Tuesday, December 3, 2013

There IS Such a Thing as a Chicken Show!

Another thing people don't understand about chickens - 

"What do you DO with them? Eat'em?"

When I say "we breed 'em to show" they look at me like I have 2 heads. (I get this look a lot, so its quite possible I do.) 

"They have chicken shows?" Even people who have been showing sheep or cattle for years find this perplexing. 

Yes, Virginia, there are chicken shows! Well, Virginia itself is kinda slacking off, there is only one annual poultry show in Virginia besides county fairs. Fairs are a little different, they rarely attract the caliber of exhibition poultry that the sanctioned shows do. Also, county fairs are not required to have licensed judges. Shows that are sanctioned by the American Poultry Association and/or the American Bantam Association have licensed judges. To be a licensed poultry judge you have to be a member of the APA, have raised and showed poultry for a number of years, and have gone through the licensing process, which includes "clerking" for other judges and some studying. You have to learn as much as you can about the finer points of all the different breeds, which is a lot of information to take in!

So anyway, in the last 2 weeks we went to the Virginia Poultry Breeder's Association Show and the Forsyth Fowl Fanciers' Dixie Classic. I didn't do nearly as good of a job taking pictures as I should have, (especially because I forgot my camera on the second show) but here goes nothing as I try to explain the world of exhibition poultry!

NOTE: if you have any interest in poultry at all and have the chance to attend a show, please do it! Poultry people are a friendly talkative bunch and we would like to help you learn more about our favorite birds.

Before the show, you have to get your birds in condition and cleaned up. I didn't take pictures while washing birds because they were wiggling and fighting me and I was getting frustrated and didn't want to drown my camera. Condition is one of the harder things to obtain - you can have the "typyist" most perfect bird out there and if they're dirty and they have a bunch of broken feathers, they won't show well and the judge may well overlook them. Shows tend to be in the spring, which is also breeding season, and the fall, which is also molting season. So having a bird in the right condition for showing is tricky and something that I have a lot to learn about!

Birds are judged mainly on two things, their "type", as in their body type, and if they look like the breed that they are supposed to be, and then their color, which makes up the variety they are supposed to be. (and then their condition, which is a little different because condition can affect if they look the way they're supposed to or just a mangy barnyard mutt.) When a bird is said to be "typy" it means that they are built the way that their breed is supposed to look, and their body type is correct. Type is the most important factor. As a saying in the poultry world goes, "you have to build the barn before you paint it." Meaning you could have the most perfect color pattern ever seen, but if the body type doesn't match the breed, it doesn't do any good. You have to have that body type correct before you worry about the finer points of the color pattern. 

So the morning of the show, you get up super early and load up the birds and drive to wherever the show is being held. (Or you can go the night before, but I don't like staying overnight if I can help it. Most shows nowadays are single day events, but some are all weekend or longer.) Once you get there, you find the show secretary, the person who is running the show, and you get your exhibitor number. Then you look for the cages with your exhibitor number on them. The "coop cards" as the tags on the cages are called, will also list the breed and variety of your bird. For example:

Dark Brown Single Comb Leghorn Bantam
Exhibitor 6

So you go over your bird one more time, putting some oil on her beak and comb and legs to make them shiny and clean and smoothing her feathers. Then you put her (and all the other birds you are showing) into their cages and get them feed and water. This is called "cooping-in" and the poultry barn is quite chaotic as everyone bustles to get their birds in. The barn normally opens to coop in around 7AM and everyone has to be done by 9AM so judging can start.  Once everyone is cooped in, the barn looks something like this:
Virginia Poultry Breeder's Association Show, 2013
Judging poultry is a little different than other livestock judging. In most animal shows the owner handles the animal while the judge looks on. In poultry, the owner leaves the bird in the cage and the judge takes each bird out and looks them over. It is considered bad manners to speak to the judge while they are working or to be in the same aisle. Most shows get 2 or more judges to judge a single show, giving them each different categories. Each judge also has a clerk, who marks what each bird got on a clipboard so that the show secretary can tell who gets what award. 

Each gender of each variety of each breed is judged separately, and then all the best of the same variety are judged against each other, and then the best of the varieties are judged against each other, and then the best of the breeds are judged against the other breeds in their category, and then the best of the best are judged to determine Best of Show. The genders are Cock, Cockerel, Hen, and Pullet (for chickens, ducks are Old Drake, Young Drake, Old Duck, Young Duck, etc.) Every breed has different varieties, for instance, Old English Game Bantams come in over 15 varieties. Large Fowl breeds are separated into classes based on where the breed originated - American, Asiatic, Continental, English, Mediterranean, and All Other Standard. Bantams are classed according to breed characteristics - Single Comb Clean Legged, Rose Comb Clean Legged, Feather Legged, All Other Comb Clean Legged, and Game. In the South, Old English Game have their own class because there are so many of them.

