What do judges look for?

Lets first of all get this into context, you are in the ring to enjoy your day and show off our breed. There will be one winner so the judge will be wrong in the majority of views!


The class is designed to rank each shep in which the judge, with their knowledge and experience, think the sheep reaches the breed standard the closest. It is the judges opinion only, it does not mean the other sheep in the group have anything wrong with them, just on the day in the judges eye which reflects the best qualites of the breed. 

When the judge is looking at your Portland they will have three main considerations in their mind.


Firstly, to what degree does the animal reflect the breed standard, is it a good example and promotes the breed well.


Secondlly, does the sheep reflect the commerciality of the breed; trhis does not mean size will win out, but does it have a good cover of meat, is the fleece of good quality. 


Finally is the animal physically sound, does it carry any defects, does it walk well. Connected to this, is the animal in good health and will pass on good qualities to off spring.


So as the judge examines your entry what are they looking at?

  • By observation and asking the animals to walk around the eye of the judge will be drawn to an animal which presents itself well and represents the Breed Standard.

  • By observation and feel, does it have a good carcass for its frame? The judge will often place ther hands on the animals rump and feel along its back.

  • The fleece will be parted in a couple of places to assess its quality.

  • The mouth of the animal will be examined to ensure its teeth are correct for its age and it can maintain health and fitness

  • Are the teats of the ewes and reproductive organs of the tups in good order and equel?

  • Does the sheep walk well? Are its legs in good order? Is it correct on its Pasterns?​

Rear leg placement

In last month’s edition of the Shetland Breed, we announced that this month’s topic of discussion will be rear legs. I have focused this article specifically on correct leg placement as well as ‘cow hocks’ and ‘bow-legs’. Next months edition will continue with this topic and focus on some of the other problems that can be encountered with rear legs including ‘sickle-hocks’ and incorrect pasterns.


Correct Rear Leg Placement

Picture 1 below shows a sheep with correct rear leg placement. Both legs are straight and run parallel to each other. The feet should be pointing forward, although this isn’t shown on the picture. It is essential that sheep have good rear legs to enable successful mating and general locomotion to enable a sheep to thrive. 

When a sheep walks it should move it’s legs in turn in a straight motion. The animal should not swing its legs or limp when it walks and there should be no stiffness in the joints. The legs should be well set apart when the animal is standing and walking.

Correct Leg Position

The legs are both straight and are parallel to each other. All feet point forwards.


Picture 2 shows a sheep with cow-hocks. This is best described as an inward bend in the leg at the hock joint. The problem area is identified by the red lines on picture 2. When this is compared to picture 1 above, the bend at the hock can be clearly seen. The inward bend at the hock often results in the hooves pointing outwards. Cow hocks can easily be seen as the animal moves due to the unusual gait. 


This is a conformational fault and is problematic as incorrect leg placement can result in the hooves not wearing properly and the problem may cause pain to the animal as a result of the abnormal pressure on the hock and pastern joints (the pastern is essentially the ankle joint just above the hoof). 


There has been anecdotal evidence to suggest that the condition of an animal has a bearing on the placement of the rear legs, so sheep in poorer condition can appear more cow-hocked. 


Historically this has been a reasonably common problem within our breed, so it is worth checking your animals to ensure you can adjust your breeding programme to avoid this issue.

'Cow Hocked'

The legs are naturally inward, turning at the hock.

As a result of the bend at the hock the sheep's feet point outwards, rather than forward.


This sheep has legs that bend outwards. It can be particularly seen at the bottom of the legs.

As a result the hooves have grown unevenly and, despite being otherwise healthy, this commercial lamb as not reached a commercial weight.

Bow Legs

Within our breed bow-legs are not a problem I have ever encountered, however; it is useful to raise this fault so that it can be identified if it is ever seen within the breed. 


This fault is basically the opposite of cow-hocks where the legs bend outwards, rather than inwards. The resulting problems are the same as cow-hocks with the main concern being the potential discomfort the animal is in as a result of the poor conformation. Looking closely at picture 3 you may be able to see that the hooves are not growing correctly. 


