Landlines: cheating at shows is now surprise

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Given some of the present serious problems for farming, ranging from weather and cash flow to cash flow and weather, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry over the recent furore about “showring cheats.”

Actually it’s not hard at all. If livestock judging cheating is the worst farming has to worry about it should be hearty laughter all round, with the proviso that some goes beyond primping and preening, shoe polish and whitening, to threaten animal welfare when dairy cow udders are “pumped up” and teats sealed. It is also alleged that there are some specialist fixers for hire to carry out the dirty work.

Just as it is no surprise to learn that horse racing has bent trainers, jockeys and owners, it is no surprise that showring cheating has surfaced again. I’ve never been part of showring culture, never shown an animal, never cared less what won what, but have acquaintances – friends would be pitching it too strongly – who have been, and are, involved and know that for some competitors cheating is part of the game. Getting away with it isn’t too difficult for specialist cheats in livestock showing any more than it is for dedicated cheats anywhere. Think of how long cyclist Lance Armstrong got away with drug-taking.

Even at top level shows, such as the Highland which is almost upon us once again, expert cheats are difficult to detect in spite of show organisers, breed society officials and veterinary surgeons being on alert.

It is tempting to say this row about cheating shows livestock judging up as the beauty contest farce it is and always has been. But I guess that my views on that have mellowed because I appreciate that thousands of farmers, their families and staff put vast amounts of time and effort into trying to win a showring championship with every type of livestock from Pekin ducks and Buff Orpingtons to Charolais and Simmental cattle and Blackface and Suffolk sheep.

Most do so honestly and it’s a shame for them that farming has its share of cheats, crooks and con men. But it seems to me that those competing are in the best position to know who is cheating and to expose them.

One of the stupidest comments, as reported in the specialist farming press, was the competitor who said that if he was not allowed to “adjust and fix” his animals – note how the euphemisms for tamper with and maltreat take over – at UK shows he would take them abroad and show in mainland Europe. If I hadn’t occasionally met some thick and boorish showring types I would doubt that anyone could say something so stupid. But he probably did.

We can only hope that his breed society or show secretary gave him an immediate invitation to do just that, that is, push off and never come back.

For some reason while reading about pumping up and sealing I was reminded of the James Herriot story where a farmer complained his stallion was uneasy on its feet after he had tried to cure an ailment by pushing a raw onion up its rectum. James’s partner Siegfried said sharply that the farmer might be uneasy on his feet with an onion up his rectum. How would showring cheats take to being pumped and sealed?