***** Judges Workshop at the National Show 2015 *****
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The egg to show is as near to perfection and shape, shell texture, colour and size with a fresh appearance and bloom.
A good shape is of the utmost importance - it carries the largest number of points in the Standard - without it the show egg is non-existent. Shape is the first thing the judge is looking for when judging a class of eggs. The ideally shaped egg is broad, ensuring a large and well rounded dome, with greater length than width. The sides are equal and symmetrical, rounding off to a smaller end which should not be too pointed. Different judges will, no doubt, have their own interpretation of this definition, but this is what judging is all about.
Never underestimate the importance of good shell texture, rarely does one find a bad shell or poor contents with good shell texture, and for the show egg, it is a must. The shell should feel smooth to the touch all over. Free from hairline cracks, porosity, muscle indentations, lime pimples, bulges and without any roughness of any kind. Eggs with a matt shell texture must stand their chance and must be judged accordingly.
Whether showing Brown, White, Cream, Blue, Green, Olive, Plum, Mottle, Tinted etc. always show the best coloured egg you have, but not at the expense of shape and texture. When showing the eggs of Marans, Welsummers or Barnevelders, remember that it is the clear browns that are the most desirable, and when showing the mottled browns it is an even mottle on each egg that is required. Needless to say, as the dark brown colour is a characteristic of these three breeds, exhibitors should be aware that judges are mindful of this. Fortunately, one usually finds that these three breeds have separate classes at shows these days. One cannot make any hard and fast rule about size, but my own ideal for large fowl is anything from 2½ oz to 3oz and Bantams 1oz to 1¼ oz. Certainly nothing exceeding 1½oz which is the top weight allowed for Bantams on the show bench.
Freshness, Bloom and Appearance - this is very much taken into consideration by the judge. Fresh eggs should have small air spaces and not be over-prepared. Eggs may be washed, but if they are, care must be taken that they do not appear artificially polished as this could lead to the exhibit being passed. It is not advisable to wash dark brown eggs as this could damage the pigment. Clean nests at all times is the golden rule for any showman.
Remember that when exhibiting more than one egg, five points more for each egg are added for matching and uniformity. It therefore follows that eggs laid by the same bird are more likely to be successful when it comes to matching. Remember also, bloom and appearance will only be present with freshness.
One of the most pleasing sights at any egg show is the plate of white, and by white this means chalk white. Not the easiest of colours to plate, on the contrary, one of the most difficult to show to perfection. The white eggs being so vulnerable to such faults such as porous shells, hairline cracks, stains etc. not so readily seen in other colours. Indeed, the slightest blemish or imperfection stands out like a sore thumb.
This is probably the reason why so comparatively few fanciers show white eggs, which inevitably has lead to the average show schedule classifying white and cream eggs in the same class. This is a pity, as I feel that white egg classes could be self supporting, if more of our fanciers specialising in egg showing would give a little more time and study to producing white eggs of show potential.
Most light breeds lay white eggs and there is quite a variety to choose from viz: Anconas, Andalusians, Hamburghs, Leghorns, Minorcas, to mention only a few and, of course, the odd Hybrid or so. Perhaps it should be mentioned here that it is the utility rather than the exhibition strain that is more likely to produce the white egg.
Admittedly, from time to time, one is fortunate enough to possess a bird that lays a showable egg, but it is my experience that the consistent winner is the fancier who breeds for this purpose. Strict attention to the make up of the breeding pen is of the utmost importance, using only birds of known ability. Select eggs of sound shell, a primary requirement for any eggs for incubation, but even more so when it comes to white eggs, and, of course, good shape and texture.
Just a word about show preparation. Never wash a white egg. This is permitted under show rules, but if you really have to, do not use soap. This will only put on an artificial polish which inevitably will result in the judge passing them. If you have a bad stain, use lemon juice. To freshen up and remove surface dust, a damp cloth is the best way, followed immediately by a dry cloth, but again, do not polish. The real answer to presenting an egg at its best, is clean nests and nesting material at all times. Always store in a cool place, small end down, until required.
Usually these are the last two classes in most egg schedules and classes. Here, the exhibitors really have to do their homework. Unlike eggs judged for external qualities, the exhibitors do not see their entry before despatch to the show, hence more than a little care and attention is necessary if the competitor is to stand any chance of success. Many fanciers look to the last collection of eggs for their contents entry - cross their fingers and hope for the best. Although this has been known to produce a certain amount of success - it is the exception rather than the rule. If there is a worthwhile class at all close observation will show that it is the usual names that are among the cards - the ones in fact that have opened up a few eggs prior to the show, noted the particular egg with the contents somewhere near the mark, noted the bird which produces it, and therefore able to send an egg which will be in the running.
