Award­ing the rib­bons

Know how the judge picks one wa­ter­fowl over an­other in the show ring? Sea­soned judge Stu­art Kay of­fers some in­sider se­crets

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Judg­ing wa­ter­fowl

Look­ing back, the sub­ject mat­ter of con­ver­sa­tions with my grand­fa­ther John, fa­ther Ian and big brother Dean fre­quently in­cluded the in­di­vid­ual traits of wa­ter­fowl and poul­try, as well as the many dif­fer­ent species. We were all ad­mir­ers.

Fate would lead me to be­come a judge and I soon learned that the process com­mences with one’s own per­sonal pre­sen­ta­tion. When you look back into the past at the old black and white photographs, you see ev­ery judge — and most ex­hibitors, come to that — in their best suits and ties of­ten com­ple­mented with a smart bowler or trilby.

When I of­fi­ci­ate at a show I ar­rive sport­ing a shirt and tie in the be­lief that ev­ery judge should com­mence their day cor­rectly at­tired. At the very least, it helps you to pre­pare men­tally for the task ahead.

A judge’s ob­jec­tive when pre­sented with a class is to as­sess the birds from first to fourth. This se­lec­tion is their opin­ion on how each bird is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of its breed’s stan­dard of per­fec­tion. Each bird can­not be as­sessed in­di­vid­u­ally be­cause, in a class of 30 or more at a ma­jor show, it would be mid­night be­fore ev­ery­one headed off home.

How to han­dle judg­ing

When faced with smaller classes of around 10 birds, the judge walks up and down the line look­ing for any glar­ing faults or po­ten­tial dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions — for the wrong colour, wrong mark­ings, bill faults and health and fit­ness issues. If a bird doesn’t look too good while you stare in from the out­side of a pen, it is hardly likely to emerge from its con­fines look­ing any bet­ter.

So, as a judge, you may have whit­tled your orig­i­nal 10 down to six ex­hibits and af­ter han­dling ev­ery­thing you might be able to knock out an­other two. Now you know your top four. Among these you may have spot­ted a clear win­ner from the out­set. This does hap­pen and I live in hope that the crea­ture will come out of its pen re­tain­ing the wow fac­tor.

One such mem­o­rable moment oc­curred at the 2017 Call Duck Club Show, where Kevin Wil­liamson’s grey mal­lard drake went on to be awarded supreme cham­pion.

He had proved eye-catch­ing from flag­fall to fin­ish.

But back to your top four birds. Be­fore you fi­nally make up your judge’s slip you need to re­turn to re­view all the birds in case one of your ‘out­siders’ has im­proved. This can hap­pen, par­tic­u­larly with timid In­dian run­ner ducks.

Re­mem­ber­ing the Ally Pally

My fa­ther was also a judge and on one oc­ca­sion he as­sessed the True Ban­tams class at the Alexan­dra Palace dur­ing the 1960s. His new stew­ard for the day was An­cona and Call duck lover Desmond Lit­tle. Des was par­tic­u­larly well known for fac­ing the judges him­self with his fa­mous Call duck Char­lie, a pro­lific win­ner of awards.

My fa­ther found him­self judg­ing a large band of White Pekins, which in­cluded some classy look­ing birds. He duly went along the line elim­i­nat­ing the ones he felt didn’t merit a rosette, whit­tling the class down to his top four. He then headed off to judge the blacks in the next class to al­low the whites time to re­set­tle. Af­ter com­plet­ing the blacks he re­turned to the whites where he again re­assessed to con­firm his de­ci­sion.

I can re­call judg­ing the Call ducks at the Na­tional Show last year. I had com­pleted the apri­cot fe­males and moved on to the next class. While do­ing my first walk through, I no­ticed a cou­ple pon­der­ing my de­ci­sion and point­ing to dif­fer­ent pens. I sub­se­quently headed over and en­quired about their own ex­hibits. They pointed to them and asked why they had not scooped a red rosette. They did, though, em­pha­sise that they were not com­plain­ing, merely want­ing to un­der­stand. I was happy to ex­plain and while do­ing so I took the win­ner out of its pen and held it along­side their own charges so that they could see the dif­fer­ence.

An ex­hibitor can’t be rude or in­sult­ing if they feel that the judge has got it wrong

Af­ter a few min­utes they un­der­stood my rea­son­ing and thanked me for my time. I had helped them to learn a lit­tle more about the ducks they loved.

Due to most shows’ tight time­frames, this kind of ‘post-mortem’ is not al­ways pos­si­ble, but a judge should al­ways try to make him­self/her­self avail­able to ex­hibitors once the judg­ing process is over. This doesn’t mean that an ex­hibitor can be rude or in­sult­ing if they feel the judge has got it wrong. At the end of the day, judg­ing is based on per­sonal opin­ion, whether ev­ery­one likes it or not.

Stand out from the crowd

My fa­ther used to say: “When judg­ing be brave, don’t stand in the crowd, and if you think that is the best one, go for it.”

Once you have se­lected your class win­ner and supreme cham­pion, you will of­ten find your­self and your top picks be­ing as­sessed from be­yond the pens. I have been asked on more than one oc­ca­sion why a cer­tain bird that looks pure per­fec­tion within the pen didn’t win the class. The rea­son would be that when taken out­side it showed a flaw. One such duck had a crooked back, while a bibbed Call duck proved not to have any white pri­maries. Judg­ing is based on a vis­ual as­sess­ment as well as han­dling.

If you ex­hibit wa­ter­fowl at a sum­mer show, bear in mind the maxim: ‘don’t shoot the judge’. Ul­ti­mately he is do­ing his best and his forte may well be as­sess­ing chick­ens.

When the boot was on the other foot and I was ex­hibit­ing, my award-win­ning Run­ner ducks were beaten at a sum­mer show by a short, fat, poorly marked fawn Run­ner. Our white was a lit­tle ner­vous in its pen, not least be­cause there were nu­mer­ous peo­ple and dogs in the tent. How­ever, the fawn win­ner must have been hand reared as she stood at the front of her pen all day show­ing her­self off. She scooped first prize and my duck fin­ished sec­ond, but there is lit­tle doubt that if the as­ses­sor had been a more ex­pe­ri­enced wa­ter­fowl judge mine would have ended up with the red rib­bons.

The moral of this story is to make sure that you select your best birds and that they are as well pre­pared, trained, pre­sented and put down as you can. Then cross your fin­gers that on the day the judge will make the right de­ci­sion. May the best bird win.

Judge An­drew Wet­ters checks the finer points of a Mus­covy duck INSET: Stu­art Kay

Egg classes are judged too

Mr Dodd with his cham­pion Black Mi­norca cock­erel

Judges in the 1930s of­ten wore bowler hats

Ex­hibitors put a lot of ef­fort into pre­sent­ing their birds well

In­side Crys­tal Palace dur­ing the 1930s

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