Bendigo Advertiser brings you highlights of Australian Sheep and Wool Show, day one

Woolgrowers got up close with the by-product of their hard work at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo this weekend, checking out the crafty efforts of knitters and weavers from across the globe.

Prince of Wales Showgrounds sheds were replete with examples of woolcraft, ranging from needlefelting to crochet, much of which responded to this year’s chosen theme, ‘It’s a small world’. 

Organiser Christine Young said visiting farmers who rarely saw what happened with their produce after it was sheared from the sheep’s back were touched by the work of the crafting community. 

“They’re quite pleased to see where it goes,” Ms Young said.

Those responsible for the fine work were not just “stereotypical grannies sitting by the fireplace”, she explained; in fact, they ranged in age from eight to 89. 

“These days you’ve got all types.”

An entire family of Australian expats living in the United States entered items in the competition, with the patriarch – a needlefelting novice – taking out a ribbon for his entry. 

International entries were also sent from New Zealand for the three-day-long display which took 25 volunteers to set up and more than 50 pairs of hands to judge.

Farmers are quite pleased to see where it (the wool) goes. - Christine Young, Australian Woolcraft

Friendship root of success

Ask any of the 400 vendors, or the many hundreds of sheep breeders, who descended on central Victoria this weekend why they kept coming back every year and their answer will be the same: the friendships they share with other members of their industry.

New South Wales farmer Winston McDonald said the Australian Sheep and Wool Show was the only occasion he reacquainted with mates who lived in distant corners of the country.

For two decades, the man and his merinos had made the eight-hour drive from his Royalla stud to Bendigo, and while he had some success with the competition judges, the annual tradition was more hobby than money-making exercise.

“Nowadays its a bit of sport for me,” Mr McDonald said.

South Australian breeder Rachel Chirgwin agreed, saying the chance to benchmark her suffolk sheep against the competition was just an excuse to socialise.

The event was not without rivalry, though, with some merino farmers not seeing eye-to-eye with those who suggested their animals were good for meat production.

Diversity is name of the game

A showcase of sheep products in Bendigo this weekend is championing the the common farmyard animal for its diverse market appeal.

Not only were livestock on view at the Prince of Wales showgrounds, but so too were wool and meat products derived from the humble sheep.  

The 30,000 people expected to visit the Australian Sheep and Wool Show would also have the chance to purchase items made from the animal’s skin and milk.  

Curlew Valley Suffolk Stud owner Rachel Chirgwin said it was the animal’s marketability that often surprised passers-by. While her animals were farmed for only their meat, other breeds were capable of fulfilling several functions. 

“People underestimate them,” Ms Chirgwin said, also adding sheep were smarter than most thought.

But she believed breeders could afford to diversify more, especially merino farmers still unwilling to explore the possibilities of the meat market.

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