A love of sheep led to a Canterbury woman winning a New Zealand Young Farmers stock-judging prize last month.
Christchurch City Young Farmers Club member Melissa McMullan (25) won the sheep section in the national stock-judging competition, which coincided with the FMG Young Farmer of the Year grand final in Invercargill.
Ms McMullan, the Christchurch City YFC vice-chairwoman and Tasman region secretary, first tried her hand at stock judging at the Ellesmere A&P Show last October, at the invitation of club patron Neville Moorhead, a Southbridge sheep breeder.
She then competed in the New Zealand Young Farmers beef and dairy stock judging competition at last year's Canterbury A&P Show and visited ''a few shows in between'' with Mr Moorhead to hone her skills.
''We spent a number of hours engaged in conversation over sheep.''
At Invercargill she was one of 20 competitors testing their skills in judging deer velvet, Friesian calves, sheep and wool.
While she struggled with deer velvet and got the Friesian calves in the wrong order, Ms McMullan excelled with the sheep.
''It was pretty good. It was a pretty tough class to judge,'' she said.
''When they gave the feedback a lot of people hadn't got the placings around the right way.
''I managed to get the second and third-placed sheep around the wrong way, so my reasoning must have been sound.''
She said she had never seen deer velvet before and despite the best efforts of her father, Peter McMullan, in ringing around his deer farmer contacts the weekend before to get some tips, the section proved to be a challenge.
Ms McMullan said the national stock-judging competition was a valuable experience and she hoped to return with the aim of taking top honours.
''I hope to drive stock judging in the Tasman region because it's a good thing to do and it teaches people skills which are invaluable, like when they are buying or looking at stock.
''It also gives you the experience of public speaking and thinking on your feet, because you've only got eight minutes in the pen with the animals and then you've got to get up and explain your decisions.''
Ms McMullan grew up on a 50ha sheep and beef farm at Chertsey, near Rakaia.
She studied history and law at the University of Canterbury, before working in employment law.
She has reduced her hours to part-time while she studies a for a masters of planning degree at Lincoln University, with the goal of becoming a resource management consultant.
Ms McMullan also wants to have her own sheep stud one day.
''I like the merino. They are a really beautiful breed, but they're not really suited to Canterbury.
''I like all the wool breeds, but I will probably end up getting into a meat breed, depending on what the market's doing.''
-By David Hill