I’ve been judging for two years and as a qualified judge now for a year so I’m not the clubs most experienced voice by a long shot but as I have been trained, I feel able to write about something I enjoy. Judging is both fun and difficult at the same time. There are lots of different factors to focus on. You have to keep an eye on the points you have awarded through the day and on how much time it’s taking you to get through.
One question that comes up a lot is ‘Why did my hamster get those marks’? And a fan of the Facebook page has also asked that I cover this topic. All the official information on conformation can be found in the handbook but here is my interpretation.
This article is rather long, I do apologise! I don’t speak for all judges here, just what I’ve had experience of either judging or being judged.
The highest mark available. Your hamster may gain or drop marks from show to show depending on the quality of light, the opinion of the judge, the hamsters condition which can affect colour and whether it’s moulting. And its age of course. Different colours are affected differently by age. Creams mature into their colour, blacks and greys brown out of their colour.
It’s also important to check the pedigrees of any hamster you purchase. Some colours, when bred together, muddy the quality of each one so the colours you produce are poor quality. This can’t be helped when breeding for certain colours that require a combination but if you want to exhibit a particular colour then it’s worth checking what’s in the make up.
I won’t go into each colour here, safe to say that the best option for you is to talk to other exhibitors who show the colour you are interested in, or talk to judges on the day, to find out the various benefits or pitfalls to your chosen hamster. For almost any colour you can name, someone has bred that at some point in the past. Again, don’t always just talk to whomever is winning that day. There is a wealth of information to be had from many different exhibitors.
Patterned hamsters are judged on both colour and pattern so you need to consider that a hamster with exceptional colour may lose out on points because the pattern isn’t good or vice versa. Read the description of the pattern carefully. Does it ask for even spotting? A white animal with coloured spots means the colour isn’t too heavy. Do you need to avoid brindling?
I was taught to look at the top coat, blow through the fur to see the undercoat, check all the coloured areas of an agouti and to factor in the effects of satin, rex and long haired hamsters on colour quality. These things all contribute to the overall score.
‘Patchy colour’ refers to the hamster having areas of good colour and areas of pale colour and is usually found in animals that are moulting but can be a general fault in the overall coat colour.
‘Wide open, wide, narrow or no chest band’ is a common complaint for agouti hamsters. Don’t forget that hair’s width! Chest bands run around from the cheek flashes under the hamster’s chest.
‘Pale’ is what it is. Pale and patchy is particularly bad and means the hamster starts as pale in it’s good areas and gets paler in places.
‘Pale/dark undercolour’ is just specifically that the undercolour is either pale or too dark.
‘Lacks ticking’ refers to the ticking on the top coat of the hamster and indicates that there should be more of it.
When judging type, two main areas are looked at. That is the head and the body. Both are described in the handbook. A Syrian with good type is very clear to see. I tend to lengthen the hamster out to see it’s true proportions. A long, thin hamster can still be seen even If it’s carrying extra weight. Adding too much weight to your hamster doesn’t win it type marks, only loses it condition marks. A Syrian should be cobby, not too overweight. Cobby means a body that is short and stocky rather than long and thin.
Ear size can really throw off an otherwise nice head and points can either not be awarded for type here or taken off Eyes and Ears. I prefer to judge the type and deduct marks in the other section for overly large ears. Particularly pointy ears have the effect of making a hamster look rather elvish!
Sometimes a hamster won’t put up it’s ears and that can be a trait that is bred into the line rather than being a sign of distress. I had an issue with this personally. A line of lovely laid back Syrians and none of them put their ears up, ever. Again, something for a breeder to breed out if possible.
There are a lot of marks to be had here and I’ve seen lovely coloured hamsters miss out on placings because of poor type and vice versa.
‘Narrow head’ is obvious but it is the space between the ears that is looked at primarily. There are degrees of narrow head that may be recorded.
‘Chunky’ is usually a good term. Very chunky is often not.
‘Long face’ is sometimes referred to as ‘horsey head’ and means the head is too long from the base of the ear to the nose and is particularly noticeable when the hamster reaches forward to sniff.
Fur is judged by its condition, whether the hamster has enough of it and how it feels. So a woolly, open coat is to be avoided and a thick plush coat is desirable. Fur marks are deducted for the prevalent ‘TBF’ or thin belly fur. Fur can be affected by weight, age and hormones. A very heavy hamster carrying too much body fat will have thinner fur as the skin is stretched. Equally, a hamster that is out of condition may have areas of loose or baggy skin that affect how the fur looks or feels.
Long haired hamsters may lose points for ‘lacking skirt’ as males should have a nice full coat all over.
‘TBF’ is thin belly fur as above. There are varying degrees of this. I’d argue that a hamster with almost no belly fur really ought to stay at home.
‘WU’ is the dreaded white under and mostly afflicts creams, blacks, chocolates and doves. It’s important to notice the colour of your hamster’s belly as if you have a golden or a cinnamon, for example, with a white belly then this is potentially a ‘white bellied golden’ or ‘white bellied cinnamon’ and a different colour entirely that belongs, in my opinion, in non-standard class. These are hamsters that carry and show the white bellied gene. General splodgey bellies are just mismarkings and should be bred out.
