Yesterday I tried something I have never done before. I took one of my Swedish Flower Hen pullets to a poultry show at a county fair. One of the neat things about keeping this blog is that it has pushed me to try things I might not have otherwise tried, like fermenting feed, raising my own meat birds and... entering a bird in a poultry show.
When I was younger, I showed horses in Hunter, Jumper and Dressage. Showing horses is totally different than showing poultry... with the exception of showing halter horses (something I've never tried).
(The above is what I did... a LONG time ago!)
In poultry shows decisions are based upon a bird's conformation - the shape of the body - as well as condition and correctness. In the US, one can learn about a breed's Standard of Perfection (SOP) through the American Poultry Association (APA) and various breed-specific clubs.
When it comes to the bigger APA shows, years of good breeding practices, chicken expertise and planning go into competing. The show I went to was not one of those shows. Right now, entering one of those shows with my birds would be like entering a green-broke mule in a Grand Prix jumping competition. As much as I love making folks laugh, that wouldn't be my choice of ways to do it! LOL! (And that's not to say that a mule couldn't jump at a Grand Prix level with years of training... but currently, to my knowledge, mules aren't a recognized breed - or species - at top-rated horse shows.)
My goal in going to this country fair poultry show was to learn something about showing in a low-key environment where fewer people would be likely to laugh at my half-baked efforts. I did some research online and found two very helpful links which I will share at the bottom. Each one had great advice from slightly different angles, so I have compiled some of the suggestions here.
Depending on the show you plan to enter, you can take as many or as few of these suggestions as you care to. Now let me warn you, if your child is entering a 4H show, you should go all-out if you want his/her chicken to have a chance. Those shows can be super competitive!
A Month (or so) Before the Show:
Feed: Make sure you are giving your birds a good, healthy diet! This is a key to good coloration and feathering. Fermenting your feed is a great way to ensure your birds are in top condition year-round. It may even be a good idea to boost protein levels to around 20% for adult birds a few weeks before the competition (unless your bird is prone to being over-weight).
Parasite Control: For top health, make sure your birds are free of external and internal parasites. Regular dusting with wood ash or Diatomaceous Earth is a good, natural way to keep external parasites like lice or mites at bay.
Feeding ground up pumpkin seeds, cayenne pepper, garlic and/or putting Shaklee Basic-H2 Soap or regular blue Dawn dish soap (not the concentrated stuff) in the water will all help control internal parasite loads without the use of toxins and chemicals.
Pull Broken Feathers:
Use needle-nose pliers to pull out broken wing, tail and foot feathers. Pulling out the feather and shaft completely will allow new feathers to grow in without waiting for the next molt.
About 2 weeks before the show, get your bird tested and put the paperwork in a safe place until the show.
Confine Your Show Bird(s):
Many serious poultry show competitors help their birds get show-ready by keeping them separated from flock members in a wire-bottom cage. This is done for a number of reasons. It helps prevent other birds from picking on them and damaging their plumage, it reduces exposure to external or internal parasites and it keeps them cleaner.
Now this is one of the reasons I will likely never become a serious competitor in APA shows. For me, allowing a chicken to be a chicken makes me happy. Dust baths, scratching in the dirt for bugs and lounging with buddies on a sunny day are not on the daily agenda for serious show birds. Many birds seem to do just fine with this kind of life. If you truly want to show in the bigger poultry shows, this is one of those things that you probably need to do to be competitive.
Several Days Before the Show:
Bathe Your Chicken: Yes - you need to do this at least 2 days before the show to give all the down and feathers time to dry thoroughly. Looking around the internet it seems that the highest recommended chicken shampoo is Dawn Dishwashing Liquid. Some folks use buckets of warm water to bathe their chickens, but you can also use your kitchen sink.
The following photos are a dramatization of the steps discussed for the purpose of adding color and interest value to this post.
My 11-year-old took these photos, and I didn't want to be all wet and soapy if she needed camera help.
First, thoroughly wet your bird with warm water. Next, add soap. Be really gentle when you're washing those feathers. Vigorous scrubbing can damage or even break the feathers. You just want to gently work the soap all the way down to the skin using small, circular motions with your fingertips. Please try to avoid getting soap in your bird's eyes!
While your bird is soapy, use an old toothbrush to gently scrub non-feathered legs. If you have a feather-legged breed like a Silkie or a Cochin, you'll need to spend some time gently washing the legs with your hands.
Rinse your bird thoroughly with warm water.
After you have rinsed any soap or bluing out with water, use a mixture of clean, warm water with a few splashes of vinegar in it (white vinegar is probably best, but apple cider vinegar will work too) to rinse your birds again. This will remove any soapy residue that can gather on your bird's skin.
Lastly, one more rinse with fresh, warm water to remove some of the vinegar smell.
