So you want to get into the glamorous world of show chickens. We congratulate you for making this bold step. But how do you start? What do you do? How do you show chickens?
Lucky for you, we have answers to all these questions. But before we proceed, let’s take it back to the basics.
Understanding Poultry Shows
So, what are poultry shows, and what do they aim to achieve?
A poultry show is an event where poultry farmers, breeders, and chicken enthusiasts can showcase and exhibit their breed stock. So, yeah, it’s like a beauty pageant except with chicken. Often, when people hear about chicken shows, things that pop into their minds are words like “glamor” and “elegance.” But while these aspects are all part of the show, they are not the primary objective.
Why Do They Hold Chicken Shows?
It’s more than just pomp and color; the judges evaluate almost every aspect of the avian contestants (including weight, temperament, and other aspects of the breed’s standards). The primary objective is to educate the attending breeders, farmers, and chicken enthusiasts by celebrating exceptional examples of different breeds.
Other equally important objectives of chicken shows include:
- Breed Promotion: A chicken show is a perfect platform for breeders to showcase their latest and finest. And with those shiny trophies, they are encouraged to do so.
- Education and Learning: You don’t have to be a chicken head to attend or participate in a chicken show. But once you’re there, you can get your feet wet in all matters chicken, including feeding them, raising them, and breeding them; I mean the whole shebang.
- Marketplace and Sales: Some poultry shows offer a platform for breeders to sell their priced birds (mostly on auction).
- Network and Community Building: There is no better place to find players in the poultry industry than a chicken show. You’ll find breeders, vets, farmers, and the plugs to the best food, eggs, and chicks.
And, oh, did I mention that poultry shows are not restricted to chickens alone? There are similar events for ducks, turkeys, and geese. But we’re not here to talk about these birds, are we?
Well, let’s look at the types of chicken shows that you can attend or sign up for.
Types of Chicken Shows
Below are the common types of chicken shows:
- Poultry Shows: Now, these are not restricted to chickens alone. Your ducks, turkeys, and geese can surely tag along.
- Avian Expositions: These shows’ participants go beyond the poultry world into the broader avian community. You can sign up your chickens, but don’t be surprised when you stumble upon ostriches, peacocks, falcons, and the like.
- Breed-Specific Chicken Shows: These events restrict their participants down to the breed. If it’s an Ameraucana show, it’s an Ameraucana show; don’t bring your cochin.
- Fancy Chicken Shows: Now, these are proper pageants, only showcasing the most fabulous in the chicken world. So if you have exotic, rare, ornamental chickens, here’s where you sign up
- Junior Poultry Shows: Even our future farmers are given a chance to showcase their finest. Junior poultry shows are put together for younger participants.
- Egg Show: You had it right; eggs can also be showcased. Here, the things that judges evaluate include egg size, egg shape, egg color, and quality of production.
Preparing for a Chicken Show
So now you know what a chicken show is, and you understand why we go cuckoo for them. And you know the kinds of shows to expect. But how do you prepare for a chicken show?
Selecting the Right Breed
This is the ground zero of showing chicken; you cannot sign up if you don’t have a breed to show. But the challenge is, finding the right breed. You may think, “Easy! I’ll go for the fanciest chicken.”
While this strategy may work for you, it is not the best approach. Below are some key considerations that will help guide your hand:
- Breed Standard: Whichever chicken is stuck in your mind, familiarize yourself with its breed standard. These standards define the ideal characteristics of the breed (including shape, size, color, and plumage). Then select among your stock the chicken that closely conforms to the breed standard.
- Appearance: Beyond breed standard is appearance. How pleasing is this birdie to the eyes? Judges will often fall in love with birds that have glossy feathers, bright colors, and well-defined patterns.
- Temperament: Different breeds have different kinds of temperament; different levels of docility. Even among members of the same breed, some chickens will appear to be calmer than others. Not to discriminate but go for the calmers birds. Aggressive, easily excited, or skittish birds will be harder to train.
- Health: It is critical that your birdie is in top-top shape health-wise. I’m talking bright eyes and full of life.
Just to stimulate your mind, below are eight stunning show chicken breeds:
Raising Show-Quality Chickens
It all starts with quality stock, and to find those, you must track down reputable breeders and hatcheries. Even if you find those, don’t just place your blind faith in their impeccable reputations and good reviews; put the chicks through the wringer, and see if they conform to the breed standards.
