Norfolk takes top places in Shepherd of Year contest

A young shepherd was just half a point off the top award at the first National Sheep Association's winter fair.

Jason Shorten, of Back Lane, Mattishall, was runner-up in the regional Young Shepherd of the Year competition.

Theere were 14 finalists, who were judged at Melton Mowbray market, Leicestershire, and fellow Norfolk scompetitor, Lewis Furr, won the award as the best under-21 shepherd.

Jason started Stockman In Demand last November to help farmers look after their sheep and cattle and provide support during the lambing season. His four-year-old Border Collie, Sid, is a vital companion.

'I'm really lucky that I can work with my dog. It is a cliche but he is my best friend,' Jason said. 'He is a very steady and reliable dog.'

As part of the one-day competition, Jason had to answer questions about sheep breeds and disease, completed a quad bike assault course, clipped wool off a sheep and graded a lamb.

He was judged by industry professionals and was one point off the winner. Jason won �150 which was spent on a shearing machine.

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Third place went to Lewis Furr, 19, who works for Jim Fletcher, and looks after 1,110 ewes at Fendale Farm in Nordelph, near Downham Market.

Both Lewis, aand Jason, aged 25, are students at Easton College near Norwich, which teaches land-based skills.

Lewis hopes to finish an NVQ Level 3 apprenticeship this September while Jason is studying part-time for a five-year degree in agricultural management, which he started in September 2010.

Jason, who studied at Northgate High School in Dereham, said: 'It was very nerve-wracking but it was a good fun day. I was relieved and ecstatic when I found out I had come second. I didn't think I would finish that high up because all the other competitors were good sound stockmen. I was over the moon. Next year I'd like to win it.'

Jason does not come from a farming family - his mother, Marie Shorten, 51, is a care assistant for the Sense resource centre in Dereham's Rash's Green Industrial Estate and his stepfather, Paul Shorten, 38, is an assistant manager at Betfred bookmakers in West Earlham, Norwich.

'When I was younger I did lots of outdoor stuff like climbing trees and swimming in rivers, like a normal countryside boy would do. At one stage I wanted to become a zoo keeper,' Jason added.

After leaving school at 16 he worked as an egg collector at Burwell Hatchery in Mattishall for four years and then worked with sheep and cattle at Astley Farm in Barney, near Fakenham, where he bought Sid as a puppy. 'At the time it was just a job but it just so happened that I fell in love with it.'

'It is so hard getting out of a warm bed when it is cold. It is quite physical and there is very little sitting around,' Jason said.

During the lambing season, from the end of February to the end of April, he is working between two and five days a week at the Rare Breeds Centre on Church Farm, Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market. There he looks after Norfolk Horn, Boreray, North Ronaldsay, Manx, and Hebridean sheep. He also works at Park Farm in Snettisham and help with Aberdeen-Angus cattle at Foxley Wood, near Fakenham.

To contact Jason ring 07828 723984 or email

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