• Next Generation shepherds Will Leese, Harley Turner and Michael Bosworth are congratulated by Phil Stocker.

Reaseheath College agricultural students proved they have outstanding all-round industry skills by taking the top awards at the Next Generation Shepherds competition, run by the Central Region of the National Sheep Association (NSA).

Will Leese, a Level 3 Subsidiary Diploma student, won the highly competitive event while Harley Turner, who is studying for his Level 2 Diploma at the Cheshire college, was runner-up by the narrowest of margins.  Fellow students Jacob Underhill, Oliver Haines, George Moss and Dan Miller were also placed.

Will and Harley kept judges and spectators guessing to the very end by each scoring a creditable 99.75 marks out of a possible 120 and having to complete a deciding task.

As well as taking top honours, Will, 17, who lives in Staffordshire, was also awarded the prize for the highest placed competitor under the age of 21 and took home a trophy and £325 in prize money. He has also qualified for the NSA Next Generation Shepherd national finals, to be held in 2018. Harley and third placed Michael Bosworth, a Derby College agricultural apprentice, also received cash prizes.

DART training judging the inter-schools young shepherd competition

Dan Miller takes on the quad bike safety challenge

Competitors had to prove they had the knowledge and practical skills to make successful commercial shepherds by completing elements from different aspects of the industry. These included demonstrating correct techniques in sheep handling while belly clipping and carrying out routine veterinary procedures, selecting butcher’s lambs for the meat market, choosing rams for breeding, and handling all terrain vehicles. In addition, all competitors completed a written paper on flock management.

Reaseheath agriculture staff helped to run the competition alongside members of the British Wool Marketing Board and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. Sponsored by Horner Shearing, the Texel Sheep Society and other key industry supporters, it was held during the NSA’s Early Gathering at Bakewell Agricultural Centre last week.

A multi-task competition for school aged shepherds was run at the same event by Reaseheath’s sister company, DART Training, and attracted entries from across the region.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: “We believe that the sheep industry offers a wide range of inspirational careers in addition to those of commercial shepherd, such as research scientists, animal health advisors and environmental grazing consultants.

“As the industry moves forward there is increased demand for trained and skilled employees who have an understanding of technical processes, and there are also supported research programmes on offer.

“By holding these competitions we hope to encourage the next generation to appreciate the many opportunities available and inspire them to get involved from a young age.”

Will, who already owns a flock of 300 breeding sheep and instore lambs, added: “The competition was great experience. It really made you complete your tasks to the highest standard and to think about what you were trying to achieve. I’m now looking forward to competing on a national level.”

Reaseheath College, in Cheshire, will open its lambing sheds to the public for its popular Lambing Weekends on March 4/5 and 11/12.