Mr Universe has world at his feet

Feb 8 2003 - By Anna Lognonne - The Journal

Mr Universe with Moira Linaker

He symbolised hope during the darkest hours of the foot-and- mouth epidemic.

Now Mr Universe is to take part in one of the UK's most prestigious shows, thanks to The Journal.

Fears for the threatened Ryeland ram highlighted the plight of Cumbrian sheep farmers fighting Government animal-culling plans.

Against the odds he survived and now he is to take part in the four-day Royal Highland Show, which takes place on the outskirts of Edinburgh from June 19.

But it is an expensive business - so The Journal has stepped in with sponsorship.

Mr Universe made the front pages when owner Moira Linekar fought to save him and the rest of her flock of rare and cuddly Ryelands from Government plans to cull all sheep living within nearly two miles of an infected farm.

With foot-and-mouth raging around her, Moira, who had moved from Newcastle to Carlisle in search of "the good life", locked her sheep in a byre to protect them from the disease and contacted the media and Prince Charles to appeal for help to save her sheep from the cull.

Little Harry one day old
Ms Linaker made headlines when she was pictured cuddling Harry as he faced slaughter, and repeatedly staved off all attempts to have her pure-bred flock culled.

Pictured here is Moira with baby Harry, a Ryeland given to Prince Charles.

The campaign turned Mr Universe into a symbol of hope for the North - just as Phoenix the calf was for the South. Both the farming community and the general public rallied to the cause, calling for greater action to halt the spread of the disease and a stop to the unnecessary slaughter of healthy animals.

Moira's plight even provoked a direct response from His Royal Highness, who told her to keep him informed about any threats to her sheep.

She said: "Prince Charles was so supportive that when I saw him during his visit to Cockermouth I asked him if the Royal Family still had Ryelands.

"He said they didn't, so I promised him that if I got through this then I would give him a pair of Ryelands to start his own flock.

"I have sent down a ram lamb by Mr Universe, the first one to be born since the foot-and-mouth crisis. I have called it D'Artagnan, which means defender of the crown."

But the prince won't have to wait until his own flock is ready for shearing before he can wear a Ryeland wool jumper - one is already being made for him using wool from Mr Universe.

During the foot-and-mouth crisis, Mr Universe spent nine months in the byre, but he is now back in the fields with his companion, a black Leicester sheep.

However at the weekend he will be brought in and sheared, so his wool is the right length for the showing season, and he will spend the next couple of weeks indoors, with a coat on, to keep him warm in the chilly weather.

As well as spending four months grooming and washing him, ensuring his fleece will be in prime condition for the Royal Highland Show, Moira will have to retrain Mr Universe to walk on a halter.

The last time he was in a show ring was before the foot-and-mouth crisis, when he won the Royal Lancashire Show.

However Moira said Mr Universe would soon pick up the ropes again, as he loved being in the show ring.

She said he also loved attention, thriving on cuddles and a daily digestive biscuit.

As he has an extra rib, Mr Universe is longer than other Ryelands and this places him at an advantage in the show ring, where the judges look for length.

The Royal Highland Show is one of the biggest events in the agricultural calendar and Moira said it would be a dream to compete there.

She said: "The Royal Highland is the crème de la crème of all shows and if you can win a prize there, then your name is made.

"Having been locked up in a barn for nine months during foot-and- mouth, if any sheep deserves to be walking around that ring then it's him."

Since attending the Royal Highland Show for four days is extremely expensive, Moira would be interested in any other sponsorship offers. Included in the cost is buying a metal sheep trailer, as her wooden one is no longer permitted by DEFRA.

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