In the fourth of his six-part series, Jeremy Hobson talks with CLARE BEEBE, a leading poultry judge
How long have you been keeping chickens – and what, or who, first got you interested?
I’ve been keeping chickens for more than 20 years. Although I’ve kept various types, my passion has always been for the Poland breed after visiting a rare breed centre in Nottinghamshire. I was fascinated and went on to research all I could. Then, on a visit to a local agricultural show, as I entered the poultry marquee, I was greeted with a pen of white crested Polands which belonged to a guy called Eric Parker (otherwise known as ‘Mr Poland’!). This started a very great friendship and, after many years of his tutoring, I have since become one of the biggest breeders and exhibitor of the Poland. My passion inspired me to achieve perfection within that breed and led to my interest in judging.
How much knowledge of chickens do you need before considering becoming a judge?
My best advice to any novice wanting to enter into the world of judging would be to start showing in local poultry events. Once your confidence grows in handling exhibits correctly, and you’ve learnt about the breed you specialise in, put yourself forward as a judge’s steward. You will be asked to follow them around writing down comments in the judging book as they are making their selections. They will explain why they are choosing that particular bird – as well as telling you the faults found on others. Experience, dedication and commitment are the key elements required. Gaining knowledge of every breed is a very hard task and should not to be taken lightly; you need to be prepared to study and practice as much as possible to obtain the experience necessary to be worthy of judging someone’s bird – and to go home knowing that you have done it to the best of your ability.
In your opinion, are there more – or less – people showing poultry now?
The numbers of dedicated breeders are declining – some due to high cost of feed which restricts the amount of birds people can keep and breed in a year. To achieve perfection it is sometimes necessary to hatch a high number of chicks to produce the exceptional bird. People enter the world of poultry exhibiting without being aware of this and are sometimes disappointed when they do not achieve the accolades with the stock they have bred.
For the person visiting a large show (like the National, for instance) for the first time, what would you encourage them to see and notice?
I would suggest they give a full day to experience the grandeur of these shows. Every breed of poultry is on show accompanied by individual breed stands that provide valuable information for helping you choose what type of chicken you may wish to keep. There are also great trade stands that sell any supplies necessary for the hobby of chicken keeping and sales sections selling stock from good breeders.
What’s the best way for a newcomer to get involved with the showing side of things – and why should they bother?
Attend local events such as agricultural shows and join your local poultry club who will hold annual shows where you can gain knowledge of the pros and cons of exhibiting. Egg showing is a fine way to initiate yourself to this hobby, too, especially if you only keep female chickens due to living in an environment where it is impossible to keep a cockerel.
Shows in general are a great way of promoting our interest and provide a window to exhibit all breeds of pure-breed poultry and waterfowl etc. Showing birds of breed standard as defined by the Poultry Club of Great Britain allows us to aim for (and achieve) perfection. Vision and documentation will ensure the continued well-being of poultry breeds and prevent them from being lost forever.
Finally, have you any tips on how to understand a show schedule?
Filling in your first schedule can be a little daunting. Study your own breed enough to find out what classification it is i.e.: Soft feather light, True bantam etc. All this information can be found on the Poultry Club of Great Britain’s website and in the Poultry Club Standards book. Ask people whom you may know, or ring the show secretary (whose details will be on the form) and ask for any necessary help.