‘Woolly coat’ is a texture of coat that feels rough. Similar to a rex coat but on a hamster that should be smooth coated. A rex hamster has curly whiskers, if yours doesn’t but has a textured coat then it should be bred to one with a good coat to try to take this out of your lines.
‘Open coat’ is when the hair doesn’t lie entirely flat and can be because the hamster is warm, or older, moulting, or may be not in the best condition. It’s most noticeable on an agouti hamster as the under colour will show through.
One of my pet peeves is a hamster that is overweight. One whose natural type is long and thin so is fed suet to bulk it up. Judges can see this difference. When you pick a hamster up under it’s armpits, if your thumb is totally covered by the animal’s fur then it is overweight. Overweight hamsters don’t win shows. You need to work on size to get near the big hamsters that get best in show and you can’t short cut that with the aid of too much suet (some suet in the diet can be useful but owners should keep a close eye on the condition of the hamster).
One problem some breeders encounter, usually new breeders from what I’ve seen, is over feeding baby hamsters. Your cute splatty hamster will soon turn into an adult with baggy, loose skin. Those nearly out of or just out of young stock can lose marks for looking terribly out of condition as they have all this extra skin hanging down.
Make sure your hamster is firm, chunky and the right shape for its natural type. Its natural type may not be what you are after but that’s how you know what to breed for and hiding it won’t help you in the long run.
Older hamsters most often lose marks here and sometimes marks can be lost from either fur or condition depending on the judge’s discretion.
‘Pin bones’ refers to the hip bones jutting up as the layer of good fat over this area has been lost. Usually found on older hamsters.
‘Old?’ is often noted on animals the judge feels have justifiable loss of condition. They’ll still lose marks but don’t need a ‘please see judge’ marked on the label.
‘Saggy’ is referring to the loose skin as above.
‘Please see judge’ should never be ignored by exhibitors. This could be anything from very poor condition to a lump felt or a chipped tooth. Southern and Midland club judges don’t tend to write the reason on the label as it’s potentially embarrassing for an exhibitor who may have genuinely not noticed an issue or that has arisen during that day. The public may misinterpret the label to mean the hamster is very ill. Sick hamsters are not put back on the show bench but disqualified and should be given back to the owner.
Size overlaps somewhat with condition in the case of weight. I don’t tend to award marks for weight in this section, I go by look and feel. I award marks on what the animal’s true size is and deduct condition marks if the hamster is overweight. Have I belaboured that point yet!
Size marks vary across judges and is sometimes influenced by what’s on the table as there is no visible cue to a ‘perfect hamster size’ although all species have parameters into which the hamster must fall. Babies may miss out on size marks so this is a consideration for anyone entering young stock. If your hamster is very young but within the guidelines set for showing, is it worth entering them if they are very small?
Overall all though, this tends not to be a big deciding factor on who wins as it’s only ten points. Size tends to influence the results most when the size of the hamster is very small.
Eyes and Ears
Here a judge is looking for discharge from the eyes and deducting marks for nicks in the ears. Small eyes are penalised too. A sticky eye may not be penalised if the hamster opens it within a minute or two of coming out of the show pen. A true sticky eye may be helped by the judge or left for the owner as appropriate.
‘Sticky eye’ refers to an eye that won’t open and may or may not have some dry discharge around it usually from sleep.
‘Small eyes’ is definitely something to breed away from. Ignoring small eyes simply cause the issue to worsen down the line.
‘Nick in the ear’ is usually from a pairing or historically from pups fighting.
Plus and Minus Marks
Used to differentiate between too very close hamsters where the score is the same but one may be marginally better than the other. Minus marks are used in the same way but not every judge uses them. Some of us prefer to use a + or a ++ if more than one hamster needs to be ‘split’.
Marks are deducted for shabby pens but not if they are hire pens.
After the main judging, the judge and book steward go around the front of the table and judge the duplicates. Essentially this is based on the overall scores and can be quickly ascertained. A hamster in young stock with an overall score of 75 beats one with a score of 50 with no need to look at the hamsters as they have been judged already.
However, hamsters on the same marks need to be looked at again to see who beats who IF they have not ‘met’ before i.e. they weren’t entered in the same class so haven’t been judged next to each other. This is true even if one hamster has a plus mark already as this plus was achieved against a different hamster (s).
Effectively the winner wins their plus mark as if they were in the main class but this is not always noted on the pens. I like to mark a tiny + next to the duplicate class number and always put the pens back in the order I want them.
When judging for neck and neck hamsters in duplicates, again, you are looking for the better overall hamster. One may have amazing colour but lacks condition and type therefore the other hamster might win.
Lastly a little word on temperament. A hamster that is too grumpy or nervous does not show well. A judge will only spend so much time looking for a hamster’s best side, especially on a table with 150 other hamsters to judge. Do your best to breed well tempered hamsters and handle them as much as possible. Make their first show somewhere quiet or close to home.
Hamsters that bite can be disqualified. Although there’s no section for ‘temperament’ it does play a crucial role in the show.