Thursday, April 25, 2024

Quest to find golden fleece at Wanaka A&P

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Judges impressed by quality as they sort through record number of fine wool entries.
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The wool judging team for the Wanaka A&P show is sorting its way through a record number of fine wool entries as growers behind some of New Zealand’s most iconic Merino brands vie for a coveted industry award at the show.

A record 236 fleece entries have been received for the prestigious NZ fine wool supreme fleece competition, with judges blown away by the quality of fleeces and interest from major wool growers across the South Island ahead of this year’s event.

The competition amalgamates the best fine wool supreme fleeces from around the South Island, including from properties with working contracts to internationally recognised brands such as Devold, Icebreaker, Mons Royale, Smartwool, First Lite and Global Merino.

“It’s NZ’s gold medal of NZ fine wool fleeces,” NZ fine wool supreme fleece judge Craig Smith said.

“It’s an opportunity to show the rest of the world how good our wool is from the original source, being stud farms and flock properties.”

This year, fleeces from more than 53 South Island properties will be judged over the coming days and the winning fleece will be on public display at the Wanaka showgrounds on March 8 and 9.

Fleece entries are judged based on strict trade requirements and verified by the NZ Wool Testing Authority (NZWTA) in an initial judging process that started on February 22. 

The second stage of judging happens during show week with meticulous visual checks by wool experts and show judges Smith and Peter McCusker.

NZWTA assesses the clean weight, strength, length and consistency of the fleece, and provides the show team with a robust report about each sample. 

The show judges undertake a second round, visually reviewing the wool crimp, colour and overall consistency of every fleece entry. 

Deciding the winner will be challenging.

“I’ve never said this before and I don’t say this lightly, but I think we will have a perfect 100-point fleece in this competition,” Smith said.

“Breeding the perfect fleece is about feeding the sheep consistently all year round, as well as genetics and climatic conditions. 

“This year’s entries demonstrate that what the growers have been feeding their sheep has aligned well with the climatic conditions and genetics, to prove that there is this magical perfect, 100-point fleece in there.”

The public can come into the woolshed and touch the fleece, while learning about the wool garment process. 

Upper Clutha A&P president Martin Peterson, who has more than 40 years working in the wool industry, said this year’s entries are the largest number of fine wool supreme fleeces he’s seen.

“And I’ve been to wool exhibitions in Uruguay, Argentina, England, Scotland, Australia, South Africa and NZ. These entries are the best of the best of what we have in NZ,” Peterson said.
Meanwhile, three top international agricultural judges have been confirmed for the show.
Australian sheep farm manager David Zouch will be judging the superfine Merino competition, while New South Wales stud owner John Bensley will be judging the other categories in the Merino Arena. 

England-based Sarah Smith, a prominent international show judge for more than 40 years, will judge in the equestrian categories.
“We are delighted to be hosting these high-calibre judges. All are experts in their categories and I’m sure they will provide some valuable feedback for this year’s entrants,” show livestock manager Fe Howie said.

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