Remove your bird from the bath area and wrap it up in a large, absorbent towel. Once again, don't rub your bird vigorously. Just gently squeeze. Then move the towel in the direction of the natural lay of the feathers until you have as much of the excess water out as possible.
Blow Dry: You can use a regular blow dryer to dry your bird. Do NOT use the Hot setting. This can scorch and fray the feathers and even burn your bird. Use a Medium or Cool setting and keep the dryer moving at all times. Again - even on these settings the feathers can be burned or damaged if the dryer is aimed at the same spot for too long.
Once your bird is mostly dry, you can place it in a cage in the sun for a short time to help it dry, provided it is not too hot or cold outside.
Trimming the Beak and Toenails/Claws: Now that your bird is nice and clean, it's time to trim some of those pointy ends off. You don't want your bird to make a lasting impression on the judge with it's dagger-like claws!
Beak: You can use a nail trimmer made for dogs, a fingernail clipper or even wire cutters to carefully nip the sharp point off the upper part of the beak. Don't take too much off! Just the tiniest bit to make the beak less dagger-like. Round the clipped edges by filing with a heavy-duty nail file or a dremel tool.
Nails/Claws: Just like a cat or a dog, a chicken's claws have a sensitive, blood-filled quick in each claw. It is easier to trim the claws of birds with lighter (yellow) skin as the quick is more visible. If you have a dark-skinned bird like a Silkie, you'll have to be cautious and wing it. Have styptic powder (blood stop) with you just in case you nick a quick. Even corn starch or flour will work in a pinch.
And once again, after trimming, use a file or dremel to round any sharp edges.
Pack: Be sure you have a list of necessary items to take to the show with you, and pack what you can ahead of time. Here is a sample list:
- NPIP paperwork
- Pine shavings to bed your bird on after the show
- Water in gallon jugs - How many gallons you take depends on how many birds your taking and how long you will be there.
- Feed - take more than enough to last until you get home.
- Feed and Water Dishes - the type that clip to the side of a wire cage are very useful.
- Hand sanitizer - biosecurity is very important at poultry shows!
- A roll of paper towels for quick cage clean-up before the judging
- Baby wipes for last-minute leg or feather stain clean up
- Vet Rx , Vaseline, Organic coconut oil or baby oil for the comb and wattles. (Some folks will use Vet Rx on the comb and wattles to shine them up and make them nice and red, and then use another oil around the beak, eyes and earlobes.
- Large ziplock bags... because you'll find plenty of uses for them!
Day of the Show:
Arrive Early:Get to the show a bit early to give you time to register, find your assigned cage(s) and allow your bird(s) to settle in.
Biosecurity: Don't touch any birds but your own!
Highlight: Apply a small amount of oil/VetRx to comb/wattles and oil around eyes/ears/un-feathered legs to shine them up a bit and show them off.
Food Considerations: Make sure your bird has a chance to eat and drink a few hours before judging starts. Withhold food and water for about 2 hours before the judging as a full crop can alter the silhouette of your bird's conformation.
Keep it Clean: Do what you can to clean up any droppings in the show cage as quickly as possible. You don't want your bird to step (or even worse) lay down in it before the judge comes around.
Last Minute Once-Over: Check for any stains on the legs or feathers, and pat any ruffled or frayed feathers back into place.
Stow Your Stuff: Don't leave any belongings in or around the cage area. This includes food and water dishes. When the judge comes around, the only thing s/he should see is your bird. Bring a bag and put ALL your stuff in it and take it with you when the show area is cleared for judging.
Have FUN!: Especially if you have kids. Remember that the effort and the experience are the most important parts of showing for children. If you are a breeder and showing your bloodlines as an adult, take it for what it is. Not winning does not mean your birds suck. Each judge will have slightly different tastes and preferences. Sure - the Standard of Perfection is first and foremost, but a tie between two otherwise equal birds will be broken by the judge's individual tastes.
Biosecurity... Again: Your bird may be exposed to disease at a poultry show. After the show treat it as you would a new bird and quarantine your bird appropriately when you return home. (Link)
I had a blast! I went for the learning experience and I took a pullet of a breed that is not APA recognized. Greta is one of my finest Swedish Flower Hen pullets and a real cuddle-bug. I figured with her friendly, laid-back personality she wouldn't get as stressed out as some of my birds might.
In an APA show, a non-recognized breed can not receive awards above a "Best of Breed" type classification... but although the judges at the country fair were APA judges, it was not an APA show.
I can't tell you how shocked I was when Greta took the Champion Pullet honors!
The lighting was poor as it was after 9:00 p.m. when the show wrapped up, so I promised Greta we would recreate her 15 seconds of fame when we got home...
Chicken Glamor Shots!
Here are the links I found very helpful when I was researching what I needed to do to not embarrass myself too badly: