A petition by animal rights activists to ban sheep racing from the Masham Sheep Fair has attracted over 60,000 signatures in just 10 days.
But organisers of the fair told the ‘Gazette that ‘racing’ overplays the event, that four sheep are fed in a trough and the public do a sweepstake on which will be first to get to the trough, and that sheep are always pleased to be fed.
Petition launcher Samantha Francis has branded the practice “unnatural, exploitative and degrading.” Claiming three victories at three other sheep fairs in the UK, Lambentations was set up by Samantha and Joshua Francis as a movement aiming to ban sheep racing worldwide.
Mrs Francis said: “Sheep are not runners for a start, they are very quite and timid creatures. Being forced to race is unnatural, people scream and shout at them. It is a very stressful thing to put them through.
“They are already abused for wool and meat, they shouldn’t be abused for our entertainment as well. Most people agree that using animals in circuses is wrong, and this is not that big a leap."
Mrs Francis said there are alternatives.
She said: “Parents could dress up as sheep, or children could take part as a fun activity, just something where the creatures taking part give their consent.”
Graham Bottley, who farms sheep and runs sheep handling courses, has dismissed the petition.
Mr Bottley said: “Firstly, sheep are very much running animals. Anyone who lives, as I do in the Dales knows that lambs will spend a good deal of their time racing each other in the summer, and even adult sheep will do this in the spring and early summer.
"If you take food into a sheep field, they all run across. Sheep run, and are in no way stressed by that.
"Secondly, these sheep live in an urban fringe field, and consider people, and noise, to be just another part of their environment. Here in Wensleydale we have frequent forays by the RAF, and the sheep do not even notice the fighter jet screaming past a couple of hundred feet up. Sheep used to people are not stressed by people.
"Lastly, these sheep are obviously not stressed, as anyone who has attended the show can tell. They exhibit none of the symptoms of stress or fright."