But buying top-shelf chicks is only one part of the job. The other challenge is feeding and raising the little rascals. Proper nutrition optimizes their growth, ensuring the chicklings bloom into beautiful show-quality birds. Always base their main diet on commercially formulated feed, then supplement that with fresh fruits, veggies, and other appropriate treats.
Health is also up there on your list of priorities. Commit to all vaccination and deworming programs, not to mention regular checks for diseases and parasites. And always consult a poultry veterinarian in times of the unexpected.
Grooming and Presentation
Even without any enhancements, I’m sure your chickens look great (especially when you choose from the aforementioned eight show breeds). But who are we kidding? It’s a competition, and you want your feather puffs to look their best.
Below are treatments to add to your grooming routines:
- Feather Care: Gently inspect your bird’s feathery coat. Check for dirt, debris, and parasites. As you would your own hair, gently comb through visible dirt with a soft-bristled brush. Also, refurbish her coop, smoothing out prickly metal spikes that may damage her fabulous feathers. Feather conditioners also help bring out that natural gloss that judges drool over.
- Bathing and Washing: Yes, our showgirls need baths. In a shallow bathtub (or basin) of lukewarm water, gently immerse your future champ. Gently massage her feathers with soap to remove dirt. And don’t forget to rinse away the soap residue. Finally, dry her with a dry towel; talk about pampering your chickens.
- Nail Trimming and Beak Maintenance: Our showgirls (and boys) need their pedicures. Unkempt nails and beaks are a recipe for a nasty disaster. The chickens may clash against each other, pecking and plucking each others’ feathers.
Showmanship and Presentation Skills
Whether you like it or not, you are a showman and must carry yourself as one.
Showmanship 101, here are some basic steps that you must master:
- Hold your bird on your dominant hand, ensuring the head of the clucker is facing your body.
- Direct your pointing finger between the chicken’s legs, grabbing its thighs with the rest of your fingers. (or you can place your middle finger between the bird’s legs instead)
- Seek eye contact with the judge.
- Crack a smile
- Listen to the judge; they’ll let you know your next step.
Here’s Bailey Feistener from 4H with a showmanship demonstration:
Practice and Showmanship Techniques
In many cases, the judges will request that you examine your chicken. Practice these steps to showcase the true beauty of your bird:
- Tilt Your Chicken From One Side to the Next: This showcases the overall look and body type of the bird.
- Check the Eyes: Point at your little friend’s eye, waiting for a blink.
- Feel the Comb and Wattles: Comment on the texture.
- Showcase the Head Feathers: Run your fingers through the head feathers, revealing the feathers and skin underneath. Comment on feather color and plumage.
- Showcase the Beak: Run your finger through the beak, also commenting on its texture.
- Show the Judges the Earlobes: Comment on the color in relation to the breed standard.
- Showcase Your Birdie’s Neck Feathers: They will want to see if there are any signs of molting or mite attacks.
- Showcase Your Chicken’s Back: Run your fingers through the feathers. Again, the judges will want to see if there are any signs of molting.
- Check the Tail Feathers: Comment on the color of the feathers in relation to the breed standard.
- Find and Display the Vent: Here, the judges will be checking for any signs of bleaching, molting, and lice.
Posing in a Cage
Your esteemed judges may ask you to pose your chicken in a cage. And when it comes to that, here are a few steps you should master:
- Open the door to the cage
- Introduce the birdie head first
- Once in the cage, rotate the chicken so it faces you
- Set down the bird and pose it (posing style depends on the breed; different breeds have different posing styles)
- Close the cage door, step back, and place your hands on your side
Yes, sometimes chickens are stubborn, and they may break away from the pose. You’re allowed to repose the chicken.
Once the judges are content, you can retrieve your bird in four easy steps:
- Open the door of the cage
- Gently place one hand under the chicken’s belly and the other over its back.
- Grab the bird and take it out of the cage
- Close the door of the cage
Posing on a Table
Posing on a table is much simple; here are the steps:
- Place your chicken contestant on the table so it faces the judge
- Pose the bird as you did in the cage
- Pick up the bird when the judge tells you
And that, dear readers, is how you show a chicken. It may feel overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is the simplest thing you’ll ever do. But there’s only one way to get to that level of proficiency, and that is practice.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch The Foundry.