The first clue it was calf club day was a smart leather collar on a bleating lamb in a trailer parked in the main street. (Quite why livestock pet days are called calf club days when lambs take part as well is a mystery to me.)
The second clue was the procession of utes and trailers heading to Maungaturoto Country Club. The third clue – after I’d parked at the club, the door of the ute alongside me opened and out bounced a perfectly-groomed lamb on a lead.
The 20 or so competitors, outnumbered by parents and spectators, spent anxious last minutes buffing their calves and lambs before being called into the show ring.
One boy scrubbed his calf’s hooves with a blue nail brush, while the girl beside him plucked every last loose hair from the hide of her pet. A girl who had been coy about whether she would compete revealed her secret weapon, a handsome white Hereford-Ayrshire cross calf.
Some kids, who apparently felt they had honed their beasts to perfection, left parents holding their pets. Two lambs took a dislike to each other and had to be separated when they started a bunting match.
The first event in the lamb ring was the calling contest. Each child stood on one side of the ring while a local farmer held their lamb. The kids would call and, with luck, the lamb would come running. Most performed on cue in both leading and calling – except little Rusty, a tiny lamb which got distracted by delectable clumps of freshly mown grass.
After the judge, another local farmer, had evaluated each lamb in one-on-one meetings, the children and their lambs sat in the ring awaiting his verdict. But first he revealed there had been a controversy over rearing which, luckily, he’d managed to resolve by talking to his steward. Then he recommended that a lamb which verged on being too fat should be fed a lighter milk mixture before taking part group calf club day.
He gave Rusty, who snoozed in the lap of David his handler, special mention after being told the lamb had come within a breath of leaving for another world. (After judging was over, contrary Rusty showed his mettle by running like the wind at David’s heels.)
Yes, this was a serious event. The judge delivered his verdicts on the winners with just the right tone of gravity – until he suggested a workout on a treadmill wouldn’t go amiss for the lamb that carried too much weight.