YOUNG shepherds have had to demonstrate their sheep handling skills in a way that none of them had expected while competing in an annual competition.

Usually, they would have shown off their shepherding skills with tasks such as sheep shearing and ATV handling at the national finals of the National Sheep Association (NSA) Next Generation Shepherds competition last year.

With ongoing Covid-19 restrictions preventing the young shepherds from all over the UK coming together, the competition was moved online with the finalists tasked with showing off their video and online media skills in addition to shepherding to compete for the title of NSA Next Generation Shepherd of the Year.

The winner of the overall NSA Next Generation Shepherd of the Year was 19-year-old Harry Lyons from Cheshire. Harry, who represented NSA Central Region, in the competition is a student at Reaseheath College, Cheshire, studying a Level 3 Extended National Diploma in Agriculture and has his own flock of pedigree Suffolk sheep.

Harry wins prize money of £1,000 donated by competition sponsors – the Texel Sheep Society – and a crystal bowl presented by NSA as a memento of his win.

Jack Charleton, assistant farm manager at Chatsworth Estate, Derbyshire, also of the NSA Central Region, was second. He is also an NSA Next Generation Ambassador. And contract shepherd, Matthew Fearon from Cumbria, representing NSA Northern Region was third.

Competition organiser Helen Roberts said: “Congratulations to all the competitors and, of course, to Harry in being named as the overall competition winner.

"In what have been very different and difficult circumstances, the young shepherds have taken time out and shown a commendable effort to complete this competition and all at NSA extend thanks to them for that. Thanks, of course, also go to the Texel Sheep Society for their continued support of this competition and our experienced competition judging team."

Judges included UK levy board representatives, independent sheep consultants, commercial company advisers and NSA staff themselves.

Competition elements included an animal health quiz and practical demonstration, ATV handling demonstration, carcase judging and a plan for online promotion of Love Lamb Week 2021, the annual levy board led campaign that takes place each September to promote the consumption of UK produced lamb.

NSA Communications Officer, Katie James, who helped judge the Love Lamb task said: “The ideas and standard of entry for this task were outstanding. In a competition that ultimately seeks to find the best practical shepherd, this task could have been out of the competitors’ comfort zone but this was not the case. The entries impressed so much that it is now hoped that some of the content from this element will be used in this year’s Love Lamb campaign that will begin on September 1.”

Those interested in competing in regional heats to qualify for the 2022 finals of the competition at next year’s NSA Sheep Event will find details of the regional competitions on the NSA website.