WE continue our look at the future of the show circuit - the young handlers!

With the 2020 show season once again falling foul of Covid, and most summer shows once again not taking place, we’ve asked the individual show societies to nominate a young handler or two, for us to speak to, and get their outlook on shows, and the wider industry. After all, they are the future.

Running in a similar order to the show calendar, we’re looking forward to hearing what the next generation have to say...

Katie (14) and Robbie (12) Aitken

Do you and your family come from a farming background?

Katie: Yes, on both side of our family, it is faming. Our mum and dad, Jeff and Jennifer manage Procters Texels and Beltex.

I have been involved in farming for my who life, and I love it.

The farm is 350acres of grassland, and all sheep. We have 200 pure-bred ewes – 150 Texel and 50 Beltex, and a commercial flock of 300. Plus, followers.

How did you get into the showing side of things?

Katie: Our family all show, so it was not even really a consideration, we were going to shows and sales anyway, so it was natural to get involved. We always helped Mum and Dad, from when we were big enough.

Robbie: We watched what they did and helped them get ready before the shows and gradually did more and more by ourselves.

Katie: We always helped with things like washing heads and legs. We started in young handlers as soon as we could walk, really. As soon as we were big enough to hold on! I have got seven ewes just now that I show. I won the Yorkshire and the Welsh in 2019 at the last shows, and I was reserve overall at the National show, so I was pleased with that, coming from a small flock.

What are your favourite breeds?

Katie: Texel and Beltex will always be my picks, and I like them both equally. They just have good bodies and nice strong heads.

The Texels especially have nice white hair, and they are good walkers.

I just think they are both good strong breeds that are good at what they need to do.

Robbie: I really like Border Leicesters, along with the Texels. I have actually got my own Border Leicester flock.

I got into them because they are part of family history, on the Aiken side. Grandad Aitken has one of the oldest Border Leicester flocks in the country, going back over 100 years.

I also just think they are an easy to manage breed, and they are flashy and eye catching.

What was the first show you went to? What is your favourite show?

Katie: Hodder Valley Show near Slaidburn would have been our first show, as that is our local show. We would have been tiny when we started going.

Robbie: I think we first showed there when we were four and six, in the young handlers. Katie won and I was second, the first time around. We definitely have a good bit of competition between the two of us.

Katie: The Highland Show is definitely my favourite show. It is a great competition. I also love that we see our friends from so many breeds when we are there. It’s great catching up and having a (non-alcoholic) beer!!

Robbie: I am the same. I love the atmosphere at the Highland. We watched some of the Showcase online. Hopefully things get back to something more normal, next year.

What is your favourite thing about showing?

Katie: I like beating Robbie! No, I mostly love meeting up with friends after we have finished showing. I have made so many friends through showing, and it’s been hard not seeing them, this past couple of years.

Overall though, I just love showing off our stock and getting to enjoy ourselves showing them.

Robbie: I really enjoy the whole process of showing, but I do love when you pick our what you feel is like your favourite, when you are home, then you get it all sorted and ready. It is very satisfying to watch something transform from a beast that came out the field, into a show beast.

What has been your biggest show success, in your show career so far?

Katie: I have had a lot of success in the ring at the Royal Highland Show. In 2016, 2018 and 2019 I was the winner of the overall sheep young handlers, and in 2019 I also went on to win the Dalchirla trophy, which is the overall prize for young handlers from all the sections – beef, dairy, poultry, you name it.

It was the first year that there had been an inter-breed like that, so I was really proud of that one.

I have won quite a lot of young handlers’ competitions up and down the country. I have also won the Royal Welsh Texel section, twice, so they were big wins as well.

Robbie: Winning the Royal Highland Show sheep young handlers prize in 2015 was a big one for me. It was the first year that we had gone there and shown.

In 2019 I won the breed championships in the Border Leicesters at both the Yorkshire and the Welsh shows, so that was amazing. I won with a one-crop-ewe that I had bought in from Jimmy Douglas. I am very proud of that year.

I also won the virtual Highland Show with a home-bred Border Leicester gimmer out of that same ewe that won the Welsh and the Yorkshire. I also went on to beat my mum in the virtual sheep inter-breed, so that was even better. A definite highlight!

Have you had any disappointments so far, to match the successes?

Katie: Not really, to be honest. We really just go to have good fun and an enjoyable time showing our sheep.

Robbie: I am the same. I just try and enjoy it, there is no point in taking things too hard or too personally.

Who do you admire most when it comes to showing? Have you been give any good bits of advice that you have take on board?

Katie: Both our grandfathers are highly recognised stocksmen – Grandad Aiken and Papa Tag. So we get a lot of help and advice from them.

Mum and Dad are also big inspirations for us. They have taught us proper stocksmanship, just like their parents did for them.

The best bit of advice I have been given and that I think about quite a lot is that the showing only stops once the rosettes have been given out.

Also, always keep your eye on the judge – even when you think they are not looking at you!

Robbie: The advice that has stuck with me is that, once you go into the show ring, only concentrate on two things – your sheep and the judge. Never take your eye off the judge.

Do you help out on the farm at home?

Katie: We help out with whatever is needed on the farming – feeding and checking sheep, jagging, dosing. You name it, we do it!

Robbie: We help out every day – lambing time is my favourite time of year. Definitely my least favourite job is lifting stones though, that’s the worst.

Katie: Dad says you have to do the worst jobs to get to be able to do the best jobs. We can’t really argue with that!

What are your hobbies or interests out with showing?

Katie: We both go to young farmers – our club is Vale of Lune. As well as that, we both play rugby for Kirby Lonsdale.

Robbie: Both of those take up a lot of our spare time. Dad actually coaches my age group at rugby – so he gives me lots of advice for showing and for rugby!

Katie: We are year 9 and year 8 at school, and I like to get involved in school athletics. The 100metres is my favourite race. I am quite fast – it is handy for chasings sheep!

What do you fancy doing when you are older? Do you think you will work in agriculture?

Katie: I definitely want to have a career that is involved in agriculture – I can’t imagine a time when I am not involved with my sheep.

Robbie: I would love to do something with farming, and I would really love to be a professional rugby player.

I would want to play for Ireland, but Katie always says she would want to play for Scotland. It is a topic than can cause a good bit of debate in our house.

Neither of us would want to play for England, though – we can agree on that one, at least!

Do you have any tips or advice for other young people trying to get in to showing?

Katie: Never give up, and always try your best.

Robbie: I would just say always practice at home as much as you can before you head to a show. It is really important that you get to know your sheep.