Shelby, known to BYC members as Wyandottes7, has been a member of our community since July 2014. Another of our super helpful all-rounders, she will often be found in the What Breed Or Gender is This? forum section, helping members.
1. Tell us a bit more about yourself. (Family, hobbies, whatever personal stuff you feel like sharing)
To begin with, I’m younger than some of you may be thinking, but that shouldn’t matter. I’m part of a small family living in the Midwestern United States. My whole family enjoys chickens. In fact, another of my family members is on BYC too; see if you can guess which user she is.
I’ve been actively involved in a wide range of poultry activities, from my local 4-H club to my state’s large youth poultry organization, to the national Youth Exhibition Poultry Association, from which I’ve received recognition for achievement and my work teaching others about poultry. Along with breeding and raising show quality chickens and rabbits, I’ve also dabbled in many other animal projects, including dairy goats. In the past I’ve done a lot of drawing and some photography but my hobbies are ever-changing. Most significantly, I’ve been involved in a wide range of shooting sports, including Air Rifle, Air Pistol, .22 Rifle, and most recently my favorite, Trap (clay pigeon shooting). I’m interested in experiencing all life has to offer and a wide variety of subjects. I have too many interests to name, but just a few are: Weather, medicine, science, astronomy, gardening, reading, and livestock management. I also have a fondness for writing, as you will see by the length of this interview. Certainly, I have a special passion for poultry and I enjoy helping others learn about the wonderful world of chickens, especially exhibition and breeding.
2. Why and when did you start keeping chickens?
I started keeping chickens in April 2011. My family purchased four chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery to start a backyard flock of layers. Originally I wanted chickens for the delicious fresh eggs and also as pets, since I’ve always enjoyed keeping a wide variety of animals. The first four chicks were a Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Columbian Wyandotte, an “Americana” (which I quickly learned was actually an Easter Egger hybrid), and a “Rhode Island Red” (actually just a hatchery quality “production red”).
Columbie, the Columbian Wyandotte
Easter, the Easter Egger
At first, I didn’t intend on expanding that little flock, and actually couldn’t expand it because, as a town-dweller, I could only keep four hens. I raised them happily for the first year, quickly learning how addicting chickens can be and how entertaining their personalities can become. Like many new chicken keepers, I found it hard to stop with just four.
My interests and overall poultry project evolved over the next year. I became involved in showing chickens through a few county fairs and eventually real open poultry shows. My chicken adventure had begun with pet backyard layers, but it shifted gears to exhibition poultry in 2012. With the help of a friend’s farm, I began raising and breeding White Wyandotte Bantams and Light Brown Dutch Bantams to the Standard of Perfection. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
3. Which aspect(s) of chicken keeping do you enjoy the most?
My favorite aspects of chicken keeping are improving my breeds through breeding to the Standard of Perfection and exhibiting them at poultry shows throughout the United States. I enjoy the constant challenge of creating better, more nearly perfect birds. One of the breeds I work with, the Dutch Bantam (specifically the Light-Brown color variety) is quite rare in the United States. Unfortunately, it has also been extensively crossed with Old English Game and other breeds and there are very few breeders still raising purebred Dutch. I luckily obtained some purebred stock and intend on keeping the breed pure while improving it. I enjoy getting others started in the Dutch Bantam breed and promoting the breed, which is in need of more loyal breeders. My White Wyandotte bantams perhaps come closer to the Standard, but there’s always room for improvement. The line I’m currently raising is very nice though I’m struggling with some problems related to fertility and vigor. My goal this year is to carefully and experimentally outcross to another breeder’s lines to bring in some new blood and counteract some of my birds’ weak traits. Certainly, I believe breeding and preserving purebred exhibition birds to be one of the most worthwhile goals there is.
Exhibiting my show chickens at poultry shows is yet another rewarding experience. It isn’t all about winning; rather, it is meeting all the knowledgeable and kind people at the shows. I’ve met several friends at poultry shows and created memories I won’t soon forget. The camaraderie of exhibition poultry people is truly wonderful to experience.
It’s not as though the actual bird exhibition isn’t enjoyable, however. There’s a certain charm to walking down to your bird’s exhibition cage and discovering that it’s not in there—and then traveling to Champion Row and seeing your bird champion of its class. The same holds true to anxiously watching the judges scribble comments on your bird’s card and realizing that your home-bred bird has not only won champion of its class but also Champion Bantam or Best in Show. The excitement of the judging and exhibiting is just one of the many enjoyable experiences at a poultry show. Every judge has a different opinion, but to see even one judge notice the hard work you’ve put into conditioning your chickens makes the year’s work—from selecting the breeders in the winter to incubating the eggs in the spring to raising the young birds in summer—all worthwhile.