All birds are judged by the APA Standard of Perfection, which is a book that the American Poultry Association produces and contains all the details of how the perfect specimen of each breed would look. The perfect specimen doesn't actually exist, it is a guide to strive for.

All this judging takes time, so there are a few other things to do. You can walk around and look at the other birds, talk to your fellow poultry people, peruse the birds that people are selling, or try your luck in the raffle that most of the poultry clubs that put on the shows set up to raise money for their club.

Raffle - lots of chicken stuff here!
So let's go look at the birds in the show!

First up, in the feather legged Bantam class, here is a Bearded Partridge Silkie Hen. Silkies are different because their feathers don't have the little barbs that lock all the fibers of each feather together, and so they are just puffballs! They are very popular because they are so cute, and they are also very tame and make excellent pets and mother hens.

And yes, they do have eyes!

Also in the feather leg Bantam Class, here is a White Cochin Rooster. Cochins are also very tame and sweet (most of the time, some roosters are still onery.) Cochins are from China and the best specimens resemble "feathered basketballs."

White Cochin Rooster
Here is a headshot of a Dark Cornish Rooster, in the All Other Comb Clean Leg Bantam class. Cornish are a meat type breed today, although they have also been used for fighting. They also lent their genes to the CornishXRock broiler cross that poultry producers depend on for fast meat production today.

Whatcha lookin at?
This is a Black Runner Duck. Runners are mostly raised for exhibition and eggs. The ideal Runner is supposed to resemble a wine bottle - this one is pretty close!

Black Runner
 I hadn't ever seen this breed before - the Welsh Harlequin Duck. Aren't they gorgeous?! They are very rare so that is why I hadn't seen them. They are a medium duck - about the size of a Swede or a Cayuga.
Welsh Harlequin Drake

Welsh Harlequin Duck
I was gushing over how beautiful the Welsh Harlequins were when I noticed the duck in the next cage, a White Crested. She kept bobbing her head around and I said "aw, are you pretty, too?" And she posed for me, I swear! Best picture I took all day, too. Here she is! 

White Crested Duck - yes, those are feathers on her head!
 This goose wasn't so cooperative though!

Here is a Black Muscovy Duck. Muscovies are from South America and are the only kind of duck that are not somehow related to the Mallard. They are much bigger and heavier than "normal" ducks, their eggs take 45 instead of 28 days to hatch, and they don't quack. And those warts on their faces are called caruncles and they are supposed to be there!


 Back to chickens, here is a VERY nice Bantam Columbian Plymouth Rock rooster. You may have heard of a Barred Plymouth Rock, this is just another color variety. This rooster is a very nice example of what the Columbian color pattern should look like!

Ever want to have a egg that isn't white or brown? Does BLUE sound good? Here is the bird for you! This is an Ameraucana hen. They really lay an egg with a light blue or green shell. They also have a "beard" which is just feathers around the base of the beak but it looks really cute.

I'm shy!
 This picture does not do this little hen justice. This is a Gold Laced Sebright Bantam hen. She is extraordinarily tiny - a soda can would be about the size of her body! She is very nice in color and type too. Sebrights are different in that the roosters have the same feathers as the hens, they don't get the long pointed hackle (neck) feathers like most roosters. So they are considered a "hen-feathered" breed.
Sebright Hen

 One of the most famous Oriental breeds - the Japanese Bantam. They have very short legs (he's standing up!) and HUGE tails.
Black-tailed White Japanese
 Just as the photo couldn't show how tiny that Sebright hen was, it can't show how huge this Langshan rooster is. The Sebright would only come up to his lower leg! Langshans are a feather legged breed, but not to the extent of some like the Cochins.
Black Langshan rooster
And finally, here is a White Frizzle Polish. Polish are a crested breed, with a large "top knot". Then the Frizzle gene makes their feather sweep backwards like that, and so you end up with a chicken that looks like it should be related to Big Bird from Sesame Street. There is definitely a chicken for everyone!

White Frizzle Polish
After the judging is finally done, the winning bird from each class is taken to a separate row of cages, known as "Champion Row." Thats where the judges make their final deliberations to decide Best of Show, and then the awards are given out. And if all goes right, you end up with something like this!

But if you don't, there's always next show!

1 comment:

  1. Oh you make me miss breeding and showing chickens Betsy! I need to get back in to that one of these years...I really did love it :).