Judge & Show Etiquette


Behaviour prior to the show – judges should be conversant with the timetable of events, number of classes and championship awards.  They should not look around the sheep lines, view a catalogue, nor speak to exhibitors.  At very large shows e.g. Royals, it would be preferable if the judge did not exhibit sheep or view large shows that come close to their main event.


Behaviour at shows – judges behaviour whether judging or exhibiting, should be exemplary and beyond reproach at all times.  Judges not adhering to these guidelines may be removed from the judges list.

Dress – gentlemen should wear a jacket and tie at county level, preferably Zwartbles.  No white coats which should help to distinguish the judge from competitors.  Waterproof clothing should be ready.  The judge should command respect and therefore should always look smart.  Lady judges should also look smart, but practical; long skirt, culottes or smart trousers.  No denim jeans to be worn by either male or female.  Judges not adhering to the proper dress code will receive a warning and may be removed from the judges list if this warning is ignored.

Mobile Telephones – ensure that your mobile phone does not ring during judging.  If you are awaiting an urgent call then leave your phone with the steward or someone outside the ring.

Stewards – good communication with your steward is essential.  Hopefully they will be conversant with sheep and therefore of great assistance on the day.  Meet with your steward for coffee before judging starts and discuss with them the number of classes, prizes, timetable, any anticipated problems etc.  Always be conversant with the prize list before you start judging; do your homework.  If you have not been sent a prize list before the show, make sure you obtain one (not a catalogue).

Use your steward to direct the sheep.  It is their responsibility to check that the correct category sheep are put before you in each class.  Inform them of any requirements you may have i.e. make sure gates are available to enable you to let sheep loose.  Study the ring before judging starts; if there is an incline always ask the steward to face the sheep up the hill.


How do you start?

Always watch the sheep as they enter the ring, a great deal can be learnt from those first impressions, before breeders have had the opportunity to set the sheep up.  Study the sheep well when they are lined up; do not be in a hurry to handle them.  Walk along the line, back and front and make a mental note of sheep that appeal to you.

Remember the spectators, always give them a good view of the sheep and if necessary alter the way the sheep face for the second line up. Do not crowd the sheep up to the fence.

How quick should you be, how do you cope with very large classes of sheep, should you always handle every sheep?

Some shows will have very large classes.  You should handle all sheep as a courtesy to the exhibitors who will after all have spent a considerable amount of time preparing their sheep for the show.  Move forward sheep that you like, as you find them so you don’t have to handle sheep more than once.  Be aware of the time scale, don’t waste time but be consistent and thorough.

How do you handle sheep, which parts of the anatomy do you check and assess?

Follow a set routine when handling the sheep; this will ensure that you check everything on all animals.  Check all points including testicles and udders.  Do not handle loins too roughly.  Check behind shoulders and between front legs for over fit sheep.  Split fleece on the side to check length.  Sheep that haven’t been shorn, just dressed back, breach ZSA rules and should therefore be placed down the line.

A good idea is to line up all the sheep facing lengthways so that comparative length and body depth can be assessed.  This also gives the spectators a good view of the sheep.  Be aware of the breed standard with regard to markings.  If at a County or Royal Show be prepared to place sheep not conforming to breed standard at the bottom of the line.

Infectious and Contagious Diseases

If judges discover an animal with an infectious disease such as orf, ringworm or caseous lymphandentitis then they should request the steward to have the animal sent back to the pen.  This should be done with as little fuss as possible.  Try to include the animal with others that you do not wish for the short draw.  Alternatively, it should be placed at the side of the ring until the conclusion of the class.

Do you loose sheep?

Judges should always let sheep run loose as this is the best way to see them move naturally and is also the best way to detect sheep with weak pasterns.  It is unnecessary to loose more than the top 8/10 sheep and only 4-5 should be let go at any one time.  It is a good idea to loose one and then ask the next handler to loose his sheep so that the 2nd animal runs to join the first.  This can be repeated and allows the judge to see each animal move by itself.  Beware with senior/shearling rams, especially later in the season as they tend to fight or jump on each other and little can be seen.  A stick should be carried at this stage to move sheep so that you can see feet and legs.

Ensure the ring is secure before letting animals loose.

Showing animals led on a lead or collar may be normal on the continent, but does not show the movement of the animal at its best and may also just end up with the animal being dragged around by the exhibitor.  This is of no use to judge or spectator – remember, whilst you are judging the animal, spectators may also be interested in the animal commercially.


What is your next step in arriving at your placing?

Judges by this time should be arriving at their placing.  Letting sheep loose and turning them length ways should all be tools to help you make up your mind.  Use these techniques at the most helpful time in order to make decisions between animals.

What do you do if all the sheep in the class are not really your choice?

Judges must remember they are not there just to pick out an animal they would like – they have to give consideration to all the animals placed before them.  Even if nothing is a real ‘topper’ they have to choose the animal they think is the best (albeit of a bad lot) and take it from there.  You will find classes of very good sheep easier and more enjoyable to judge.

Presentation of animals

Trimmed or untrimmed is acceptable, beware particularly with trimmed animals the potential to hide stray white markings within the wool.

Championship classes

Only the first prize winners in each class should be brought into the ring.  These should be lined up by the steward in class order.  Second prize-winners should be ready to bring forward should you require the second prize winner to your champion.  Check with the steward what is required in the championship; whether there is an award for female and male or just champion and reserve.  Make sure everyone around the ring knows which sheep you have awarded the championship to; pull the sheep forward, lay your hand or stick on its back with a bit of a flourish.  Always award the champion ticket first; then your reserve.

Interbreed classes

Judges should consider the interbreed class when choosing their champion.

A good, strong sheep will always stand a better chance against other breeds.   However, this should be the sheep you consider the best on the day.

Ownership and breeding

If sheep that you have bred are presented, these should be placed to one side and judged by an independent referee.  It is the responsibility of the exhibitor to declare ownership to the show/steward.  You should judge the sheep put in front of you and not concern yourself with any breeding details.

Communications with exhibitors

The rule of thumb should be “pleasantries during – commentaries afterwards”.  Be courteous and say good morning but do not enter into conversation with exhibitors.  If someone tries to tell you the life history of their sheep – ignore it and walk away.  You may ask the birth date of lambs.  Be available to discuss your placings after showing has finished. – some shows may ask for a ‘commentary’ style reasoning for placings at the end of a class.

Show and sales

Judges should adopt the same routine and level of checking at pre-sale show classes as for a Royal/County show.  However it is acceptable at the more commercial events for sheep to be presented in more natural conditions i.e. less trimming.  Allowance for this should be made in the placings.  Judges should pick what they like and not try and interpret likely market demand.


Members who would like to become judges must attend a ZSA judge’s training   day where they will be assessed by a master judge.

The member must first of all complete an application form and forward it to the ZSA Secretary.

The member must have been a member of the ZSA for a minimum of three years and have owned sheep for at least ten years.

Members must have attained the age of sixteen (16) years before being considered.

The ZSA aim to hold a judges training/assessment day every other year provided there is a demand for it.

There must be a minimum of five and a maximum of eight members before a training day will take place.

The ZSA will endeavour to choose a location which is convenient to most, if not all of those attending.

The master judge will forward a report to the ZSA secretary outlining the performance of each member attending.  Council will then decide whether or not that members name is placed on the judges list.

Each member attending the training/assessment day will receive a letter from Council informing him/her of the outcome.

Any member who was unsuccessful will be given reasons for their failure and advised which areas they need to improve upon.


Updated: May 25, 2021 — 3:17 pm