4. Which members of your flock, past and present, stand out for you and why?
I’ve had several memorable birds in the five years I’ve raised chickens. First, there was Columbie. She was the Columbian Wyandotte I first ordered from McMurray Hatchery in 2011. I’ve never been great at naming animals, so consequently her name became “Columbie” (very original for a Columbian Wyandotte, right?). Right from the beginning, I loved that chick. She grew slower than my other birds and kept her chick fuzz for longer. Her mental skills developed at a different rate than the three other chicks, too, but she eventually turned into a lovely, albeit more human-like, chicken. As a young chick, she enjoyed snuggling into my leg, sitting contentedly next to me, and following me around. I taught her how to come when called (she was always very food motivated), and jump onto chairs. She was a little angel as a chick, always skittering along the ground catching up with the other chicks, her white wings flapping very seagull-like. She quickly developed a very spoiled mentality: she always wanted treats and attention. Of course, I couldn’t resist a chick like her and she became my favorite.
Columbie grew up into a lovely Wyandotte with an unforgettable attitude. She isn’t top hen, but she seems to enjoy proving her superiority over the one bird lower in the pecking order than her (my Easter Egger). Her favorite treat is bread, though she generally loses her pieces to the more agile hens (being a rather large, fluffy Wyandotte, she has a hard time turning sharply and being stealthy). At age 4 and a half, she is still laying very well, when she’s not molting. Some people say that Wyandottes aren’t good layers, but Columbie laid 299 eggs in her first production year and continues to lay at least 6 times a week in the summer. She’ll probably stay around as a pet for years to come.
Within my showbird flock, there are definitely some birds that stand out. I don’t treat them quite as much like pets as my backyard laying flock, but some do have names. The first showbird I want to talk about is “Ninety”.
“Ninety” came into my life in spring 2013. After little success hatching eggs from my first Wyandotte pair, I sought some additional birds that I could incorporate into my line and also show. I purchased Ninety as a 3 month old chick. The breeder I got her from didn’t see much potential in her, but I still bought her anyways since she seemed fairly nice and I was really in need of more stock (having started with just a single pair who unfortunately couldn’t produce fertile eggs).
Ninety remained underwhelming until she was eight months old. I didn’t pay much attention to her that summer, since I had Ninety’s sister who seemed much better. Ninety failed to develop very good wings for months. When it came time to send in entries for a major September show, I decided to enter her and an older hen (who I thought would beat Ninety). When I washed Ninety for the show, I suddenly realized that she had really grown up, developing good type and well-finished wings. At the show, I noticed even more how striking her body type had become. I was thrilled when Ninety won Reserve Champion Bantam of the show, though she was just about to begin a molt.
"Ninety" as a two and a half year old hen. This photo was
taken shortly after she won her second Reserve in Show.
Ninety molted that winter and became an excellent hen that spring. As a hen (with one missing wing feather), she won Reserve in Show at a June show in 2014. I didn’t show her for the rest of the year since she was molting and I didn’t want to stress her out unnecessarily if she wasn’t going to win.
Fast forward to 2015 (with Ninety now 2 and a half years old), and she continues to win. Her feather quality hasn’t deteriorated at all since her pullet days and her type remains excellent. She has won one Best in Show, one Reserve in Show, and another Champion Bantam this year. I’m hoping to get many chicks out of her this year. I have to admit, I have not seen a better Wyandotte Bantam, at least in terms of body type, in the years I’ve been showing. I’m sure they’re out there, somewhere, but when I see her broad, rounded skull, tightly set wings, and bowl-shaped body, I know what I’m breeding towards—another Ninety.
Certainly, Ninety has her own special Wyandotte temperament. She’s a dominant bird; if any bird tries to counter her superiority, it gets swiftly put in its place. She commands respect out of all the other chickens and doesn’t tolerate insubordinate behavior. Ninety has a natural ability to show herself well in a cage. When judges walk by, she’s always erect and never flighty.
This is getting kind of long, so I’ll briefly mention some other birds that stand out. Cream was my first White Wyandotte Bantam. She had a unique temperament, much like Ninety. She seemed to love living with cocks. Whenever she’d need to lay an egg, she’ burrow beneath the male (her first mate was “Puff”) and lay it there. Cream’s daughter, Primrose, is another outstanding bird, especially as a showbird. Primrose inherited her mother’s show ability, as well as her loud wailing voice. My main breeder cock, Stalker, is another character. He received his name because of the way he used to sneakily stalk up to the hens as a cockerel. He’s the sire of most of my White Wyandottes right now (Primrose is his daughter).
