Shows were primarily intended to display new breeds and encourage improvements in stock. In the 19th century, the main animals shown were horses, cattle and sheep, with a few competitive classes for dogs. At first poultry were included, but the smelly coops were unpleasant, so they became less common. Competitions for pigs were brought in later.
Animal beauty parlour
Stock were carefully prepared for their appearance in the show. The report of the 1898 Gore show described the work: ‘[H]orses are shampooed; fowls have their legs bathed in warm water and their crops laden with all the delicacies the wit of man can devise and the appetite of the bird desire; bulls’ heads are carefully shaven and shorn; cows’ flanks are gently burnished with the softest of towels; the coats of the sheep are lubricated with choice brands of hair oil …’
Breeds and breeding
Stud breeders used shows to advertise their animals – the prizes increased their sales. Shows helped promote sheep farmers’ transition from merinos to the new long-woolled breeds such as border Leicesters. The A & P associations also helped breeders to compile stud books.
In the late 20th century, stud breeding became based on statistical measurements rather than the look of an animal, and genetic records were very important. This reduced the importance of shows for breeders. The number of competition classes and animals declined, especially for cattle. In 2007 the Mayfield show in Canterbury had about half as many animals as 30 years before.
However in areas with lifestyle properties, such as Franklin in South Auckland, there has been an increase in classes for speciality animals such as alpacas, Highland cattle and dairy goats.
From the start, shows held competitions for butter, wool and other animal products. There were classes for crops such as grass seed, wheat, oats and hops, vegetables such as turnips and potatoes, and fruit such as apples.
A & P associations were keen to encourage better use of machinery on farms, so a practice of exhibiting the latest agricultural implements began early. Machinery in motion always attracted interest, especially if it made some noise. At the 1897 Masterton show visitors flocked to see a Yankee straw press at work, a drain plough pulled by a traction engine, a cream separator and a shearing machine. Shows held field competitions for ploughs, harvesters, reapers and binders. In 1904 the Gore show demonstrated the first imported tractor, and in the 1920s milking machines appeared. Shows contributed significantly to the uptake of technology on New Zealand farms.