Fall is the time of year that ranchers start thinking about competition.  Why?  Their animals start looking better as colder weather sets in and new fur growth starts.  Animals’ appetites increase and the overall appearance of the animal, life of the fur, etc is much improved over the summer season.


Although bred in quality or genetics is the primary determiner of quality and the animal’s potential on the show table, proper nutrition and environment certainly have an important role.


Show preparation actually should start the day an animal is born.  The care the mother is given will have a great influence on her baby getting a proper start.  A clean cage for mother and baby is important.  Good quiet surroundings and a good common animal-sense behavior of the rancher is a must.  This contributes to calm quiet animals.  Normally high strung, nutty animals that are flighty, want to jump out of a cage or near impossible to catch do not make very good show animals or breeders.  Much of the description of the animals would also describe their owner.


Much has been said and written in the past about care of the show animals, care of the pelters, care of breeders, etc  And statements like ‘this is my pelt herd’ and 'this is my show herd’ have been made by many ranchers.  On our ranch we have one herd and they are cared for all alike.  A pelter must be cared for as if were a show animal and a show animal must be cared for as if it were a pelter.  You cannot differentiate between the two.  A breeding program should be oriented to produce the best pelt quality.  And our show system is geared in that direction.  Judges select the top animals based on size, volume of fur, darkness and clarity.  These are the very same areas that constitute a quality pelt.


All animals must be kept dusted regularly – and with clean dust not worn out dust.  The reason for dusting is to absorb the moisture from the fur – like dusting a baby with powder.  Regular usage of the dust consumes the fine and after awhile only the coarse remains.  This should be thrown away.


Grooming normally should begin when an animal is young, possibly at weaning time or 3-4 months of age, by using a coarse comb to just straighten all the fur shafts so that the dust will penetrate and clean. This is the only reason for combing ahead of show time.  As long as the fur remains clean and unmated (by water, urine or dirt) continued grooming is not necessary and actually is harmful.  In all cases of handling the animal for examining, grooming, moving, grading or crating, care should be given as to not frighten or harm the animal or slip any fur.  Excessive jerking of the ear or dangling by the tail is very unnecessary.  It is far better to pick an animal up by scooping under it with your open palm and lifting it off its back legs and then reaching around for its tail.  After gaining experience this type of catching soon becomes very easy.


Fresh air is important as well as is reasonably cool temperatures. Temperatures below 50-55 degrees are really of no great benefit.  Artificial cold rooms with controlled humidity by refrigeration are generally impractical and far too expensive in our area.


The techniques of actual grooming are quite varied across the country.  We have seen all types of utensils from wire brushes to curry combs.  We have seen and heard of back-combing with I have yet to understand.  The most common practice is with the regular Chinchilla grooming comb which is simply pulled thru from tail to head in short easy strokes until all tangles are removed. 


If an animal is of very good fur quality, with dense, silky strong standup fur it really needs very little grooming to straighten the fur out and keep it standing.  This is one of the characteristics of excellent fur – as excellent Chinchilla fur stands straight up.  Grooming at a show, you might say, causes for a temporary improvement of weaker fur.  In the earlier shows no one groomed.  As a matter for thought, I wonder who follows the lady around with a grooming comb to keep her garment looking beautiful. 


One of the best experiences to get a good appraisal of true fur quality (especially strength of fur and density) – go down early on Sunday morning at a weekend show and observe the animals before anyone has combed them.  One would be amazed.  We have heard many comments at shows and from fairly knowledgeable people that this person or that person will not do well at this show because of type of fur.  However, immediately after grooming, the animals take on a whole new temporary appearance.  I believe that it would be an improvement to our show system for better over all appraisals to abolish grooming at a show.  However, today everybody grooms, and to minimize unfair advantage, if one grooms everyone must groom.


Naturally if everything else is equal, the larger animal should win.  Also, if all else is equal, the best finish that day (that is prime, smoothness, eye appear or show condition) will win.  This is even truer of pelts.


Judging for quality or ‘show condition’ has been a subject of contention for years.  They are not completely separable because a quality animal has eye appeal and show condition and finish give an animal eye appeal and a quality animal not in show condition does not have the same eye appeal look as it does when it is totally finished.


We hear a lot of talk these days about inconsistency or judging standardization.  Most of these people who have proclaimed this simply do not understand that an animal changes so much.


We have heard it said “I received a blue ribbon or a color champion or even Grand Show champion at such and such a show by a certain judge yet at a later show with a different judge the animal did entirely different.” 


Animals positively can change that much due to condition (that is state of prime, health of the animal, weather changes or even stress of being shown).  Animals can go from Grand Show Champion to no award and vice-versa in a matter of a show season (3-6 months).  Animals can change color phasing by 2 or 3 phases due to state of condition.  Animals also can change size – not only get larger but get smaller due to possible stress conditions.  Animals will lose veiling on the hips and lose density and veiling in the neck from being totally unprimed or loss of show condition.  This is why a Chinchilla is only shown one season.  Trying to show the same animal year after year against younger primer animals is almost impossible.


Going from one climate to another can cause animals to change or ‘wilt’.  Animals coming from a cold room to a high humid area will be seriously affected.  Even the type of carrier you use can affect the animal’s appearance.  At times a metal carrier can cause an animal to wilt or become damp due to temperature changes from one environment to another. Don’t condemn our show system and the ability to judge animals when the real cause of this appraisal difference is the animal changes not the system of shows or the training of judges.


Showing can be a very rewarding experience if done right and understood.  Competitive shows are the best place to learn.  It is also great advertising of your overall quality.  Competition in shows excite people just as does competition in any other field, be it sports or business.


One needs a system of comparison to see if he is making progress in his improvement.  Only shows can provide this.  Otherwise a rancher will become 'barn blind'.  You must constantly compare with other animals to keep yourself up to date with current industry improvement.  Many ranchers are motivated mainly by the thrill of competition.  They love animals, have good jobs or careers in other fields, have no great interest in being a large full time rancher, but love the challenge of breeding and improving this magnificent animal.  Many of these people have made enormous contributions to improving our product.


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