Breeders lead their animals into the arena, grasped tight against their body as it is traditional to show sheep without halters, though it is not a requirement. Some show with a halter, all to get the animal to show better. This is all determined in the time leading up the competition, in which the breeder will rehearse with the animal.
A judge lines up the competitors, Mike Anderson for the Shropshires which showed on Aug. 13. He will watch them walk, look at their shape, comparing them to the standards established for the specific breed.
Anderson will judge a number of categories in just the Shropshire breed, including best 4 head, best ewe, best ram, best flock and others. Each has rules and nuances, 4 head can be any animals, flock must contain at least one ram.
The participants will do a number of standard actions to gain extra places. First they will set the animal up square with feet all pointing forward. They will then typically tickle the underside of the animal or some similar action to square out the back.
All this happens in a dirt arena in the middle of the sheep building. Bleachers line two sides and holding pens surround that. The room echoes with the PA system and the bleating of sheep.
Anderson will make his way through the animals being shown. Shropshire is a meat breed so in addition to being shown shorn, the primary concern is musculature, paying particular attention to the back and rump muscles. Showers will “brace” the animal which tenses up the muscles allowing them to be felt easier.
Observers and other breeders filter in and out of the stands during the show. Some wait for the another event, some done with their events. Animals are staged near the arena in any available space.
Mike Anderson beckons to a breeder. He is reordering the animals. Anderson will walk the sheep around the arena, watching their gait moving participants around as one animal edges out another.
Anderson announces the winners of the categories. He also explains why certain sheep beat out others, congratulating the breeders as he goes.
Ribbons are given to the winners. The Indiana State fair has a number of open categories, which often means an open and Indiana Champion are declared in one round. Winning is a point of pride for the breeders but also means that the animal increases in value allowing some to turn a profit after competition.