Got it cracked! Showing eggs
David Herbert, nicknamed The Egg Man, reveals everything you need to know about showing eggs
The first step when it comes to showing eggs is to get your entries submitted to the show secretary after giving careful consideration to your likely contenders. In the run-up to the show, ensure that your entries are up to scratch. On the day itself you will need to make your final decisions and be sure to be organised. It is all to easy to forget those vital passes, tickets, directions and other relevant paperwork. Then expect a restless night’s sleep and an early awakening to get loaded and moving.
Arrival at the showground usually means a dash to your section where you will need to unpack, apply some finishing touches to your entries and get ready for the judging. If you have been to an agricultural show you will have seen judges of various disciplines making their assessments of the cows, sheep and birds on display. They get hands-on to have a feel for muscular structure or conformity and they look square at the exhibit to get a sense of proportion and line. They don’t forget the back end either, ensuring that all is clean and in order. Overall, they are checking that all points meet the necessary standards for the breed or type.
But just how do you go about judging or selecting eggs? What is it that you’re looking for when presenting your own egg exhibits in the poultry sections? Actually, whether it be large fowl, bantam, waterfowl or even turkey, it is much the same principle.
Let’s start with the shape. This should be, well, egg shaped. An egg that is too round or thin and narrow is no good. Particularly for chickens, we want to see a broader base and a narrower top. Next we look at the shell and how it was formed. There are any number of undesirable features we hope to avoid. The shell should be smooth, with no wrinkles, pimples, cracks or holes. There should be no excess calcium deposits on the surface and no visible areas of thin or translucent shell.
Now we look at the colour. If a pigment is applied to the shell we want to see a smooth, even field of colour around the whole egg. Some breeds, such as Marans or Welsummers (which will sometimes have their own dedicated egg classes), will lay down extra pigment which can result in mottling.
If this occurs we want to see an even application and consistent pattern to the mottling across the entire surface. There should be no marks from nest boxes or claws and it goes without saying that the egg should be clean.
It is deemed acceptable to wash your eggs for a show. However, a judge can disqualify an egg which smells of detergent or looks polished. It is also forbidden to bleach or attempt to colour an egg in any way.
I tend not to wash my eggs, but instead rely on a cleanliness regime. At a push, I might just wipe a spot or two with a (fragrance-free and recycleable) baby wipe.
Now we’ve got a good egg. The next challenge is to match three or more of the same to produce a set of eggs as identical as possible. Some shows even feature classes of 12 matching eggs – not an easy feat to achieve, I can assure you. I like to think that I’ve developed an eye for egg matching and selection and get absolute pleasure and joy from the preparation and choosing of my exhibits. I find it almost zen-like to shut myself away with a few trays of eggs and make my decisions, finding that proper preparation, consistency and attention to detail tend to produce better results and make the process a pleasure.
About a month before the show I pick which classes I’m going to enter and I send my entry form to the section secretary. I need to plan for which birds are going to be laying come show time — I could be waiting for
juveniles to turn POL, anticipating the end of a moult or dealing with broodies by then.
The week before the show I ensure that all nest boxes are clean and I make sure that the birds have clean feet and bottoms so that they are not dirtying the eggs or boxes as they lay. I collect the eggs as many times a day as feasible to ensure cleanliness and to prevent damage. Next, I sort my eggs into colours – a tray for white, a tray for dark brown, etc, so that I can look for consistency and readily identify any that don’t make the grade as far as colour is concerned.
Now it is a case of going through those eggs and discarding the ones that have faults.
For this I need good, preferably natural, light to best see and I will also, on occasion, use a magnifying glass or candling torch to check for hairline cracks or thin spots.
With my trays of eggs now whittled down, it is time to start picking single eggs or matching groups as per the entries.
For contents classes it is a little different as the quality of the external shell isn’t judged (unless it is a specific Internal/ External class). Here, I take the eggs and break them open to have a look. On show day, the judge will be looking for a good thick albumen that doesn’t separate too easily. The yolk will need to be pert and nicely rounded with a good rich colour. It should also be free of blood or meat spots. A fertile egg showing a white blastogerm is acceptable, providing incubation hasn’t begun. My selections will be picked from birds showing these attributes during the run up and only ever taken from those laid the day before the show. I hope that by showing consistency during this period I can rely on the birds to deliver on the day.
With the eggs chosen, they then get packed away ready for the competition. I used to carry bagfuls of egg boxes, but now use a couple of make-up cases adapted to hold egg trays. These are ideal – they provide security, darkness and help to protect the eggs from temperature fluctuations. They also conveniently fit into the car’s child seat, so I strap them in safely for the journey.
On arrival at the show I collect my plate numbers from the section secretary and lay out my entries. I always try to present the very best view of my eggs. The judge will pick up each one to scrutinise it, but a good first impression always helps. This done, I’ll take a step back, double check I’m on all the right plates and that all the eggs are looking as good as possible. From here on in there is nothing more that I can do but wait for the judging to be completed.
I never go to a show expecting results – you simply never know what will happen on the day – but I like to think that proper preparation and considered selections will ensure that you and your birds (therefore your eggs) have a fighting chance of a card.
In the ribbons
After following these steps, at the North Somerset Show in May, I took 24 entries for six classes. I’m pleased to report that out of a possible 18 cards I obtained five thirds, four seconds and five firsts.
I was particularly happy to sweep the board for Large Fowl and Waterfowl contents, but the real icing on the cake was clinching the Best Eggs in Show prize for our Three Large Any Colour.
Once again, it seems the hard work and effort paid off. Good luck to you.
I used to carry bagfuls of egg boxes, but now use a couple of makeup cases adapted to hold egg trays
PCGB judge Kevin Brown in action
Winning Waterfowl contents entry
Cracking an egg for contents judging
Nest box check... with occupant
Nest box check