Do you know how to judge a good cow from a bad one?
Not coming from farming stock, I wouldn’t know where to start. But then, Bute Junior Agricultural Club are not looking for expert eyes at their first stock judging event in more than ten years.
The idea, for those gathered around an impromptu show ring at Little Kilchattan farm, is quite simple: there are four beasts in the ring, labelled A, B, X and Y, and all the competitors have to do is rank them in order of quality, with the best at the top.
Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, it is - but only up to a point. Because, as anyone who has ever entered an animal in a show will know, the secret of success lies not in deciding what you think makes for a good animal, but in knowing what the judge is looking for and trying to match those expectations as best you can.
Jock Simpson and John McNaughton are the main judges for the evening - Jock for the three dairy cattle classes, one Ayrshire and two Holstein Friesian, and John for the two beef cattle and two sheep classes - but both are keeping their cards close to their chests throughout. Robin Reid from Ardmaleish strategically places himself next to John for the first of the beef classes, and still gets it wrong, to his great exasperation.
Each class lasts for just five minutes - four to judge and one to complete the marking-up - which doesn’t seem to give the competitors, including farmers, BJAC members, farmers’ children and grandchildren and others, much time to carry out a considered assessment of each animal.
It’s all done in the best of spirits, though, and never more so than when the assembled company gathers beneath a barn roof to judge the eighth and last class - the poultry exhibits. These have been provided by David Reid of Kildavannan, and it soon becomes clear that very few of those present, apart from the Reids, know the first thing about what makes a good bird. The puzzlement on the faces of the competitors - many of whom are experts in their own area of farming - is a memorable sight.
Judging over, the company heads to Kingarth Hotel for the presentation of prizes to the winners - James McAlister of Bruchag, James Sprowl of Eastlands for the BJAC members, and young Ian Crawford of Stuck for the juniors.
As with many of BJAC’s activities, though, the event hasn’t been so much about winning as making the most of an enjoyable social evening, and contributing to the club’s funds in the process - although perhaps there just might be a little more sympathy with the tough task facing the judges at Bute Agricultural Society’s annual show next month...