County shows

15.11.12 County shows discussion archive

It is estimated that over 5m people visit county and rural shows each year. The Royal Welsh is one of the biggest in terms of attendance with around 240,000 visitors to their annual four day show.

Show societies make a big contribution to their local rural sector, with many running separate educational events and industry conferences, as well as having educational displays within their annual shows and supporting Young Farmers Clubs.

This year the weather had a major impact. An unprecedented number of shows
either cancelled before they opened, had to shut early or postponed in the hope of better weather later. One day shows are seen as catering more for the local rural community, whereas multi day shows are thought to attract more of the general public, however content is greatly influenced by location.

Livestock displays and judging are still the most popular reason for the general public to attend county shows. Main ring spectaculars and celebrity guest appearances are also appreciated.

The discussion held on Thursday 15th November 2012 looked at the topic of “county shows – valued rural asset or just a public facing event?” and generated a total of 386 tweets on the topic from 58 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders.

A full summary of the discussion can be found here:

Q1a) Which County, Agricultural or Equine Eventing shows do you regularly attend?

  • The biggest six agricultural shows are, in a normal weather year, in reverse order – 6th Royal Cornwall, 5th Great Yorkshire, 4th CLA Game Fair, 3rd Royal Bath & West, 2nd Royal Highland.
  • No.1 for attendance is the Royal Welsh with around 240k. Between them, the top six attract around 1m visitors.
  • It is estimated that over 5m people attend County, Agricultural and Equine Eventing shows each season
  • Suffolk Show , Barleylands, Essex YFC would love to do more but time issues
  • Bramham! But that was when I lived in Yorkshire, I’d love to add some more
  • We help organise the Great British Cucumber Festival where 4000 people come to Essex to celebrate the Cucumber!
  • Royal Welsh -it’s HUGE, Highland show, Turriff show both great
  • Only one I’ve been to is Cheshire show. Will be going again next year
  • Great Yorkshire always on the list-Royal Lancashire before it decided to implode upon itself
  • I go to Royal Cornwall, good for livestock. Also Liskeard show for poultry and love a good ploughing match!
  • Regularly attend Royal Cornwall, have also attended Bath & West and Great Yorkshire
  • Northumberland County Show, it was on in the middle of my Uni exams, and I still went
  • Southwell show, Notts is a good local show. Gives bigger county shows a run for their money with quality of exhibits
  • Cheshire, Nantwich, Surrey, Edenbridge & Oxted sometimes Cranleigh, Dairy event
  • My favourite one at home is Bosworth Show, Southwell Ploughing Match is good also

Q1b) Did the weather hit your show this year? If so, how badly?

  • No, it was a chilly day but no umbrella needed
  • Devon County got away with it. Bit damp but nothing compared to some others
  • Yes Kent did well to stay open but had to cancel a lot of classes.
  • We were so lucky in may, rain stopped two days before the festival and we all got Tans on the day (not fake ones)
  • Very wet and muddy numbers hit badly
  • Wind got Suffolk show. Rain got Kent show
  • Nantwich Show cancelled twice in 5yrs due to weather
  • The weather was very windy, Suffolk Show had to be cancelled on day two. So upsetting for organisers and show goers
  • Lincs Show was a complete wash out on the Thursday, like paddy fields
  • Been a shock this year with almost a County Show a week either being postponed or cancelled
  • Our local shearing and ploughing matches suffered because of the weather
  • We were lucky-Highland was mixed but was working indoors so was fine. Turriff had sun/showers

Q2a) What are rural shows for? Who are they for?