Cream as a older hen
Primrose as a pullet, after winning Reserve in Show
Stalker as a cockerel
As for my Dutch Bantams, all of them have sweet temperaments. My first Dutch hen, Cinnamon, was a very good bird that actually showed herself well at shows (most of my other Dutch Bantam females become lazy at shows, refusing to spread their tails—not good for judging). She won Reserve in Show at the first show I showed her at. Cinnamon’s daughter, Pip, was probably my favorite Dutch Bantam. She was exceptionally sweet, gentle, and talkative. As a chick she always seemed happy, making high pitched piping sounds, thus I called her Pip. She also had a distinctive “whurrr, whurrr” that she always made when you talked to her. Sadly, she succumbed to a disease a few years ago. Tuck, the first Dutch male I bought, was my main breeder cock until this year. He sired many of my Dutch Bantams including his son, Tux, who I am now using as a breeder. Tuck had an excellent temperament for a Dutch cock and loved his hens.
Tuck-Tuck when he was a 10 month-old cockerel, at his
Cinnamon as a young pullet, enjoying time outside.
My favorite Dutch Bantam, Pip. RIP
5. What was the funniest (chicken related) thing(s) that happened to you in your years as chicken owner?
Many funny things have happened so it’s hard to list just a few. Most amusing, I think, is Columbie’s behavior. She’s very people-friendly and becomes quite distraught when she doesn’t get what she wants. Also, as a chick, Columbie was afraid of sticks. If she found one lying on the ground, she’d step around it very wide-eyed. Sometimes when I crouch down to clean the coop or run, she jumps onto my back. She really thinks she is a dog, I think.
Other funny occurrences have involved my bantam showbirds. I use large hopper style rabbit feeders (actually, they’re called baby pig feeders, but they’re basically oversized rabbit feeders) to feed my showbirds in the coop. As you may know, the rabbit feeders are open on top and that’s where you put the feed. The feed then falls through that rectangular portion into the bottom where the rabbit (or bird) can eat it. The feeder is hung against the wall and most often doesn’t have a lid.
Well, one of my Dutch Bantam pullets was frantically searching for a place to lay an egg. Most of my Dutch Bantams use nest boxes, but occasionally (for reasons I can’t understand) decide they don’t want to use a nest box and just lay it randomly on the ground. One day, this specific Dutch pullet was jumping around, searching for a spot to lay her egg. She flew up onto the rim of the top of the feeder, looked down inside, and then slipped through the top opening, which was barely wider than her body! Fortunately, I was there and somehow managed to stick my hand in the feeder, grab her, and pull her out, unharmed. Needless to say, I’ve made some adjustments so that more pullets can’t get stuck in feeders.
For a brief time, I had two Cochin bantams as pets. They lived in my showbird coop with my other bantams. One of them, of the Brown Red variety, was quite a character. She was very disdainful of other birds, but very sweet to people. “Brown Red” (yes, that was her very original name) always seemed rather awkward. When she’d walk, she’d step on her own profuse foot feathers. Whenever I’d talk to her, she’d respond with an “ooooooohh” noise as though she understood me and was carrying on a conversation. Several times, she flew up onto my arm and stared at me like an overlarge parakeet. One day, I was adding more water to my automatic watering system (buckets of water that lead down, through plastic tubing, to little automatic water cups). I had the lid off one of the buckets. Brown Red normally slept on top of one of the buckets and wanted to fly up there. She jumped and flew (as well as a Cochin can—they’re not very good flyers) to her normal, comfortable, stable sleeping spot. Unknown to her, there was no top on the water bucket. Brown Red plopped right into the bucket where I quickly had to rescue her. She was lucky that the bucket didn’t have any water in it, or she would have been soaked!
"Brown Red" being quarantined shortly after I got her
6. Beside chickens, what other pets do you keep?
In the past, I’ve kept several varieties of pets, including gold fish, betta fish, a cat, and dogs. Currently, I just have the chickens, rabbits, and three new guinea pigs.
Up until October 7th, this year, I kept a cat, Charley. She was a stray that my family found as a young kitten out in the country. We rescued her and she became part of our family. She wasn’t exactly cuddly, but I know that she still enjoyed “her” humans and I enjoyed her temperament and antics. Sadly, just over a month ago, she began to lose interest in food and the vet diagnosed her with kidney lymphoma. We tried prednisone steroid shots to temporarily alleviate the cancer and she had several happy weeks with us due to those shots. However, on October 7th, we made the decision to put her to sleep since her quality of life was beginning to deteriorate. She had been part of my family for 11 and a half years.
