Big Is Beau­ti­ful

Show­ing supremo Tom Davis knows that suc­cess in the ‘ring’ starts with keep­ing a breed you love. From first sight at a poul­try sale he knew that he was des­tined to cham­pion the heavy­weight of the wa­ter­fowl world — the Exhibition Rouen Duck

Country Smallholding - - Inside this month -

The Exhibition Rouen and the man who cham­pi­ons them — Tom Davis

Tom Davis and the late John Hall liked noth­ing bet­ter than to get to­gether and dis­cuss the mer­its of the Exhibition Rouen. Two men to­gether wax­ing lyri­cal about the duck that orig­i­nated in France and which re­sem­bles a giant Mal­lard. Tom, a for­mer Rouen Breeder of the Year and last year’s Best in Show at Colch­ester with a Rouen drake, learned so much from John dur­ing those an­i­mated dis­cus­sions. In the 1980s, John Hall had dom­i­nated show pens and taken home myr­iad prizes, so there was no bet­ter ad­vo­cate of the breed. “John was ex­tremely help­ful when talk­ing about his birds. We would dis­cuss their good and their bad points. He re­ally ed­u­cated me,” says Tom, the farm man­ager at the 32-acre Mud­chute Park, the largest city farm in Lon­don, which is run as an ed­u­ca­tional and en­vi­ron­men­tal char­ity bring­ing the coun­try­side to the city. A mem­ber of the Bri­tish Wa­ter­fowl As­so­ci­a­tion Coun­cil, he also sits on the board of the Rare Breeds Sur­vival Trust and is renowned for his Ayles­bury and Rouen ducks, for whom he is a regis­trar.

Seven­teen years ago, Tom put the knowl­edge ac­quired from John Hall to good use and started ap­pear­ing on the exhibition cir­cuit with his own birds. Thanks to guid­ance too from Vanessa May, a suc­cess­ful ex­hibitor of do­mes­tic ducks from Kent, he picked up the red rosette at the Kent Cham­pi­onship Show, where his wa­ter­fowl was crowned cham­pion. It would be the first of many ac­co­lades he would go on to col­lect over the years. But what kick started the pas­sion? “I first saw a pair of these mag­nif­i­cent birds at a sale and from then on I was hooked,” says Tom. “Af­ter my ini­tial re­search, I pur­chased my orig­i­nal pair from Dr Chris and Mike Ash­ton [two of the coun­try’s lead­ing au­thor­i­ties on do­mes­tic duck colour breed­ing who have writ­ten sev­eral books on ducks and geese] and I went on to visit them many times.”

In Tom’s opin­ion, a well-marked Rouen duck with good type can’t be beaten for beauty and they are a sight to be­hold, ei­ther in the show pen, in a group, or on range.

“Rouens are im­pos­ing birds that reach more than 5kg in weight — they are clas­si­fied as a heavy breed of do­mes­tic wa­ter­fowl and are one of the largest around. Al­though they have a mas­sive body, they plod around quite eas­ily as long as they are kept where they get plenty of ex­er­cise on grass and have ac­cess to a pond or shal­low stream.”

Tom ad­vises that any­one think­ing of buy­ing some Exhibition Rouens should bear in mind that the duck’s bill should be an or­angey brown with a black sad­dle.

“I have no­ticed a lot of ducks be­ing shown with green/dark bills, which is in­cor­rect.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Rouens need to be big, but also ac­tive.

“Make sure that the ducks have good pen­cilling and that they are not too dark — cer­tainly not as dark as dark Camp­bells,” adds Tom, who con­tin­ues: “This is my own per­sonal pref­er­ence, but I feel that a heavy duck should have a large, strong head, not an an­gu­lar one like the Ayles­bury or Run­ner, with a good-sized undished bill. I have seen some Rouens be­ing shown with Camp­bell type heads, which I feel can let a good sized and marked bird down.”

Tom adds that a good arch on the back is also re­quired.

“I have no­ticed that there are an in­creas­ing num­ber of birds with flat backs, which is the re­sult of Euro­pean blood be­ing in­tro­duced.”

Tom also ad­vises that when seek­ing out Exhibition Rouens, it is best to pur­chase them from well-known breed­ers, as if you don’t and you buy hatch­ing eggs, or day-old duck­lings, you may find your­self with more com­mer­cial birds. These will not have the keel, pen­cilling and gen­eral size that exhibition birds have. He says: “One thing I have no­ticed is that there are a few more peo­ple show­ing Rouens these days, which re­ally warms my heart. These beau­ti­ful birds need as many sup­port­ers as pos­si­ble. They will def­i­nitely stay at the cen­tre of my flock.”

Exhibition Rouen drakes have the bril­liant green head and white col­lar of the Mal­lard, but the body feathers are a bit darker

The Apri­cot Mal­lard fe­male in the Exhibition Rouen is a beau­ti­ful warm colour

The Exhibition Rouen duck does not fly and so it can eas­ily be man­aged with low fences FAR LEFT: Tom Davis is renowned for his Ayles­bury and Rouen ducks

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