  • To showcase countryside and the wonderful people who work there. Mix of country and city folk.
  • In my experience, to show animals, advertise your breeding, network with clients, socialize
  • I treat them as a great day out with educational excitement. Many new ideas
  • More consumer awareness
  • They are for everyone 🙂 Food followers & farmers
  • Rural shows & societies started to promote good farming + livestock, nothing changed. great way of seeing friends
  • I think now they are to generate money into the area, a public attraction whilst promoting farming
  • Shows are a great way to showcase livestock, businesses & YFC! It brings community together!
  • It allows rural people to promote the countryside to the general public we use them to gain publicity & new members
  • It might be the one chance that people get to be up close and personal with animals
  • Local shows are great community events and help bring the farming community and general public together. And, they are good fun!

Q2b) How do the different shows compare to each other? Is there much difference between 1 day shows and 3+ day shows?

  • Three day shows much more commercial and less friendly than 1 day shows.
  • One day shows tend to focus on rural community more, 3 day focus on the general public I find
  • It’s funny whilst there’s no such thing as a bad agricultural show, the ones I appreciate most are all one day shows
  • Three days can be a strain for the dairy exhibitors.
  • Big shows are very similar however the little local shows still capture the farming spirit and are unique in their own right
  • The other thing about shows is the variation from year to year. Being good one year doesn’t guarantee never ending success
  • 1 day good for local shows 3 day more regional/national
  • Royal Welsh is annual event in Wales’ political calendar, especially everyone who’s anyone.

Q3a) How do shows keep animal numbers up with increased costs & red tape?

  • They are a vital part of a county show, red tape can’t get any crazier, the whole idea of a country show would fall apart
  • There has to be decent competition between breeders with excellent facilities both for animals but also handlers
  • I steward on cattle section at the Devon County Show, always great feedback from the exhibitors
  • All public want to see is the animals, Health & safety stopping them walking through lines, educational stands help
  • No reason for public to be kept from livestock lines. Sensible health and safety should prevail

Q3b) Are the farm animals the main attraction to the public, or is the Main Ring spectacular still a big draw?

  • Both especially for Suffolk though the Grand Parade of champions. Top displays cost £££
  • Are there any NEW local shows – i.e. post 1970s, say? Many go back an awfully long way
  • But why either/or? Can’t they be BOTH rural asset AND public facing event…?!?
  • For Joe Public, no! For me, yes! I’ll go to any show that has rare breeds
  • I think the farm animals are a draw, but the shopping as well as main ring helps.
  • It’s neither one nor the other – it’s the fact that uniquely you can see both at the same time and place and loads more too
  • In the F&M year the Kent Show went ahead but without any animals. An Exit Poll showed they were really missed by public
  • “County” shows are so big that the general public struggle to see everything in a day. Smaller shows are easier to see fully.
  • They are both needed to encourage people to stay all day, animals are main attraction definitely!
  • Livestock displays are essential, whilst shows needs to be commercial, educational crucial
  • Where else will you see dogs rounding up geese, monster trucks, huge bulls, very best food and go home with a new pair of shoes

Q4a) Do your local shows provide special farming education exhibits for the public or extra school events during the year?

  • Highland is excellent with lots of school groups. I went there first at 13 with school
  • Newark does as the Ag students on my course are used in shearing demos and the relationship between show & college is year round
  • We have a milking cow named buttercup our education officer takes around local schools
  • There is a big gap in connecting the young to farming in an interesting way
  • Free hedge laying training day, hedging & plough match – all free and funded by show – promoting rural skills
  • The Yorkshire Show has a huge education area and also run ‘Countryside Live’ for children
  • Sadly the Devon county show is only a 3 day event & nothing else happens for the other 362 days education wise
  • Barleylands in Essex are open all year for the public, lots to do and see. Big show in September
  • My local is the Royal Canberra Show, they have an animal nursery but not much else to interact with Farmers
  • Field to fork education is something that is very inconsistent at shows & needs to be improved
  • I think as the public are becoming more aware of the effect of the state of agriculture on their lives-education at shows is key

Q4b) Do you help out with such educational events? If so, what do you do?

