This year’s Royal Bath and West Show promised pristine, prize winning animals, plenty of local food, gallons of cider and lots and lots of pigs. Needless to say, it took very little persuasion for my wife and I to take some time off work and enjoy a day’s worth of agricultural based shenanigans.
For those of you who don’t know, the Royal Bath and West Show is a large agricultural show that takes place every year at Shepton Mallet show ground (down in the South West of England) with the royal element provided by a visiting member of the Royal Family .The show has been running for 150 years and attracts well over 100,000 visitors annualy over the course of a few days. Farmers and smallholders from all over the country attend the event to showcase their prize animals and produce; this year alone saw 420 beef cattle, 1,320 sheep and nearly 350 pigs competing in livestock judging competitions. Amongst the agricultural fraternity, to win a prize at the Bath and West is a very prestigious thing indeed.
So, like an over enthusiastic child on Christmas day, I jumped out of bed last Friday morning – at a time that I would usually define as ‘ridiculous o’clock’ on a day off – eager to get to the show ground in time to see the mornings pig based activities.
I am a massive fan of all things ‘piggy’ and was really looking forward to wandering around the show stalls, seeing some of my favourite breeds and finally finding an answer to the question that had been on everyone’s minds for months and been the cause of many a sleepless night:
Which porker would win, pig of the year?
We arrived at the Bath and West show ground horrendously early and as soon as we were through the entry gates I steered us in the direction of the pig shed. A happy half an hour was spent with me spouting inane, pork based facts at my wife as we wandered between various stalls filled with rather large, but very splendid looking pigs that were far too busy sleeping, rooting around or squealing to pay much attention to anyone.
I managed to find a couple of fine looking Kune Kune pigs (my favourite breed) and jotted down a few breeders names and numbers for when I eventually begin my pig based empire at some point in the very, very distant future.
As the sun shone brightly outside, I remained cooped up in the pig shed for the next couple of hours watching the various judging’s that took place in the main ring.
Saddlebacks strutted, Tamworths circled and Great Whites ran riot; it was all highly entertaining and made even more so by the seriousness of the pig handlers themselves who, armed only with stick and pig board, did their best to control the marauding swine.
After a while though, the lure of the sun was just too great and my jaw was aching from the giant grin that had been welded to my face since arriving in the ‘pig zone’, so we bade good day to the pigs and headed out into the light to recuperate with a restorative pint of Thatchers Cider.
Next up, a tour of the cattle sheds, where giant bulls were busy being blow dried with vacuum cleaners (I kid you not) as an astonishing number of people stood around laughing at several pairs of giant testicles that swayed gently in the wind.
Poor bulls; their macho image and dignity felled in one swoop.
In the same sheds upstairs there was an array of rats, guinea pigs, terrapins and poultry. All the chooks were looking rather forlorn, seemingly not enjoying themselves one bit and my wife and I resisted the urge to add a few birds to our flock; the Blue Marans being particularly tempting.
But sense prevailed and we stepped back out, into the sun to wander around the sheep pens.
I know very little about sheep. When I worked on a small organic farm many years ago, all I can remember about them was that they were exceedingly stupid, were very good at getting themselves killed and were complete buggers to lift into the back of a Land Rover. After you have spent a couple of days helping to wrestle sheep, worm them, clip off the maggot infested hair around their private parts whilst being repeatedly urinated on by said creatures, you kind of go off them a bit.
However, I was very impressed with the animals on display, which all seemed much more robust and sensible looking compared to the sheep that I used to work with (is it possible for a sheep to look sensible? I think not; too much sun. Too much Cider….).
There were three massive outdoor tents full of the bleating blighters, but the Suffolk Downs definitely caught the eye and when a trio of the breed went on to win a prize for the team competition (one ram, one breeding ewe, one lamb) you could see why. The sheep were stocky, powerfully built, with friendly dark faces; a practical, good looking animal.
The time spent in the sheep pens also confirmed my general fear of Texel’s, which look like slightly deranged, evil creatures, with their square head and googly eyes. I know they’re great for cross-breeding with other breeds, to add bulk and hardiness, but if I had some I would always fear that they would be plotting to kill me; all too eager to recreate Animal Farm part deux.
The rest of the day was spent pottering around the various stalls and locations at the showground, soaking up some well-deserved sun and checking out what the heavy horses, alpacas and sheep shearing had to offer. It was great fun and it was obvious that everyone there was very passionate about what they did and you couldn’t help but be infected by their enthusiasm.
I know that the show has been criticised in the past for becoming too commercial and moving away from its agricultural roots, with a vast array of stalls now selling very un-agricultural products. But from a personal point of view it was a good balance. If people wanted to come and shop for clothes and makeup (why on earth they would want to is another matter) then they could, but equally if you wanted, you could easily have spent all day submerged in a world of livestock; viewing all the finest animals that the region has to offer.
In the wake of the recent horsemeat scandal and a growing awareness amongst the general public about how important our food supply is, I think the show acted as a great shop window, showing all those who visited the hard work and passion that farmers and smallholders put into their produce. Hopefully by better understanding the amount of effort that goes into producing high quality animals, that are well cared for, people will be more likely to support local food suppliers and local farmers.
Personally, I thought it was a fantastic day and my wife and I left with very big smiles on our faces.
Pigs, sun and cider; what more does anybody need!