Wagin Woolorama: 2030 Supreme exhibit goes to best production and animal welfare stud

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman
Merino stud flock.
Camera IconMerino stud flock. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

There seems to be more questions than answers to solving the dwindling livestock stud exhibitors at major agriculture shows including Wagin Woolorama.

This year’s Merino Section is “hopeful” for 150 entries, far from the heyday of 550.

The complexities of exhibiting livestock in the judging rings have mounted along with reduced interest in the associated benefits — thought to be marketing-related.

But there is only so much a stud can gain from a few judges’ opinions on their shed-prepared sheep while many studs are now gearing their breeding objectives based on Sheep Genetics data feedback from Merinoselect or Lambplan figures.

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Not to dwell on the arguments of maintaining a traditional method of judging animals through the qualified experience of a handful of judges, but there may be a better way that is far more educational for both the exhibitors and the next generation of breeders.

With 25 years under my belt in reporting on agricultural shows, I am confident the way forward is to gear judging towards the best animal production and welfare leaders in the seedstock business.

Isn’t this the best way forward for improving Australia’s animal welfare standards?

The stud owners that win such a supreme title, would not only be proud of their accomplishments, but would come out ahead in a marketing sense as well, plus they would be paving the way in educating our youth.

Live animals in the judging ring would no longer be required, although this would be a certain drawback to agricultural shows. But more and more, animals could be a part of public displays.

I envision the judging would include genetic scientists, livestock agents, and industry leaders who would review stud owners’ summaries of their enterprises to select category champions and their ultimate supreme winner.

This judging could be done pre-event with the supreme winner giving a presentation at the show via a professional video production, made possible as part of the winning prize.

This spread of information would go well in demonstrating to the public and our youth of what the leaders in both production and animal welfare are up to at their farm.

Woolorama and other agricultural shows are keen to aim at the welfare of farming animals, agricultural industries and rural communities in a more progressive manner with certain goals.

These goals would be to inspire innovations, novel research and development and voluntary service to encourage the next generation of producers.

Agricultural Shows Australia chairman Rob Wilson said Australia has been very active in addressing welfare and environmental challenges.

“Thanks largely to industry research and development and the extension and adoption of on-farm welfare practices that the livestock industries now have audited and benchmarked around the country,” he said.

As a mentor to young people, councillor and former president of the Royal Agricultural Society of WA and inaugural chair of Agricultural Shows Australia, Dr Wilson continues to invest in the future of agriculture.

“I am enthusiastic about educating people about agriculture and their food, because the divide between producers and consumers is so huge,” he said.

“There are generations of kids growing up now with no idea about wool, cotton, milk and meat, so we spend a lot of time and effort improving the educational component of agricultural shows, particularly through benchmarking and competitions.

“I am involved in mentoring our rural ambassadors and young judges, to encourage young people to pursue careers in agriculture.

“We also have to ensure our agricultural shows remain relevant to agriculture and their communities.”

Dr Wilson said ASA has developed a “Judging for the Future’ training course and all Young Judges and Paraders contestants are encouraged to complete this online course to increase their knowledge and awareness of animal welfare and handling.

Also, a livestock judging app has also been developed which allows the public to judge the animals presented in the show ring along with the main judge.

The app would provide information on breeds’ characteristics, judging criteria, farming practices and allow the public to compare their judging results with the over-judge. This would provide further awareness, involvement and education on the animals being judged.

“I would hope any concept of changing the format of judging at agricultural shows brings some vivid discussions and I welcome insight from industry on the best way forward,” Dr Wilson said.

“However, the general public are great supporters of judging events at agricultural shows and it would be disappointing if this iconic and prestigious feature is allowed to disappear.”

Bob Garnant is the stud stock reporter for Countryman.

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