Animals with this problem should not be used for breeding. This particular animal is a commercial lamb that will ultimately be sold for meat. The fault was not apparent at birth, but has become noticeable as the animal has grown. As the animal moves it’s gait is not normal. This picture has been edited to emphasise the fault more.

My Top Tips

When checking you sheep’s rear legs the best thing to do is observe your sheep in the field when they are moving naturally. If you are trying to assess your sheep in a small space or while handling them then they may cower down and not hold their legs in their normal position. By assessing them in the field it allows you to see the natural leg position. 


If you notice that your sheep is not walking correctly, check it’s feet. If it’s hooves are slightly overgrown it may result in poor movement. 


Remember, we are interested to hear your comments and questions. Answers to any questions raised will be featured in the next edition of the newsletter. Please contact wadley.shetlands@gmail.com 

Rear leg placement

So, in the last edition of the Shetland Breed, I committed to doing an article on sickle-hocks and pasterns. I have tried to find pictures of actual sheep from our commercial flock, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find any examples so I have resorted to drawings this time! I’d much prefer to show a photograph of a sheep with the fault that I’m trying to describe as I feel a picture puts the fault into perspective, but hopefully the drawings will be ok this time. Many thanks to Amy for drawing the pictures for me... drawing is certainly not a skill that I possess! 


Correct Rear Leg Placement


Picture 1 below shows a sheep when viewed from the side with correct leg placement. 


The ‘Pastern’ is the bone just above the hoof. The terms weak pasterns, dropped pasterns or down on the pasterns are all terms that are used to indicate that the pastern is not positioned at the correct angle. This will put unnatural pressure on the joints above and below the pastern. Sheep can have poor pasterns on both the front or rear legs and they may only have weakness on one of their pasterns, so it is important to check all of your sheep’s pasterns.


In the picture below line ‘A’ shows a pastern at approximately 45 degrees, this slope is too excessive. In extreme cases the pastern can be completely dropped to the floor, which is likely to cause pain for the affected animal. Line ‘B’ shows a correct pastern, it is important to remember that the sheep’s foot does need to move independently, so there may be a slight slope at the pastern joint, but this should not be excessive.

Sickle hocks

‘Sickle hocks’ is the name of a fault where the joints are not set at the correct angle. The name comes from the ‘sickle’ shaped appearance of the rear leg bones, as shown by the curved line. Sickle hocks are a fault of the rear legs only. The legs are effectively tucked under the sheep’s body. When looking at your sheep it is important to try to assess how they stand while they are out in the field. If you try to hold your sheep or assess them in a confined space then they may not stand in their natural position.

'Sickle Hocked'

The legs are naturally tucked under the sheep rather than being perpendicular to the ground

'Post Legged'

The leg joint is too straight, giving a rigid appearance.

Post Legged 

Post legs are another fault of the leg joints. Animals displaying this condition appear to suffer from very straight joints. The picture below illustrates minimal bend at the hock. This is not a problem I have ever noticed in Shetland sheep, but it is still one that breeders should be aware of, so it can be avoided.

My Top Tips

If you notice a problem with the way your sheep is standing, make sure its feet are not overgrown. This can lead to a sheep standing in an unnatural position in order to balance itself. 


Remember, we are interested to hear your comments and questions. Answers to any questions raised will be featured in the next edition of the newsletter. Please contact wadley.shetlands@gmail.com 

So try and prepare your prize and joy for this day. You will know in your mind which is your prefered animal, check them against breed standard ( see the tab in ‘the Sheep’ section of this web pages); Portlands are shown in the natuaral state, but you can clean off any dirt or muck. 


And try and get your sheep use to a halter. This enables the judge to see your entrie at its greatest advantage, and a sheep which is relaxed will look bright in the show.


Give the feet a light trim, do not go to heavy on them but make sure the sheep walks nicely and is not thrown off by long or uneven hoofs.


Most of all know your friend and enjoy the day with them!

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