Meet the young Ballarat cattle judging champion who has her eyes fixed on a national title | The Courier

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It wasn’t immediately obvious – the rather cheeky Shorthorn bull that had spontaneously assumed the mating position (hind legs and all) – as owner, Sarah Sutton, stood and smiled for a photograph being taken for this article, blissfully oblivious to the spectacle occurring some 15 feet behind her. But once sighted, never forgotten. When I later described the effortlessly timed photo to the young cattle farmer, she dead-panned, “brilliant, I’m sure it’s very attractive.” Sutton, who lives in Sulky with her growing brood of magnificent livestock, will soon travel to Sydney to represent Victoria in the prestigious Agricultural Shows Australia (ASA) Young Judges and Paraders national program. IN OTHER NEWS: The competition, open to the under 25s, boasts nine categories, from poultry, cattle, sheep and alpaca judging, through to select subcategories of beef and dairy cattle parading. Though Sutton is set to compete in the beef cattle judging category – which requires contestants to visually assess and orally identify what renders one cattle breed more commercially viable than the next – her initial foray into the world of agricultural parading and judging seven years ago in fact began with some different four-legged creatures – horses and sheep. “Basically, if you could put a halter on it, I would’ve shown it,” she said. “It was only later that I moved into the cattle, and it definitely stuck.” At first glance, it was unclear whether Sutton’s partiality towards beef cattle judging was a mark of her strong family heritage, being a fifth-generation cattle farmer. Or, conversely, whether it owed more precisely to the addictive intellectual rigour required of anyone who could fairly call themselves a beef cattle judge. Or, still less, whether it was a nod to her alma mater, Ballarat Grammar, which was responsible for introducing and connecting Sutton to the career-building and professional networking opportunities of beef cattle judging. The true answer, according to Sutton, however, was altogether more obvious: “I just love cattle and always have – it’s as simple as that,” she said. “As a kid, you couldn’t really keep me out of the cattle yards or paddocks and nothing’s changed. “They’re just such smart creatures, with unique personalities. Unless you spend a lot of time with them, you wouldn’t know.” It helps, of course, that Sutton loves to talk and has never once been gripped by anything closely resembling stage-fright. “A lot of people don’t like junior [agricultural] judging, because you do have to speak on the microphone in front of a crowd and some people struggle with that,” she said. “I can obviously talk under water, so I really enjoyed it right from the beginning.” Sutton, 23, is a beguiling blend of self-deprecation, dry humour and passion for all things cattle. On the question of what, in her professional opinion, comprises the typical personality of a cow, she spoke with marked alacrity, similar to that of a child describing their favourite television show. “My cows are very spoilt, so it’s probably hard for me to say,” she said. “They’re just such sticky-beaks and they’re also really social – you can go down with a beer at the end of the day and you know they’ll come up and say hello. “They’re also very food-motivated – just picture a giant Labrador and you’re set.” On more serious topics, like the intricacies of beef cattle judging, she spoke with veteran-like clarity and authority, in the same way as one might expect a seasoned farmer with thirty years more experience would. “The first thing is structure,” she told me. “A cow usually has to walk a long way for food and water, so you need to check for good legs.” “Then there’s breeding ability, so you must look for things like testicle size to assess fertility.” She then stepped through all the ensuing particulars of cattle breeding, from calf rearing and the importance of weight, carcass quality and ability to “lay down fat and marble”, through to market and personal preferences, such as maternal instinct. “The truth is no one’s made the perfect cow yet,” she quipped. On slightly more peripheral, if not polarising, topics, such as the ethics of live exports or the environmental credentials of the industry, Sutton revealed herself to be polite and carefully discerning, but inwardly diffident. “From a personal point of view, every producer I know loves their cattle and is passionate about their care,” she said. “In Australia, we spend a lot of money and time making sure our livestock receive the best care we can possibly give them. “And as an industry, I think we’re constantly trying to improve our animal welfare standards and do our absolute best for all our livestock.” Perhaps what was most interesting about Sutton was her deep, abiding connection with her own cattle, coupled with the obvious affection with which she holds the agricultural sector. Sutton, who only very recently graduated with an agricultural business degree from Marcus Oldham College, directly credited the industry with providing attractive and well-supported career options to all people, regardless of age, background or gender. “So long as you’re willing to get in, put in the hours and give it a go, there’s endless opportunities – it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from,” she said. “It’s not male-dominated, either – you’ll find 99 per cent of people here wouldn’t care if you were male, female or purple – everyone’s supported. I couldn’t recommend the industry more.” COVID-willing, Sutton will compete at the national ASA competition in April. As it happens, our local cattle champion actually qualified for the nationals back in 2019, well before the world collectively discovered the lingua franca of pandemic management. “This [year] will be the third rescheduling of the competition,” Sutton said. “We were originally meant to go to New Zealand [in 2020], then Brisbane last year, but that was cancelled, and now Sydney.” Regardless of whether Sutton ever ends up contending for the title, she said she was content to continue building her stud farm, which now services around 20 clients. Oh, and also enjoy the odd happy hour with her herd of favourite paddock pals, of course. If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat’s story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.


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