quick guide to

Merino Fleece Judging

Introduction

Where to start

How judging works

Young Judging speech

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Introduction

Young judging provides young people with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills in visually assessing fleeces and public speaking through comparing fleeces against each other. These skills not only develop a better understanding of Merino sheep and the wool industry, they also enable young people to make a valuable contribution to the industry.

Stakeholders in the Merino industry invest time and money into continually improving their stock, which is crucial as Australia produces about half of the world’s Merino wool. Australia’s Merino history dates back to 1797. The industry has had its share of ups and downs from when it was said “Australia was riding on the sheep’s back” in the 1950s to when the industry took a dive in the early 1970s following the mass introduction of synthetic fibres. The industry has since rebuilt and Australia’s reputation as a strong player continues to grow.

The best way to continue to develop and grow the industry is to evaluate – or judge – the desirable characteristics in a fleece. It’s important to be able to identify and understand why certain traits have significant commercial value. Not only will these fleeces have higher value at sale, but breeders will want to pass these desirable qualities onto the next generation to improve the overall flock and wool quality.

Being able to understand and identify these characteristics and orally present to an audience are skills that can be learnt and take practice. However, they are skills that will develop confidence, decision making and attention to detail, potentially translating into future careers.

While many young people become involved in young judging and other agricultural show competitions through their school, tertiary education institution or from a farming background, there are other ways to become involved. By approaching a local show society, members can provide guidance and support to anyone interested in participating. Many shows now hold education days and there are opportunities to connect with farms, studs, saleyards and other local shows to learn more.

Generally, young judges compete at a local show first. Winners then go on to compete at their royal show and from there one competitor will be selected to represent each state or territory at the National Merino Fleece Judging Championship. Young judging is for entrants aged 15 and under 25 years old on May 1 in the year of the competition.

This is intended to be a general guide and there may be some variations in rules and expectations between shows. Individual shows will provide further advice and clarification.

Further reading

To find out more about local shows near your visit https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/shows/

The National Merino Fleece Judging Championship rules and regulations can be found here: https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/member-resources/national-competitions-guidelines/

An overview of the Merino wool industry: www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading

Where to start

This category focuses on just the wool from one breed of sheep, the Merino. There are two classes with each class featuring four fleeces of a similar wool type – fine wool, medium wool or strong wool.

Gain a thorough knowledge of the different sections of a fleece as there will be changes in the fibre depending on what part of the body the fleece is from. For example, the section around the tail will often contain stain – remnants of excrement, while the wool from around the shoulder should be clean and fine.

Each fleece is judged using the Scale of Points as used by the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia.

  • The first thing is to understand and estimate the yield of a fleece, this means estimating what the percentage of clean wool. Dirt, vegetation and grease will all reduce the yield. Competitors are required to calculate the clean fleece weight and allocate points accordingly. This can also be referred to as “top and noil”.
  • Trueness to type or style is about comparing the fleeces to see how even they are. This is relevant for manufacturing the wool.
  • Examine the “soundness” means checking fibre strength. A small section of wool should be able to be pulled from each end and not break. If it breaks easily, it is “tender” wool and will score less.
  • When evaluating “bloom” or colour, competitors are looking for a white, bright wool. The more creamier or dull the fibre is, the less it will score.
  • Wool character refers to the definition and consistency of crimp in the wool.
  • Competitors will also need to allocate points according to uniform length, handle (the way it feels, soft and elastic for spinning), the density of fibres and how even the fleece is.

TOP TIPS: 

  • The best way to handle a fleece is to roll it around.
  • Ensure the entire fleece is examined to expose any faults, taking care not to cause damage through unnecessary plucking, pulling or tangling the wool.
  • Assess each fleece by systematically going through the list of wool characteristics.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed by the point system, instead view this as a way to systematically break down the judging into sections to follow. The score card shows the maximum points that can be allocated, with indicators as to how points can be scored. For example, in the colour or bloom section, points would be awarded as follows: very bright 10, bright 8, creamy 6, dull 4.

Further reading

Download the most recent version of the fleece judging instructions from National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia: www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading

A video run-through of judging: www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading

For a comprehensive visual guide to all the judging points, ideal characteristics and terminology: https://agshowsaustralia.org.au/member-resources/national-competitions-guidelines/

For diagrams of fibre in the judging categories: www.agshowsaustralia.org.au/educational-resources/further-reading

How judging works

The classes are divided into two classes of fleeces, with each class comprising a similar wool type. Fleeces in each class will be labelled one to four.

Visual judging will take place first, with competitors allowed 20 minutes to assess the four fleeces. During this time, competitors will complete a visual judging card. These cards are simple, with competitors ranking the fleeces in order from first to fourth place on the card.

Before oral judging starts, each competitor will ask the Ring Steward to line up the fleeces to show what they’ve placed first, second, third and fourth.

Competitors will be judged on their handling and ranking, compared to the findings of an experienced judge. Competitors who score high enough in the visual section will go on to compete in the oral section where they choose one class for their presentation.

Competitors speak for up to two minutes to explain their reasoning behind how they’ve placed the fleeces. It’s important to stick to the allocated time – for every 10 seconds a competitor goes over their time, they will be penalised one point.

Young Judging speech

Competitors in the oral section are scored on their accuracy of observation, their ability to compare fleeces, speaking skills and their own presentation.

Have a start, middle and end: begin with an introduction (for example, acknowledging those involved and provide a short overview of characteristics an ideal fleece would have in that class), then go into the comparisons of pairs, and finish with a conclusion (thank people for listening). The speech only goes for two minutes, so keep to the point.

The main goal is to explain to the judge why you have placed the fleeces in the order you have chosen by comparing the fleeces in pairs – first place with second, second against third, and finally third against fourth. Rather than describing each fleece individually, competitors draw comparisons against the attributes of each pair. For example, “In the top pair, I placed fleece numbered [eg four] ahead of [eg one] because … [highlight the strengths then weaknesses, if any are present].” Remember to prioritise the most important reasons first and pick only two or three differences.

Judging is objective, while there are characteristics to look for, what the judges will be paying close attention to is how clearly competitors express their decision and how they validate it.

It’s not all about the fleeces – competitor appearance is also important and judges can mark down for poor presentation. Competitors must wear closed in shoes and a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. Long hair must be tied back, and only minimal jewellery is allowed. Male competitors must wear a tie and long pants. Female competitors may consider wearing a tie or neck scarf or necklace. Chewing gum and shorts are definitely not permitted.

TOP TIPS:

  • Speak clearly and concisely – show you believe in what you are saying and pack a punch with your words. 
  • Deliver your speech to the championship judge – remember eye contact.
  • Don’t call the final animal “last”, as this can be insulting to the owner. Instead refer to it being fourth placed.
  • Get to know the terminology and don’t be afraid to implement it – the judges will be looking out for it.
  • Choose one end of the animal to begin speaking on and move to the other end, from front to rear or vice versa. This will help organise your presentation and make it easier for people to follow what you are saying.
  • Be as descriptive and explanatory as possible. For example, use gender terms rather than “it” and go beyond saying one characteristic is “better” when comparing a pair by highlighting why the characteristic is superior.

This educational content has been developed as part of the Project: Education of Sustainable Agri-Food Production Program. This project is jointly funded through Agricultural Shows Australia and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program

promoting the role and significance of Australian Agricultural Shows to the wider community

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