As breeders build up their own studs of birds and gain a reputation for being able to bench good show birds, many turn their thoughts to judging as well as exhibiting. The qualifications to be a ZFS panel judge are that applicants should have been members of the ZFS for eight consecutive years and been an active champion exhibitor at ZFS patronage shows for at least three full seasons prior to their application. Having met these criteria all that needs to be done is to apply in writing to the General Secretary of the ZFS to become a member of the ZFS Panel of Judges. Applications are considered by the committee at their Committee Meetings.
Judging birds can appear to be straightforward when one has the benefit of classes being sorted by a judge and placed in the order he or she thinks is appropriate. We can all say that perhaps the pair in third place deserved to be second, or the winners have done rather better than they ought to have done, but often variations of opinions depend on the performance of the birds on the afternoon, compared to their performance on the morning when they were actually judged.
Being faced with a large class of birds which are not sorted at all can be rather more daunting. Before you can start you must have a suitable judging table at the right height and adequate stewards to cover the section. Then there are various procedures judges should follow which make their job easier. Before starting each class, check that all the exhibits which should be present are available for judging. Sometimes stewards may overlook a pair which has been placed in the wrong section when benched. The next thing to check is that all exhibits actually consist of a cock and a hen of the appropriate colour, any which do not must be wrong classed. Next those birds entered as breeder birds should be checked to make sure they are wearing current year ZFS breeder rings. Making these checks will if nothing else, have given the exhibits time to settle, so that the finer points can be considered.
Large classes are not judged by selecting the best seven from all the exhibits benched. They are judged by rejecting those exhibits which do not come up to the required standards, until a manageable number of exhibits are left from which the final placings can be made. The first exhibits to be rejected are those which are in poor condition, dirty or are benched in dirty cages. The next thing to look at is those birds with serious marking and colour faults and these can usually be rejected unless they excel in other features. Then the shape or type of the birds should be considered with those of poorer type being rejected until about nine cages remain.
As Zebra Finches are exhibited in pairs this can create additional problems not encountered by judges of single birds. You may have a good type cock with a poor type hen, or vice versa. Whether or not these will be rejected depends on the standard of the other exhibits present in the class. Exhibits are best compared when they are side by side at the same level, judging birds on top of one another is more difficult, likely to result in knocked over cages and definitely detrimental to the paintwork of the cage underneath. Having decided which exhibits should be placed in which position within the class, your decision must be recorded. This is done by writing the position, 1st to 7th on the appropriate cage label and by filling in the judging slip, remembering to retain a copy for your own reference. Having made a decision and recorded it, you should not change your mind. The only way your decision could be altered would be if one of the exhibits was later disqualified on a technicality.
As each class is completed, the highest placed adult and the highest placed breeder exhibit in each class should be retained as these need to be considered for specials later in the day. Once all the classes have been judged you must turn your attention to the specials to be awarded. The best way of performing this task is to place all first prize winners from each section side by side, i/e,- all the class winners in the champion section. One of these exhibits must be best in section, after this exhibit has been determined, you can consider whether it is an adult or a breeder. If it is an adult, all the highest placed breeders in each class are required to be judged for the best breeder. If the best in section is a breeder exhibit then the opposite applies. It is quite possible when selecting the best adult or breeder, after the best in section has been determined, that the winner of this award may be second, third, or in exceptional circumstances more lowly placed, in its class. As you select each special winner you should record your decision, do not ask your stewards to write on cage labels or fill in the award sheets, this is your responsibility and mistakes at this stage will reflect badly on your judging.
Having selected your Best Champion, Best Novice and Best Junior award winners the only major award to be determined is that for Best Zebra Finches, unless you are asked to judge for Best in Show or Best Junior in Show etc; You may however have quite a number of other awards to place, these being rosettes from specialist clubs. Often the winners will not be eligible to compete for all the awards offered by the different specialist clubs, and where this occurs you may have to give these awards to other exhibits within the section. In order to place these awards you will require a list of nominations from the Show Secretary. Selecting specialist society awards can become rather tedious when only a few exhibitors are members of these clubs, but provided you are methodical and take your time the task will eventually be completed.
It is often wise to make brief notes on most of the exhibits placed before you, there is not usually room in your judging book to do this, so you should remember to take a small note pad with you to make the appropriate reminders. Remember it is not those exhibitors who have won who ask the questions, it is usually those who have failed to take any awards that require explanations. A pair for example may on the morning of judging refuse to perch, but have found their confidence by the afternoon, when you are asked to justify your decision you might be at a loss to give an explanation. If you have made an appropriate note or two you can give a positive reason for your decision and most exhibitors will be satisfied.
The best way to learn how to judge is by stewarding. Many events are short of stewards and are only too willing to allow volunteers to help. Remember, either when judging or stewarding, exhibits must not be put on the floor, always, place them on the staging or a table. As a steward, you must not pester the judges with questions while they are placing awards, you can ask questions later and will usually be given answers. Stewards must not impede the progress of judges, they should stand well back from the judging table and wait for the judge to ask for their assistance. Equally when you are judging you should not allow stewards to intervene or to offer opinions on birds, their views will only serve to confuse the issue. It is quite possible that they have exhibits entered in the class you are judging and they are promoting their own birds rather than giving a fair unbiased opinion.
Remember the exhibition fancy cannot exist without both judges and stewards, and it is only fair that we all lend a hand so that these tasks can be shared out equally.