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