New look for Running of the Sheep

Te Kuiti's Running of the Sheep will have a new look this year after organisers decided to run the sheep in smaller mobs instead of one large flock.

These mobs of 60-70 sheep will be worked down the main street by dog trialists and their team of dogs.

Waitomo District Council community development co-ordinator Donna Macdonald said it was time for a change and the new format would highlight the skills of the trialists and their dogs.

"They will be mustered as opposed to running. It's exciting because people aren't aware of how well these dogs work."

The annual event takes place tomorrow at 2pm and is part of the town's Great New Zealand Muster to celebrate its claim to be the shearing capital of New Zealand.

Other entertainment includes more than 80 stalls lining the main street, dance crews, singers including New Zealand Maori Music Awards finalist Simone Holland and Jackie Clarke, cooking demonstrations by Beef+Lamb ambassador chef Matt McLean, rock climbing and a free bouncy castle.

The steam train is also back for another year and will bring about 300 people from its two stops in Pukekohe and Hamilton to Te Kuiti. Organisers had also planned a mini return trip to Otorohanga, she said.

The muster coincides with the New Zealand Shearing Championships, which this year marked its 30th anniversary.

That milestone was celebrated last night at a special gathering in Te Kuiti of all of the current and past staff who had assisted with the running of the event.

Shearing icon David Fagan, who had been on the championship committee since the event's inception, said it was the work of these volunteers that enabled the event to continue over the past 30 years.

"It's run by a group of volunteers and it's become the single biggest event in this area now along with the running of the sheep which complements this event."

Fagan will also compete in the championships' open section shearing heats which started today.

The competition has attracted the country's top shearers with the open winner earning a spot alongside Golden Shears winner Rowland Smith in the two-person team to represent New Zealand at the World Championships in Ireland in May.

Fagan anticipated at least 70 shearers in the open section and more than 200 in other grades and woolhandling events. "Anyone that's anyone is here," he said.

The competition would decide a range of other national, inter-island and trans-Tasman shearing and national woolhandling titles. The competitors also include two members of an indigenous Australian team, who sheared crossbred New Zealand sheep for the first time in two competitions at Waitomo and Stratford last weekend.

The championships were the last big event on the shearing circuit calender and along with the Muster, were a big event for the King Country town, Fagan said.

"We've got 45 sponsors now and it's a huge event now with a little bit of shearing in it."

Among the spectators tomorrow night will be Prime Minister John Key and thousands were expected to come for the shearing competition and the Running of the Sheep.

Waikato Times