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Backbone of Britain: Reflecting on 40 years in the show ring - ‘The skills of stock people should never be cast aside’

After 40 years spent judging Hereford cattle across the country, Clive Davies looks back on how things have changed and what he feels needs to adapt moving forward. Farmers Guardian reports.

Clive Davies has been judging Herefords for four decades.
Clive Davies has been judging Herefords for four decades.
Backbone of Britain: Reflecting on 40 years in the show ring - ‘The skills of stock people should never be cast aside’

With a Hereford judging career in the UK and Ireland spanning four decades under his belt, it is fair to say Clive Davies has seen the showing scene evolve.

Clive lives in Trumpet, Herefordshire, where, since 2015, the Westwood herd has been run in conjunction with Chase Herefords, owned by William Chase of the famed Chase Distillery.

Managed with his son Tom, they also run a flock of Shropshire sheep under the Westwood name.

Tastes in cattle, presentation skills and labour requirements have all changed as time has gone on, but one thing that has not altered, Clive says, is that the showring has always had its critics.

“Nearly forever, certainly for as long as I can recall, this has been the case,” he says.

“Some of this reasoning has been from progressive operators who believe that all that fancy and flamboyant razzmatazz is well away from reality, and that the glitz and make-up within the preparation and presentation offers a false and misleading perspective.

“While there may be some element of truth within their views, the activity has stood the test of time and it is still a well-supported activity and serves as great promotion of the food and farming industry.” When it comes to the type of cattle forward, the preferred sort has changed, Clive says, roughly in-line with market requirements at any given time.

“A big message was given during September 1975 when Jonathon Fox of Justamere, Canada, judged at Moreton and Kington,” he says.

“He was looking, at that time, for cattle that were much cleaner through the underline than the UK had been used to.

“Dynamic UK breeders would very much take this vision onwards, as would the influence of successful commercial stock farmers and multi-breed specialists.

It was all about helping to shape the Hereford for the future.” Presentation skills have altered too.

Clippers and electric blowers were hardly heard of or considered for use during the early 1970s, and hair conditioning products not readily available in until well into the 80s.

“The skills to use all of these things weren’t perfected until the final decade of the last century,” says Clive.

“But since then, the whole activity surrounding the exhibition of stock has become an involved, busy and essential industry.”


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Approach

 

And like many other sectors in agriculture, the need, or means, for farms to employ numerous stock people and helpers has also declined over time.

But in the showing world, Clive says, this made way for today’s structure, which sees freelance specialists care for and present numerous exhibits from a number of exhibitors and, in some cases, a range of breeds.

What has also changed, he says, is the approach judges take.

“Generally, judges have become more attuned to sharing views with the assembled.

Whether that be stock handlers or ringsiders.

That said, there is still scope for more advancement in this area when applied to the activity of the beef cattle rings.” Reflecting on his decision to ‘retire’ from the Hereford showring, Clive says it was one he made with the next generation in mind.

“Accommodating new judges requires the older ones to step back. I’m pleased that in our family my son, Tom, represents the third generation of Hereford cattle judges.

But, of course, in our breed of great heritage, some present day players represent fourth and fifth generations and this altogether tells of a great story of continual development.”

"Tomorrow’s showrings will forever evolve with the cattle becoming more practical"

Clive Davies

Memories

 

Opportunities to place Hereford cattle at countless breed events has given Clive a wealth of memories though, many of which he will forever look back on fondly.

“As often can happen, my first ‘appointment’ was to deputise for one of my father’s invitations.

This was at Moorgreen Show, Nottinghamshire. The following year I received an invite of my own to visit Ashby Show, Leicestershire.

Over the next few years I stood in the rings at Madresfield and Abergavenny, but sadly events like Moorgreen no longer exist,” he says.

“So many shows have gone by the wayside, not least, of course, the Royal Show. I had the pleasure of officiating there in 2007, among the mud.

Had the going been somewhat firmer, who knows, perhaps some results would have been different.

“The Three Counties turnout in 1996 was also memorable, mainly for the cattle on display but also for probably the wettest show I ever adjudicated.

And, the impressive overall event that was the National Scottish Hereford Show at Ingliston in 2004.

“There would be many memorable winners too, some which easily come to mind and which will be forever etched in my memory.” The important thing, Clive says, is where shows and exhibitions go from here and it is ever-shrinking returns, tighter budgets and regulatory burdens which he feels are set to challenge exhibitor turnout at events of the future.

“The amount of funds available to prepare stock will probably mean less conditioning of many, which will probably be a good thing.

If it can be more accepted that showring animals are presented in a more sensibly fitted degree of preparation, greater meaning may prevail.

“I have often thought that in response to the critics of the show ring who complain about overly conditioned exhibits, the judges ought to be furnished with more information.

“Ultimately on this matter, every animal ought to be accompanied with a wheelbarrow containing the average daily ration that the beast has enjoyed during the past six months and details on its associated carbon footprint.

Wishful thinking maybe.”

 

Platform

 

Showing ultimately, Clive says, ought to be an opportunity for knowledge exchange whereby judges and show goers are informed of liveweight, frame score and condition score – a platform whereby everyone making a more informed view of what’s on offer.

“The skills of the stock people and the preparations they make should never be cast aside,” he says.

“But the opportunity to be more practical and informative most definitely needs to be grasped.

“To what extent and pace these changes occur may be uncertain but undoubtedly during my career in stock farming, there has been a continual slide in the real value of the product, much of which has improved over that period of time.

However, I do not see any improvement in this area for current or future breeders.” Clive’s final UK Hereford judging appointment came at Kington Show 2019.

“While I may travel to view other cattle and sheep competitions, I wish those that follow-on in the white-faced rings all the very best in savouring the times like I have been.

“This worldwide breed has such great merit. If you cared to design the ideal beef animal, acceptable in virtually any part of the world, it would be more like a Hereford than any other available option.

“Tomorrow’s showrings will forever evolve with the cattle becoming more practical, judges more professional and the experience with the same fancy and flamboyant razzmatazz.”

Proud to Farm

Proud to Farm

Unapologetically proud of the industry, and focusing on the people who make agriculture tick, Farming: The Backbone of Britain is a feel-good editorial campaign to shine a light on farming communities.

 

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