Northern Ireland

Balmoral Show: Farmers hone skills to shear perfection

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Media captionThe sheep shearing competition is hotly contested at Balmoral Show

Balmoral Show will be getting under way later this week and some young farmers have been counting sheep as the days tick down.

The sheep shearing competition is one of the most hotly contested at the event and many have been honing their skills in the lead up to the event.

On visited a farm in Templepatrick, County Antrim, 14 young hopefuls were practising their front back and sides with a difference - hoping that their rivals won't pull the wool over the judges' eyes!

Graham Davidson said he hoping to take home the Young Farmers Silver Handle Trophy after trying for two years.

"A lot of it's to do with feet work and positioning your feet," he said.

"You're trying to set it up that you are taking as much of the wool off at the one time.

"My aim is to listen to the instructors and learn different techniques and find new ways of doing things."

He said shearing was a hobby at the moment.

"But I'd like to go travelling next year and you can take shearing wherever you go and you can learn how to work different kinds of sheep," he said.

Image copyright Nicola weir
Image caption Caryn Webster is hoping to bring home a trophy in the wool handling competition

But Graham will have to 'bleat' fellow competitor Russell Smyth, who is aiming for a win after four years of trying.

"I've had some good years and some not so good years. You always hope for a win and you just go and give it your best shot. It's all down to luck of the draw," said Russell.

"You may get a sheep that doesn't want to sit for you and there's little you can do about that.

"You always want to be a winner, but this is a way to gain more experience so you're not so nervous when you go onto that stage in front of so many people. For when the nerves take over, you normally make a mess of it."

Their work is closely inspected by sheep shearing professionals like William Jones.

Image copyright Nicola Weir
Image caption And the finished look is a little bit lighter on the animals

He's hoping one of his protégés will lift the silverware at this year's Balmoral Show.

"The idea of shearing a sheep is to get the wool off in one piece. The best way is clean and fast," said William.

"It's hard in this country as we have such big sheep, the shearers get lazy because they don't know how to move their feet.

"And the sheep stays more settled when you're moving about and you keep getting around her. I definitely have a winner among them here - I just don't know which one!"

But it's not just the cut that's important. How the wool is handled is a major part of the process.

Caryn Webster is a wool handler and has entered this year's world championships.

"We work with the shearers to get the fleece off to get the best possible quality for the return for the farmers," said Caryn.

"Especially if there is a lot of skin in the fleece it can be rejected or it can break down the machine in the wool factory.

"You have to be fast and everything has to be clean, particularly as I'll be working with two shearers at the one time.

"So you are constantly moving between the two and you don't have a break at all - sometimes working 10 hour days."

According to William, the three musts of sheep shearing are to be clean, remember your hold and pay attention to your feet.

Time for 'Strictly Come Shearing' anyone?

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