More than £20,000 in prize money will be on offer at this year’s English Winter Fair, set to take place at the Staffordshire County Showground on 18 and 19 November.
The longstanding event, which celebrates its 175th anniversary next year, encompasses both the former Birmingham Fatstock Show and aspects of the historic Royal Smithfield Show – including the prestigious Duke of Norfolk perpetual trophy for best group of three pedigree cattle.
Bagshaws partner and auctioneer Mark Elliott, who has presided over the event’s concluding sale for nearly 30 years, describes the Winter Fair as the pinnacle of the pedigree, prime and fatstock show season.
“Many competitors who end up selling their animals in the auction have been showing them all year across the country,” says Mr Elliott. “It’s an honour to see them compete at the Winter Fair against some tough opposition, then end up in your sale ring as their crescendo to the season.”
The quality of livestock at the fair, whether pig, sheep or cattle, has been consistently high, although with cattle in particular, the type of animal has changed over time, he adds. “We’re definitely looking at smaller frames these days. The 800kg steer of the past has fewer markets now, so we see this preference for smaller carcass weights reflected in the animals being shown in the ring, then making their way through for sale.”
Entries at the fair were understandably affected immediately after Covid struck, but they have since bounced back, even exceeding 5,000 visitors last year. “People really enjoy the chance to buy and sell at this very special event, as well as coming to compete and spectate,” explains Mr Elliott.
In addition to livestock, the organisers expect another large entry for the beef, lamb, pig and poultry carcass competitions held in the unique 200m2 refrigerated hall, after a record-breaking year in 2022 when entries leapt 30% to 140 in total. Local butcher Paul Sargeant, who operates out of Bramshall near Uttoxeter, will again be the judge for these categories.
Those invited to judge the live animals this year include Herefordshire’s Colin Phillips and Cumbria’s Neil Slack, who are presiding over the pedigree and non-pedigree cattle classes respectively. They will also join forces to decide the champion beef animals at the conclusion of the show.
Mr Phillips, who runs the Powerhouse pedigree Limousin herd alongside 60 suckler cows on the family farm just north of Hereford, himself exhibited the supreme champion at the English Winter Fair in 2008.
With his judge’s hat on this year, he will be on the lookout for a “fleshy and finished beast, but with correctness and mobility”. However, he also values “ring presence” and style.
Mr Slack keeps 30 head of beef animals aimed at the show ring on his farm near Penrith. Although he now teams up with his niece Elizabeth on the circuit, he started showing aged six with his grandfather, where he was “taught to recognise an animal in its working clothes”.
This year, as judge, he will be searching for an animal that catches his eye, is correct and walks well, and also has ring presence, as well as “meat in the right places”.
The judge covering all live sheep classes is Neil Glaves from near Scarborough in North Yorkshire. As well as keeping pedigree Suffolks and Texels, Mr Glaves runs a successful catering business including a bakery and award-winning butchers, so will be looking for lambs “suitable for both shop and catering trade” to appoint winners.