Beating the Rest - Top Showing Tips

Micheal Sanderson 14k

Showing ferrets is becoming an increasingly popular pastime, writes MICHAEL SANDERSON. People often start simply out of curiosity. They hear about a show in their local area and go for a day out. I first started showing more than three years ago. I only had two ferrets but, after attending just one event, I was hooked!

The early stages of a showing career are often the most important because it is then that you choose the ferrets to show in the future. These will determine your overall success.

Any ferret has the potential to do well at a show. Some have natural perfection - they are born with excellent bodily proportion, bright eyes and a brilliant shape. These will be consistent winners. Others are still perfectly capable of winning shows but their success depends more on coat condition, nails, teeth and behaviour. These ferrets will often do well for a couple of months before dropping back.

When I bred my first litter, I chose two ferrets with excellent natural shape and this was reflected in the kits. There was just one hob in the litter, Logun, who became British Supreme Champion at his first show as an adult ferret. His sister Sovereign won the reserve award at her first show in Hull. Logan's other sister Falcon won her first show at the age of one and Bramble has had a string of first places, as have all the others.

Soon after breeding my own litter, I took in a rescue ferret called Amber. She is very petite and not exactly the best shape but her coat is outstanding and her nails and teeth are maintained excellently through regular care and attention. At her very first show, she took the best in show award. This was only a month after being rescued. She came to me starving, almost completely skin and bone, and in terrible condition. This is a perfect example of how any ferret can beat the rest if given proper care.

Dr June McNicholas (left) and Sheila Crompton judging at Todmorden Show 13k Factors such as coat condition and the state of the teeth are determined by diet. The best way to ensure a perfectly balanced diet is to feed complete ferret biscuits. These will ensure a healthy coat and provide all the vitamins and minerals needed for bright eyes, and lots of protein for muscle tone. They do however have their problems. Feed a ferret solely on dried biscuits from being a kit and within a year or two its teeth can be almost completely brown and it will no longer be good for showing. In the wild, polecats' teeth are maintained by the bone and fur they consume as part of their natural diet. Bones also provide calcium which strengthens teeth, preventing breakage. Calcium and vitamin E are the most common deficiencies in ferrets. Vitamin E can be obtained by feeding liver. Meat on the bone must be fed to maintain teeth, in the form of rabbit or raw chicken wings. Animal fur provides a 'grip' for the intestines and keeps the digestive system functioning healthily. Rabbit is therefore a recommended part of your ferrets' diet. Feathers have the same benefit as fur so pigeon and crow are useful. And don't overdo the portions! All the ferret's ribs must be felt when handling, as long as they are not seen. A regular splashing of Ferretone on your ferret's meal will boost coat condition.

A busy scene at Hull & East Riding Open Ferret Show 36k Your ferret's eyes need to be bright and free from any kind of discharge. Using dust free shavings will prevent discharge as dust causes the eyes to water. A thick bed of shavings is also recommended because this keeps the feet clean and free of dirt.

One of the biggest problems I see when judging ferrets is nails that are cut far too short. Ferrets need their nails; they are a major tool. Nails should curl round and almost touch the ground when the animal stands on the flat of its foot. The other major problems are teeth and weight. Weight also affects the overall shape of the animal and many overweight ferrets do not have the arched back that judges so like to see when the animal stands. Ferrets should be slender and arched, with no pot belly!

Here are a few points to follow to keep your ferret show-worthy:

Always include fresh meat and bones in the diet. This cleans teeth and also strengthens them by providing calcium. Feed rabbit and chicken wings but beware that bones found in meat such as beef are too strong for your ferret's teeth and will break them.

Complete ferret food and the occasional supplement of Ferretone will keep your ferret topped up with vital vitamins and minerals.

Use Frontline for cats to ensure the coat is free from parasites. A show ferret's coat must be totally free from fleas, ticks, etc.

Use a thick layer of shavings to keep feet clean. It will stop your ferret getting foot rot, a condition caused by damp living quarters. It will also stop dirt getting into your ferret's coat. Make sure the shavings are dust free as dust will irritate the eyes as well as the respiratory system. It will also clog ears and stick to the liquid secreted from the hob's sebaceous gland causing yellow clumps to form in the coat. Dust also encourages mites, identified by constant scratching and black debris in the ears.

Use a wet wipe to clean ears. A cotton bud will drive wax back into the ear.

Keep your ferret slender to ensure good shape and a good arch.

Keep your ferret well handled. Judges will disqualify a biting ferret! Give a small meal before the show to ensure the ferret is content.

Use a flea comb to brush your ferret's coat. This removes dust and dirt.

Richard Jessop, chairman of North Notts Ferrets, judging at Moorgreen Show 18k A drink of cold tea twice a week is supposed to be good for the coat but none of my ferrets will touch it! Try a raw egg instead. The ferrets will love it but do not feed too often as it will cause hair to fall out.

Wake your ferret up a while before it's due to be judged - the ferret should be alert and not half asleep!

Ensure your ferrets are transported properly on long distances to shows. Large ventilated carriers and a constant supply of water will prevent heatstroke, a killer with ferrets. A spray bottle is always handy if it's hot.

Above all, don't be put off if you don't do very will to begin with. I received nothing at my very first show, yet a few months later I'd won the Hull & East Riding Open Show and the British Supreme Champion award. Since then I've won many more shows with my ferrets, received tonnes of rosettes and a vast collection of trophies. Now I've turned to judging and have the honour of writing for Ferrets First magazine. You can make it too.

(From Ferrets First Issue no. 13 August/September 2003)

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