From small beginnings to national contest: how the ewe hogget competition began

New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition original committee members George Fletcher, William Mitchell and Noel Hamilton.
BRITTANY PICKETT/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition original committee members George Fletcher, William Mitchell and Noel Hamilton.

What started as a small Southland/Otago competition has become a national icon for sheep farming the past 20 years. Brittany Pickett reports on how the New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition became the biggest sheep competition in the country.

It started as banter at an A&P show, and has since become the biggest sheep breeding competition in the country.

The New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition turned 20 this year and on last week original committee members Noel Hamilton, George Fletcher and William Mitchell recounted how it all began.

Hamilton said the concept for the competition came about when a potential sponsor approached at an A&P show with an idea to sponsor some of the sheep classes at the show.

From there, the ideas began to flow.

There was already a two-tooth competition in West Otago and a hogget ewe competition was not far-fetched, Hamilton said.

So they gathered A&P representatives from throughout the region and the West Otago-Southland Ewe Hogget Committee was formed, with Hugh Chittock as chairman.

The first competition was held in 1995.

More time was to pass before it became a national competition. 

Mitchell and Fletcher spent several years working on the West Otago-Southland competition, and before long they wanted to expand its horizon.

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They decided to open the competition up nationally, but firstly focussed on the best ewe hoggets in the South Island.

"We weren't that adventurous in the first year."

Soon they were travelling across the North Island to see three different flocks, all before catching a 6am flight to Nelson the next day, Mitchell said.

The competition has evolved the past 20 years, with five special awards and six breed awards. 

When it all began, there were just four sections for performance, flock evenness, wool and size and condition.

Fletcher said the competition had to keep up with changes in the industry.

Lambing percentages when the competition began were far lower, between 115-120 per cent, but now they were 150, 160, 170 per cent, Fletcher said.

Lamb weights had also risen, with an average weight of 14 or 15 kilograms at the beginning of the competition and lambs of 18 or 19kg now, he said.

The composite breed was also introduced to the competition, which was now the section which garnered the most entries, he said.

"We've sort of gone along with the modern generation and with people using genetics and so forth, we're keeping up."

 - Stuff

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