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
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