Just as the grand parade was about to commence at Devon County Show officials made the decision to withhold the award for inter-breed champion sheep and champion sheep pairs and the animal was not allowed to participate in the parade.
The sheep in question, the Charollais ram, Logie Durno Olympian, exhibited by Melanie and Michael Alford, Cullompton, had been awarded the sheep inter-breed title by Geoff Watson, Kettering, and was also part of the reserve pair of sheep.
Artificial colouring is at the centre of the controversy, with the show changing its rules this year to state sheep should be shown in their natural colour – ie ’no artificial colouring’.
Mrs Alford said: "We were called into a meeting with the show officials after the sheep judging had taken place.
"We were told we were being stripped of our inter-breed title, our cups and prize money because our sheep had been coloured, but yet we were still allowed to go forward and compete. Our sheep were sprayed before arrival at the show and were subsequently sprayed again on arrival at the showground with Jobson’s Biscuit Brown bloom. This product is an entirely natural product containing plant extracts and minerals and does not contain acrylic artificial dyes.
“On Saturday (21 May) afternoon, just as we were loading the sheep on to our vehicle to leave the show we were approached by the show vet to ask if we would mind the sheep being wool sampled. We declined as there had been ample opportunity to sample our sheep during the three days of the show and we felt leaving it until we were loading was inappropriate. We understand no Charollais or Texel breeders at the Show allowed their sheep to be wool sampled and many more exhibitors declined.
"We have been showing here for 20 plus years with coloured sheep and it has never been a problem. This is the only county show in the country with this rule."
Farmers Guardian asked Devon County Show if they will keep this rule for next year’s show, but this still is unclear.
Mrs Alford said she felt they were being discriminated against and said she knew there were other breed champions which had also been coloured.
She said: “It is a great shame two experienced judges, Charollais Judge Tim Prichard and interbreed judge Geoff Watson, have been drawn in to this matter. They did their jobs and judged the sheep presented to them without prejudice and their decisions and actions should have been respected by the stewards at Devon County Show. To have their decisions revoked after the event is highly disrespectful and discourteous."
Mr Watson, who was speaking to Farmers Guardian, said: “I do not know how they are going to police a rule like that unless they have an army of stewards at all the entry points at the show.”
Jonathan Barber, chief executive of the Charollais Sheep Society, commented: "This is a very unfortunate situation. To get as far as breed champion and inter-breed champion and to then not receive their prizes is very unfortunate and it has been very badly handled. As a society, we do not have a rule regarding colouring, as long as the product used is not harmful to animals or humans."
Mrs Alford said: "There have been a number of negative comments about both ourselves and our sheep on social media and elsewhere. While not going in to detail of these comments we would respectively ask that if anyone has any evidence to back up their claims that they produce it immediately or retract their comments."
Devon County Show released a statement saying an investigation is being conducted as per regulation 35 of the Livestock Schedule ’Tampering with animals’. The inter-breed champion title is still withheld and the reserve, a Hampshire Down ram-lamb from Richard Cole, still sits in this position.
"Devon County Show made a rule that here is to be no colouring of sheep. I had five classes to judge in the inter-breed championships and it was not until just prior to the last class – which was the inter-breed supreme – that the head sheep steward asked me if I was aware of the rule.
“I said yes, but I think the rule is ridiculous.
“The coloured sheep were allowed in to the breed classes and were judged and were placed and received prizes.
“Then they came in front of me for the inter-breed classes.
“When these sheep arrived on the showground they should have been inspected by the steward and should have been disqualified. It is not the job of the judges to do the stewards’ work.
“The judge is there to judge what is in front of him.
“There will be a review after the judge’s decision. That makes a mockery of my judging. I feel very hurt."