TWELVE young shepherds are preparing to take part in the finals of a competition that should have taken place last year.

The National Sheep Association (NSA), organisers of the Next Generation Shepherd of the Year, had to cancel last year's competition, which was scheduled to have taken place at NSA Sheep Event 2020, because of the pandemic.

The long-awaited finals will see competitors take part in a demonstration of skills including ATV handling, health care administration, carcase judging, and shearing via virtual tasks.

Competition organiser Helen Roberts said: “It is encouraging to see the competitors embrace using virtual technology in order that the competition can take place and to see how they have overcome the new challenges that this has bought to the competition. I wish all the competitors well with their tasks."

Representing NSA Northern Region is Matthew Fearon, 21, who is working as a contract shepherd.

He said: "I was lucky enough to be born into farming, on a hill farm in the Borrowdale Valley, Cumbria where I developed my passion for everything to do with the Lake District hill farms, the Herdwick sheep running on the fells and traditional dog and stick shepherding techniques."

The Texel Sheep Society, sponsors of the competition, has supported the event both at the NSA Sheep Event, Malvern, and at regional sheep events, including NSA Scot Sheep, NSA Sheep Northern Ireland and NSA Welsh Sheep for many years, valuing the opportunity to support the next generation of commercial sheep farmers developing their skills.

Texel Sheep Society chief executive John Yates says recognising the need to encourage and develop the younger generation and its support of the NSA Next Generation Shepherds competitions was just one of a number of activities the society undertook in this area.

He said: “There is no doubting that with a changing focus in agricultural support across the UK in future years, the sheep industry is facing challenging times.

“Attracting the best and brightest young minds into any organisation is, without doubt, the main ingredient for success. The sheep sector has plenty of enthusiastic young entrants, but they need every opportunity available to them to succeed. This is vital if the UK is to remain a competitive player in the world sheep industry."

Competitors have already completed a carcase judging competition with their observations impressing judge AHDB’s Steve Powdrill.

Steve said: “Judging carcases by the use of photographs is never easy due to lighting, angles and sizing so it was wonderful to see the ‘have a go’ attitude by all competitors.

"There has been some high scoring on the classification and some really good descriptions with excellent in-depth commentary around conformation and fat."

The next challenge for finalists will be a demonstration of their ATV handling skills and worm-drenching knowledge and technique. The remaining competition elements of shearing and a quiz of their knowledge of the UK sheep sector and practical sheep production are likely to be completed online although hopes still remain that a face-to-face gathering of competitors will be possible to conclude the climax of the contest later this year.

For more information and to see profiles of this year's finalists, visit the website at