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Matilda’s bid for glory in sheep ring put back a year

PUBLISHED: 04:12 09 June 2020

Seven year old Matilda Whitehead and her Lleyn lamb would have have been taking part in the young handlers class at the Suffolk Show 2020  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Seven year old Matilda Whitehead and her Lleyn lamb would have have been taking part in the young handlers class at the Suffolk Show 2020 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sarah Lucy Brown

Suffolk’s next generation of livestock handlers – some aged as young as three – face a long wait before they will be able to show off their considerable skills in the ring.

Seven year old Matilda Whitehead and her Lleyn lamb would have have been taking part in the young handlers class at the Suffolk Show 2020  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSeven year old Matilda Whitehead and her Lleyn lamb would have have been taking part in the young handlers class at the Suffolk Show 2020 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Throughout the county and beyond, keen future stockmen and stockwomen train for months for their big day at the Suffolk Show, when they vie for coveted rosettes in a series of young handler competitions.

The talented youngsters wow the crowds every year with their adept handling of livestock including cattle and sheep, displaying a range of skills still to be found on East Anglian farms – despite the strong dominance of arable farming in the region.

MORE - Suffolk Show team face ‘year of many challenges’ as they pick themselves up and start up again

But with this year’s show – which was due to take place on May 27 and 28 – cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis, along with other agricultural shows, their bid for glory has been put back a year.

Matilda Whitehead, six, and sister, Harriet, three, are among those left disappointed after training with the family’s pedigree Lleyn sheep flock.

Matilda Whitehead (7) with her younger sister Harriet (3)  and their Lleyn lamb Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMatilda Whitehead (7) with her younger sister Harriet (3) and their Lleyn lamb Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Parents Nick Whitehead and fiancee Claire Hill – who works for the NHS – run the Oak Lleyns flock at Stowmarket, and would have entered their sheep in all classes of the ‘Other Native Breeds’ category.

In 2019, they scooped the breed champion title with their ram, Hugo Oak, with Nick and Matilda proudly leading him in the grand parade, and were looking forward to defending his title.

This year, Matilda would have been joined for the first time by sister Matilda in the junior handler class for ages three to seven.

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“In the last two years Matilda has been placed second among strong competition so she was hoping to maintain or get one place better this year,” said NIck.

“As a family we are disappointed that the show this year has not gone ahead but completely understand and fully support the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s decision.”

He added: “With myself farming, both girls have continued to attend school throughout lockdown to enable us both to continue working. Claire has been working many more hours than usual which has meant I have had to step up with ‘Daddydaycare’.”

Both girls loved winning rosettes and the show is part of family life, he said.

Matilda, Nick, Claire and Harriet Whitehead would have been at the Suffoilk Show with their Lleyn sheep Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMatilda, Nick, Claire and Harriet Whitehead would have been at the Suffoilk Show with their Lleyn sheep Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“The whole half term revolves around the show from days of preparation (sheep and pony) beforehand, to a couple of days recovery after,” he said.

Tory Lugsden, of Thwaite, near Eye, said the family, including her boys, Harry, 13, and Tom, 11, were “hugely missing” the show.

Both boys were due to compete in the young handlers classes, while their father, Benn, would have been showing his sheep.

“Most of the young handlers do the whole circuit together throughout the year so they get some competitive spirit going on throughout the year,” she said.

Matilda Whitehead (7) with her younger sister Harriet (3)  and their Lleyn lamb Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMatilda Whitehead (7) with her younger sister Harriet (3) and their Lleyn lamb Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“It has been such a massive part of our lives for years. As a livestock farming family the shows were Benn’s time to rest and do what he really loved – showing his sheep,” she said. 
“It’s been a really tough time for all of us in farming. It’s a bit lonely without much to look forward to but let’s hope that next year is going to be a huge celebration of all that is great about Suffolk agriculture and our amazing rural communities and see all of our friends again.”


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