Barbury Castle Estate sheep take four top prizes at Royal Berkshire County Show
On the downland and in the fields of the Barbury Castle Estate the sheep look their calm and peaceful selves.
Last weekend, however, at the Royal Berkshire County Show near Newbury, some of their number were the centre of attention as winners of three cups and a large champion's rosette.
The estate supervisor, Simon Wells, has had many winning sheep at the show since he first entered in 2011, but this is the first year he has won all three major classes and a champion’s rosette for commercial sheep - that is sheep bred and raised for the table.
In this case Simon Wells raises them mainly for the Marlborough High Street butchers Andrews Quality Meats - with some going for sale at Cirencester market.
What is more this year the Royal Berkshire County Show (September 17 & 18) had its largest ever entry for commercial sheep.
His sheep took first and third place for a pair of commercial breeding ewes and also for a pair of commercial shearling ewes. (Shearlings are year-olds which have been shorn once.) They took second place for a pair of commercial breeding lambs and first place for a commercial ram.
When it comes to judging classes for pairs of sheep, it is vital that the two sheep look like twins. So choosing sheep to make up a pair is a skilful job for the shepherd.
He went on to add the championship for commercial sheep with one of the Estate's Charollais-Beltex crosses. The Charollais strain is French and the Beltex is from Belgium - the cross is a becoming a very popular breed providing exceptionally strong hind-quarters.
One of the Estate's Charollais x Beltex rams won the Arthur Young Perpetual Challenge Trophy and a Charollais x Beltex commercial ewe won the Nugent Cup.
Simon's sheep came first in the class for butchers' lambs and won the K.F. Holmes Cup for the best pen of butchers' lambs.
At peak times the estate has 1,000 sheep grazing out. At the moment he is looking after 650 'runners' - ewe lambs bought in and then sold on after ten months as shearlings. Plus 100 lambs which are Charollais-Beltex crossed with the Dutch Texel strain to produce lambs for Andrews and for the market.
Finally, there are sixty Charollais x Beltec ewes that will produce lambs in February. Their ewes will be kept for breeding and the rams sold to sheep farmers who want to breed from them.
Apart from the sheep, Simon Wells is responsible for keeping the estate trim and preparing it for the events - the international horse trials, the point-to-points and the shoots.
And also, of course, he has the daily task of making sure it is all safe and well kept for Alan King's racehorses at the Barbury training yard - they use the gallops all the year round.
Simon Wells has been at the Estate for the past twelve years. He started there when he was nineteen. He then spent six months in New Zealand - where they can teach you a great deal about sheep.
Returning to Britain he spent two years as a contract shepherd and then joined a Shropshire estate managing three-and-a-half thousand sheep.
It is tempting to say that Simon Wells' sheep looked pleased with themselves for taking so much silverware at the Show - in fact, of course, they were just enjoying the Barbury Castle Estate's excellent grass.