It is generally accepted that birds on free range have the advantage over birds kept intensively when it comes to producing a good contents but with the balanced rations available today, there is not much in it, and there are some excellent exhibits from birds that have been kept in the back yard under confined conditions.
Feeding, of course, does influence the contents of any egg both in appearance and taste but providing the birds are fed on a balanced diet, without an excess of one ingredient, quite a large proportion of the eggs have good content potential.
As there are as many points as 30 in the Standard for the yolk alone, it is important that one should endeavour to get this right. Reject eggs with pale yolks, and as much as we like to see those rich orange to red yolks for the table, they are not required for the show bench. The standard calls for a rich golden yellow and this we must try and keep in mind. See also that the contents stands up well and shows a nice rounded yolk situated as near as possible in the centre of the thick albumen which should be clear and have a definite outline. At each end of the yolk the chalazae cords should be visible, as will the blastoderm or germ spot to be found at one side of the centre of the yolk.
Remember - too much green food could make for a greenish tinge in the albumen. Too much protein could make for poor shells. Lack of shell forming material will not help to make sound shells which are so necessary for a good contents. Oyster shell and flint grit is preferable limestone - the latter taken in excess could spoil shell texture. Generally speaking, the lighter colour eggs are less likely to contain meat spots, and have the added advantage that they can be more successfully candled - how many exhibitors candle their entries?
One challenge the showing of eggs has over the showing of birds is that every show requires a fresh selection of eggs. In contrast, a good bird can be shown over a considerable period of time with more or less consistent results.
In the summer, if two shows are close together, the same eggs could be used and in the winter, the same eggs could be shown over a two week period without too much deterioration taking place. Deterioration is due mainly to evaporation. The yolk and albumen together contain about 65% water and when this evaporates through the porous shell and membranes from the air sac, content changes occur which can be identified as the process of ageing.
The rate of evaporation is affected by the area of shell surface to volume of the contents. Certain egg shapes lose water quicker than others. External conditions too, affect the water loss. For example, eggs stored in a warm, dry environment will age faster than those kept in cool, humid conditions. It is well known that eggs will keep longer in a refrigerator and if this also contains a dish of water, little evaporation will occur at all.
As evaporation proceeds, the air sac increases in size and the egg contents decrease in volume. These changes cause the egg membranes to stretch in some places and relax in others, thereby allowing the contents to 'flop' within the shell when the egg is shaken sharply. This becomes more evident by the white being less firm as certain proteins within the albumen denature; a process related to changes in the pH (acidity) brought about by the absorption of carbon dioxide. Interestingly, an old fashioned way of storing eggs was to place them in lime water which absorbed the carbon dioxide so preventing it from entering the egg and changing the nature of the contents.
It is to determine a measure of this liquidity that judges jerk an egg past their ear when judging listening for a telltale 'flip'. If shaken too vigorously, however, even a fresh egg's contents can move within the membranes. At shows where no barriers are placed between the exhibits and the public, winning eggs can be shaken by all who pass with the result that the end of the day they too will 'rattle' and the judges reputation is held in dispute. Fresh eggs, when sent to a show by rail or parcel post, also tend to end up rattling on the show bench.
It can be surprising when judging, when a fresh looking egg has rattled - 'fresh looking' might sound subjective, but to the practiced eye there are considerable differences between fresh and stale eggs. Brown eggs take on a dull almost greenish hue when exposed to bright light for any length of time. White eggs often develop translucent patches in their shells with age and all eggs lose their bloom becoming dull and lifeless.
When faced with a fresh looking egg that rattles, I break it open, as empowered to do by Poultry Club Rules. A large air sac, runny white and a flat yolk with wrinkled membrane would indicate age. Usually however, when I have done this, the contents have confirmed my impression of freshness which indicates that the 'jerk' test is not infallible. Some eggs, especially those with a broad girth, laid by large fowl, have poorly attached membranes so 'rattle' the day after laying.
Is there an alternative to the 'jerk test'? Assuming evaporation has taken place and that the now enlarged air sac is at the broad end, the egg will float broad end up in a pan of water. Do this test only for those whose appearance gives a reason to doubt freshness.
Classes for these allow the artistic poultry keeper to use eggs in different ways.