Showing a sheep is the practice of displaying your animal in a competition. There are competitions for various classes of sheep, among them are market lamb, breeding ewe, breeding ram, dairy ewe, and wool producing ewe. The objective is to display your animal in the most flattering light. When preparing to show a sheep, one must be aware of the guidelines for displaying a sheep, the method of displaying a sheep, and finally, the sheep must be prepared for the show. The guidelines for displaying a sheep in a competition are very similar for the different classes.
The main difference between displaying a wool or dairy ewe and the other classes, is that the condition and size of the musculature on the animal is irrelevant for a wool or dairy ewe. Wool or dairy ewes are judged based upon the physical characteristics that enable a sheep to be an excellent producer. For a wool ewe, this would be the quality of the wool and overall robustness. For a dairy ewe, the skeletal structure, udder size and capacity, and milk quality are judged. Market lambs, breeding ewes, and rams are judged based upon the development of their musculature, general appearance, docility, gate, and loin and leg width.
The process of showing a sheep is not complicated. However, because the shower must kneel the majority of the time, the act of showing sheep is physically taxing. The shower must always be aware of her position in relation to the animal as well as the judge. It is crucial to keep the animal between the shower and the judge, in order to maximize visibility of the animal. When the judge walks to the other side of the animal, the shower must rotate around the head of the animal and kneel behind the animal's shoulder. The feet of the animal must be placed squarely beneath the shoulders, with the back legs set a towards the rear in order to emphasize the length of the leg. When the judge comes to feel the loin, leg, and muscles of a market or breeding animal, the shower must stand facing the judge with the sheep's head in the shower's stomach. When the judge is feeling the loin and the legs, it is a general practice to take the sheep's head in two hands around the ears, and place a knee in the animal's chest and pull the head towards the shower. This causes the animal to tense up, which improves the judge's evaluation of the loin and the leg. Improving the quality of the leg and loin is one area in which preparation for the show pays off.
Preparing an animal for show is a 3 step process. The first step is to properly feed and exercise the animal in order to create the desired qualities. A market lamb must be fed a high protein diet and it must be run daily on a track with hurdles. This facilitates the development of high quality meat. A breeding ram or ewe must be feed a balanced diet in order to accentuate overall robustness and to provide the animal with the nutrients it needs to do its job. It is not important to exercise a breeding animal. A dairy animal must be feed a diet that is relatively high in carbohydrates in order to facilitate milk production. The second step in preparing a sheep is to train it to tolerate the actual act of showing. This is a basic taming process where the sheep is gradually and repetitively introduced to the different elements of a sheep show. The elements include head holding, leading, standing, leg positioning, flipping, teeth inspection, and head pulling. The final step is to wash and groom the animal. This takes place in a sheep stand. The animal is generally trimmed with electric shears first, then hand clippers are used to smooth out the fleece. Depending on the breed, black spray paint is applied to the legs to accentuate height and/or a whitewash substance is applied to the fleece to make it brighter and whiter.
Generally speaking, sheep are very docile and take to being shown with a minimum of trauma, some even enjoy it. They are domesticated animals and are used to working in partnership with humans. None of the actions involved in showing create suffering in the animal. Showing sheep is a common practice in farm communities in the USA, and is popular among 4-H and FFA clubs. Raising and preparing sheep for show is a great way for an adolescent to learn the lessons of responsibility, finishing what is started, discipline, the value of a job done well, and making a commitment to the wellbeing of another creature.