After a long, hard winter farmers are now finally starting to get their businesses back on track and so the opening fixture of the Yorkshire show season today came as a well-earned fillip.
The country’s oldest one-day agricultural show, falling so early in the annual running order, does not always enjoy scorching sunny weather but the thousands of visitors and exhibitors at Otley Show were certainly treated to summer-like conditions for the event’s 209th year.
Long queues formed throughout the day at ice cream kiosks and visitors soaked in the rays on the banks of the lake at the top of the showground.
Such scenes were a sharp contrast to those of just a few months ago.
Janet Raw, the show secretary, said: “It’s been a difficult spring for farmers. A lot have struggled through. They haven’t been able to get the stock out because the grass hasn’t been growing.
“The showground itself was very wet until five days ago so we have put tracking down in some areas.
“I’m very grateful to the sheep farmers and cattle men for producing such good entries for both sections. It’s a credit to them for wanting to come.”
There were 2,490 entries in total across the show’s competitive classes, up from 2,289 last year. Cattle entries were up a touch at 239 while the 366 sheep entries fell a little short of last year’s record of 442.
Farmers in the hills experienced the worst of the prolonged wintery weather that lasted into March with livestock losses having mounted up from the effects of some of the worst snow drifts in recent memory - coming as they did during peak lambing time.
Sheep exhibitor Kevin Wilson, who farms at Blubberhouses, has just six of his 1,000 ewes left to lamb.
He said: “The adverse weather has really made lambing time difficult and we have suffered losses. It makes showing harder because the condition of the sheep is harder to hold so I’m really impressed by how the stock has been presented today, to a very high standard.
“For the first show of the season everyone has done really well.”
Mr Wilson claimed one of the biggest prizes of the day. His and his son James’ homebred Blue Faced Leicester not only won the best fleeced sheep and its breed class but was named the supreme sheep champion.
“To win anywhere is great but to get a breed champion on a day like this is something special.”
Mr Wilson’s next show is the Great Yorkshire in Harrogate in July, where he will be joined by Pateley Bridge farmer Andrew Fisher who has a consignment of 18 primed for inspection by the judges.
Mr Fisher won both the Wensleydale and Teeswater breed championships at Otley, with his homebred tup hog Teeswater also named reserve supreme champion during its first show appearance.
Over in the cattle classes and it was the commercial class champion that went on to take the supreme beef title. Claiming the top honour was a Belgian Blue cross heifer belonging to ten-year-old Matthew Bentley of Kepwick in the North York Moors.
The 450kg beast was a £2,000 purchase at Leyburn Auction Mart’s spring spectacular. It was bred by John and Mandy Smith Jackson of Haltwhistle and was bought by Matthew’s father Craig who said: “Otley is the one to win at the start of the year and it is something I have always dreamed of.”
In reserve was a homebred Limousin called Tom’s Choice Navarino from the 50-cow herd of James Cooper of Dacre, who was assisted on the day by his show team of Mark Phillips and Tom Bradley.
A Holstein named Newbirks Mars Jazz 1662 clinched the supreme dairy championship for 24-year-old Suzy Lawson of A Lawson and Son at Arthington. The same Holstein came second place at the national show in Telford as a milking heifer.
In reserve was a Shorthorn shown by IRG Collins and Partners from Dewsbury.
The dairy section was boosted by the presence of a new addition this year in the form of Roger Knowles’ fully operational dairy display. It faithfully recreated the sounds and smells of a bygone era of dairy farming.
Mr Knowles, a former dairy farmer based in Herefordshire who switched to beef and suckler cattle nine years ago, was appearing at a show in Yorkshire for the first time.
His display showed a functioning 1941 Lister engine driving a vacuum pump to milk a simulated cow and showed how the process continued through to the milk being bottled and the bottles being fitted with caps.
Also new to the show for 2018 was a model boat display.
Equestrian entries soared to 367, from 319 last year, with show secretary Mrs Raw attributing the section’s growing success to more local riders getting involved, while the poultry show was reinstated after last year succumbing to strict movement restrictions put in place to counter the potential spread of a strain of avian flu.
Main ring entertainment included a first appearance by Joseph’s Amazing Racing Camels, as well as the ever-popular Ben Potter birds of prey display and a flyball demonstration by Wharfedale Woofs.