Growers with dual-purpose sheep and a consistent supplementary feeding program impressed judges at the 12th annual ANZ Agribusiness Crookwell Flock Ewe Competition.
The top eight finalists were announced at a presentation dinner at Crookwell Services Club on Thursday, January 23.
The top four in the long wool section were: Daniel Fitzell of Flowerburn, Peelwood; Shannon Arnall of Carinya, Laggan; Brad Cartwright of Kempton, Laggan; and Brian Anderson of Lower Sylvia Vale, Binda.
The top four finalists in the short wool section were: Brian Lowe of Pineville, Crookwell; Anthony Selmes of Glenayr, Wheeo; Graeme and Diane Hewitt of Wongalea, Binda; and John and Michael Lowe of Innisvale, Crookwell.
None of the spectators guessed all eight finalists, although eight spectators did guess seven of the eight finalists.
Return judge Georgia Waters of Merani Park, Dalgety was joined by Alan McCormack of Walwa Merino Stud, Gurrundah.
They agreed on what makes a winning sheep at the moment.
"You have to have the whole package: meat, wool and fertility. So, we were focusing on finding dual-purpose sheep and in a tough season, those who put the effort into feeding their sheep properly to get them up to where they need to be productive," Mr McCormack said.
"In the seasonal conditions we're experiencing at the moment, it's really important to have those added incomes, not just your wool. The top eight really did represent that. They're progressive, they're trying new things and they're entering their flocks every year, which is great to see," Ms Waters said.
There were 14 returning entrants and one new entrant in this year's competition.
Phil Mahoney of Sunnyside said he would enter again after taking part in the competition for the first time.
"It was a good experience. It was good to see there's support for the industry and good to see young people going through," Mr Mahoney said.
The tough season did mean, however, that two entrants didn't return from last year. Spectator numbers were also down with many busy feeding and a dust storm not helping on the second day.
Nevertheless, an optimistic organiser Shannon Arnall of Carinya said the support had been great.
"For the season, it was magnificent. We're really happy considering the seasonal conditions," Mr Arnall said.
Also positive were the judges and spectators remarks about the condition of the flocks being better than the previous year.
Judge Ms Waters put it down to producers knowing they needed to put the work in this year.
"Last year, everything was in good order and the sheep had held on quite well. This year, given the seasonal conditions we've had, it's very impressive to see sheep in excellent condition and know that people have put the effort in," Ms Waters said.
Judge Mr McCormack was a spectator at the Crookwell Flock Ewe ten years ago and said the flocks had improved significantly.
"Even people with really good sheep then, have just made them better," he said.
Judges remained tight-lipped about the chosen overall winner, who will be announced at Crookwell Show on February 9, but were able to explain what set them apart.
"It's a dual-purpose animal that's been really well looked after, fed properly in a tough season and they've reached their full potential," Mr McCormack said.
However, perhaps the most important part of the competition is not the winners, but the feedback and discussion encouraged at each property.
The main feedback to producers in the district was the need for better nutrition.
"If there's not feed in the paddock, then there's got to be feed in the silo," Mr McCormack said. "The difference between the best and worst sheep has been nutrition."
Mr McCormack also advised producers to class their sheep every year and get rid of the ones that aren't doing well to continuously improve the flock.
"It's about encouragement, about inspiration, planting the seed of where your potential can take you and it's totally up to the farmer and grower whether they want to take that path," Ms Waters said.
"It's not a criticism day, it's a learning day."
Spectator Terry Byrnes of Lilstan, Dalton said the day had been invaluable to see how bloodlines were going and how people were running their properties.
Young judge Ms Waters mirrored Mr Byrnes' words.
"I think ewe competitions are an opportunity for everyone. Here has been a similar season to home and it's really interesting to see what everyone's doing: how they're feeding, if they're joining or not..," she said.
"There's been great representation of methods, some old and some new, some a combination of both.
"And days like the last two are good to get off the farm and realise everyone's doing it tough, but you're getting through it."