  • So far, nothing! But will be doing lots next year
  • Steward on the cattle at Devon County has made me so many contacts within the industry, to me that’s priceless
  • Shearing demonstrations, lambing/simulator demos, Guess the Poo Competition, Talks etc
  • I think it’s vital to help people see the love and pride farmers have for their animals
  • If you think going to your local show is boring to attend get involved and go stewarding

Q5a) Should all aged ewe & tup classes be progeny, avoiding “who’s got the biggest, fattest sheep” scenario?

  • Can’t answer the technical questions but let me say major *respect* due to all who show stock at shows. Many hours of hard work!
  • A huge amount of hard work and effort goes in to putting all the shows together to a real big respect to everyone involved

Q5b) Sealing cows teats to make udders look fuller hit the news last year. Has this been a problem this year?


  • Definitely not unfortunately that was a few people who broke rules, you could see cows running milk in championships
  • People who go to extreme lengths to win end up going out in the ring to lose, where’s the fun!
  • I think some forget why they first started showing animals! Going to all lengths to win is the minority but still exists

Q6a) Do you think most of public visit county shows for the farming exhibits & attractions or the rides & motorbike stunt displays?

  • Public look for entertainment, the outcome is they enjoy the experience of rural life & buy in to the industry on their doorstep
  • People still regard ‘Farm’ stuff as ‘good’ for kids so it appeals to the whole family so some Ag interest has to be there
  • Is there a £ return for showing? Will we see £/kg extra at the local market etc?
  • They want a bit of everything, above all value 4 the £ they paid 2 get in
  • I would say for the shopping, that’s my port of call after the farming exhibits!

Q6b) What should show committees put on to make them more ‘Country’?

  • Limit shopping stands to ones that are country related!
  • All need to offer variety to attract them-shows great value for money to see all this in place
  • I go for flower arranging but feel that as a member of the paying public I’m often treated as a second class citizen

Q7) How involved are the YFC in your area in their local county shows?

  • All Essex YFC are very committed to making their show a huge success.
  • Dorset YFC clubs in decline but they do great shearing demo+host marquee at our show
  • Beds YFC host their own ‘rally & show’ each year, on an actual farm. We hosted it in 2011
  • As chairs of Cambs Yfc I think our show is vital for Yfc funds and publicity, whole family is involved with show
  • Very involved! Stewarding, sheep racing, ferret racing, pigeon plucking & YFC competitions
  • The YFC run a beer tent at my show, very important!
  • Have a marquee @ royal Cornwall where we showcase ourselves & also stockjudge, sheep shear & provide stewards
  • Cheshire show has YFC classes plus 1 main ring displays is the YFC float comp.
  • The yfs are great, they enter their own livestock & take part in the TOW and rugby 7s
  • Lincs YFC very involved at county show, massive party on the Wednesday night, big float competition on the Thursday
  • The royal welsh show has a night life for the YFs that comes second to none
  • Along with our main county show, many clubs help the local shows, from arranging them to stewarding classes

Q8) What is the best thing you’ve ever seen at a county show, be it main ring, a guest appearance or an exhibit?

  • The Gravesham ploughing match. I am a 2 time butterfly cake champion, 1992 -1994
  • The heavy horse turnouts! Just love to see them.. the commercial ones and the agricultural ones
  • The sheep show is fantastic, also the welsh axemen are great!
  • A Wessex helicopter demo at Keith Show years ago was amazing
  • I enjoyed the forestry demonstrations-and the pole climbers in next to no time up 100ft poles
  • Massive Parade of Hounds never fails to impress.
  • Any show which has a grand parade of prize winning stock
  • Best main ring display has to be Kings Troop, always awesome
  • Alan Turner and Seth Armstrong on the Windsor & Stephensons stand at the Newark show
  • I also love the flower show at Great Yorks, love the large displays of sweet peas etc
  • When I was younger the dancing diggers @ the royal show!! Nowadays craft tents/food&farming tents/and the Cossack riders!!

Links to more information

Simon Haley and Alan Spedding, 20 November 2012

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