle to keep the rarer breeds going and that there is such a low demand for some types of wool it is not economically viable to produce. I enjoyed seeing the pics of the young handlers with their sheep too. Hopefully there will continue to be enough younger people interested enough to keep more traditional farming practices going.

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    1. It was so good to see that many of the adult handlers were also young men and women. They had clearly made their career choice. As to wool, apparently it’s carpets and not a lot else that demand wool these days.

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      1. I hadn’t thought about carpets. Wool is such a great fabric to wear and when blended not that difficult to wash – it seems sad it is no longer used on a larger scale for clothing.

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  12. I am so glad that you shared these photos and insights on how farming is in transition. Your photos were fabulous. I have been reading the trends for the future of farming, which predict that dramatic changes in agriculture. We live in interesting times.

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    1. It is. They used to be fantastic earners. Our neighbour until recently had sheep in the nearby field. They were no trouble, it’s true, but they weren’t stimulating company either.

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  13. Such a lovely post about rural ways. I must admit I avoid country shows like the plague. A shame the wool of these sheep isn’t more valued. I would have thought that wool could be used in insulation as well as carpets and clothing – though I actually cannot wear wool. I know in the Lakes it is used in compost .

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    1. I think it is here too. No, I can’t wear wool either, but it’s a shame it isn’t more popular for clothing.. Yes, I know wool insulation is made, but I guess any old fleece will do for that, hence the low prices. This isn’t really a country show – almost nothing to buy, and what there is is from small local firms, not Big Brands, and craftspeople. You’ll have to give us a try!

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  14. Your post made me feel mixed emotions. I love sheep and am happy to see the sheep fair thriving in Masham, but it’s sad to think that market forces are threatening the wonderful range of breeds farmers are willing to rear. Your photos are beautiful, Margaret.

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    1. Yes, the world i ever more homogenous in that respect, but from what those breeders said, maybe there is hope, as there is a growing demand, albeit not from the mass market, for different products. Fingers crossed, eh?

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