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Frank Moffat, Champion Showman

by Annie Bone, from Meon Matters 2010

An interest in showing cattle seems to start young in Frank’s family. He first became involved when he was16 years old, inspired by an uncle who bred and showed Dairy Shorthorns. This uncle was the only man to have won Supreme All Breeds at both the London and Scottish Dairy shows in the same year, with two different animals. Frank’s grandson, David, also became interested when he was 16 and his other grandson Thomas, now 14, shares the same enthusiasm.

Today, together with grandsons David and Thomas, Frank breeds and successfully shows Texel sheep and Beef Shorthorn cattle. Texel sheep are bred for good eating quality and Frank raises them to sell on. The rams (150 this year) are sold for breeding at 18 months old – generally to other farmers to use on their commercial ewes. However the rams are sometimes sold to other pedigree breeders. This is “the icing on the cake” Frank says, as these sales realise a higher value. The ewe lambs are mostly kept for breeding, with the surplus sold on to other flocks. Any animal not considered to be of a sufficiently high standard is culled and sold to the butcher. Wool, once a staple of our economy, is now virtually worthless. 15 years ago fleeces could fetch between £5-6, today a fleece is worth about a Pound – less than the cost of shearing the sheep. (However, fleece is now beginning to be used as an efficient method of house insulation – so maybe there is hope for the future of this product.)

The quality and size of the flock is increased by the use of Artificial Insemination (AI) and by the purchase of new pedigree animals, often from the Lanark or Carlisle sales – the best source for Texels. Thanks to AI, the timing of the February lambing can be scyncronised so Frank and his family get some time to relax before everything kicks off. This is essential according to Frank: “When lambing starts it is very full-on. It’s a case of ALL hands on deck, night and day, it must be the adrenaline that comes with the arrival of a new crop of lambs that keeps them going”.

The sheep selected for showing are shorn after the 1st May. Before they go into the ring the animals are given an extra special wash and brush-up This includes a “pearl dip” to enhance the colour of their fleece and a “blue rinse” shampoo for their heads and legs. Amongst the points the judges will be looking for are a good ‘bright’ head with white hair and contrasting dark points (eyes and nostrils) as well as good conformation. The sheep needs to be long and well-muscled with a large gigot ( hind quarters) as this is where the best meat comes from. Shows usually have six classes for which the sheep can be entered: senior ram, shearling ram, ram lamb, senior ewe, shearling ewe and ewe lamb. The Drayton Texel rams are named alphabetically and started with A in 1994, followed by Balmoral (who won the Royal Show in 1995) through to Okey Dokey in 2008 and Performer in 2009. This year’s letter is R and no names have been chosen yet – Frank wonders if our readers have any suggestions.

As well as Texels, Frank’s other great enthusiasm is for Beef Shorthorn cattle. These come from two herds: his own, the Meonside herd, kept at Drayton Farm and the Meonhill herd from a neighbouring farm, Little West End, belonging to Syd and Mary Chaplin.

As with the sheep, preparation for the shows starts many months earlier. When the calves are weaned off in the Autumn (at six to eight months) it is time to start working with them to get them used to being handled and being led in a head collar. From February onwards they learn to walk when asked and, importantly, when to stand still, all to show off their best points. They also have to get used to be washed by a pressure hose. Before a show they are given various ‘beauty treatments’ – a shampoo with special soap followed by a blow-dry, then an application of soft soap to ‘lift’ the coat and a spray to make it shine even more! Their tails are combed and fluffed out and the leather and brass head collars are cleaned and polished. Again, there are several judging classes for beef animals: senior bull, yearling bull, cow and calf, heifer in calf and often a class for a group of three animals from the same herd.

The County and Specialist Shows are a vital component of the pedigree breeding calendar as they provide a ‘shop window’ for the stock. Breeders congregate to display their animals to the best advantage and the consequent buying and selling assures a successful future for the various breeds. Frank clocks up a huge mileage travelling to shows and sales around the country. This year these included the Surrey County Show, the Bath and West, the Highland Show, the South of England Show, the New Forest Show as well as the Edenbridge, Alresford and Newbury Shows.

Happily, all this hard work pays off … Frank, David and Thomas have enjoyed a great deal of success with both sheep and cattle in 2010. Meonhill Charlie Chaplin won Super Bull at the South of England Show and also at Edenbridge; Meonhill Highland Chief won Best Junior Bull (All Breeds) at the Bath and West; a Texel Ram called Madras won Breed Champion at the New Forest Show and Meonside cattle won Firsts in the Heifer class at the Highland Show and at the Alresford Show. Also at Alresford, a young Meonhill bull, Centurion, won Native Champion and Thomas showed the Texel ram, Performer, who won a trophy for Best Ram in Show. And finally, at the Royal Berkshire Show at Newbury, a young Meonside heifer, Waterloo Bryony won Champion Native and two Meonhill bulls, Charlie Chapman and Centurion were judged the Best Pair of Native Bulls.

If all this wasn’t enough to be going on with, Frank is also a noted judge. This year he judged the Texel Classes at the Honiton One Day Show and the All Breed Beef classes at the Ellingham and Ringwood Show. Both Frank and Simon are Breed Society judges for Beef Shorthorns and Texel sheep.