My beloved cat, Charley. RIP
For the past two years, I’ve been breeding and showing rabbits. I got started in spring 2014 after my family decided rabbits would make a good animal for home meat production. That plan didn’t work so well, since we soon discovered the wonderful world of rabbit shows and now most of the rabbits (except for unshowable colors or those we can’t sell) are allowed to live. The two breeds I am currently raising are Cinnamons and American Sables. I tried Champagne D’Argents the first year, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as the two other breeds. Right now I only have a small rabbitry but am focusing on improving both breeds, showing them, and promoting the breeds, since both are very rare. I enjoy the raising and the showing of the rabbits. They have great personalities and since I started with good stock they have been doing well on the show table. Currently I have one American Sable buck (Samson), an older American Sable doe (Vixen), Vixen’s daughter (Sheba), Vixen’s younger son (Barclay), a Cinnamon buck from a doe I owned (Leo), a Cinnamon doe also from that same litter (Nutkin), and a new Cinnamon buck that I purchased (unnamed at this point, but I’ll probably call him Pumpkin). Vixen had a litter of four on October 16th. Sheba is due on October 27th and I’m hoping she has lots of babies, since she’s an outstanding show rabbit. I’m hoping to breed Nutkin by the end of November.
My American Sable herd buck, Samson, at a recent rabbit show
Vixen, resting after her first litter in 2014. She is a great mother.
My first litter of Cinnamons in 2014. One of the babies here is Leo and another of them is Nutkin. Hopefully I'll end up with more adorable babies later this year.
The brown kit in the front of this photo is Sheba as a young baby. She's since turned into a beautiful doe that has become a Grand Champion on the rabbit show circuit and is my personal favorite of all the rabbits. Consequently, she has become a spoiled brat that gets a ton of attention.
This summer I got my first guinea pigs. I decided I wanted to experience the challenge of raising another species of animal successfully—and I wanted some sweet pets. Currently, I have two Golden Solid American boars and one Black American sow. I’m greatly enjoying keeping them but I certainly have a lot to learn! Handling and showing Guinea Pigs is quite different from handling and showing rabbits and chickens. All three guinea pigs are still rather skittish but I think they’ll tame down eventually.
7. Anything you'd like to add?
Yes, I do! I want to start by saying that BackyardChickens is a wonderful community that I’m glad to have been part of for the past two years. I never thought I’d play such an active role in it. I don’t even remember how I originally found BYC. I think I was researching chickens (I always enjoy learning more about the animals I raise and a wide variety of other subjects) and happened across the website. I actually lurked on BYC for about six months before finally joining, and I’m glad that I finally did! I’m happy to have helped many new chicken owners, especially in the Emergencies section and the What Breed or Gender is This? section.
I haven’t had time to be on BYC as much this summer as I was in the spring, and have transitioned more to helping in the Exhibition and Genetics section, but I’m still going to try to participate in all the forum areas and make a difference as well as I can.
I also want to add some advice about exhibitors/breeders versus backyard chicken keepers. I know that there historically (at least on some websites—not necessarily on BYC) has been some conflict between those breeding to the Standard of Perfection and those just wanting lovely egg layers or pets. Some exhibitors and breeders that I’ve interacted with (in real life and on other websites) look down on backyard chicken keepers because they aren’t raising “purebreds” or are “crazy chicken people” who make their chickens into humans. And, sometimes backyard chicken keepers criticize exhibitors/purebred breeders about focusing too much on a bird’s appearance or harshly critiquing their pretty, but non-standard, hatchery hen. I don’t believe that there needs to be a hard line in the sand between Standard of Perfection breeders and backyard keepers of healthy, happy laying hens from hatcheries. There’s nothing wrong with a hatchery quality bird: they work great as egg layers, make people happy with their various colors, and are relatively cheap and easy to get. Yes, they may not meet the Standard of Perfection, but for some purposes they are just fine. Not everyone has the inclination to devote years of work to breeding and exhibiting heritage largefowl or fancy purebred bantams. Both exhibition/Standard-bred birds and hatchery birds have their place in the poultry world, and so do their respective keepers. I believe I’m proof of that. I started with four commercialized hens (two of them hatchery mixes) from a hatchery. I thought they were perfect and at first they suited me perfectly; they provided lots of eggs and had good personalities. Then I entered the world of chicken showing, where I learned new poultry skills and gained knowledge about another aspect of the poultry industry: exhibition. Though I’m technically a “backyard chicken keeper”, I have also developed a successful show line of White Wyandotte Bantams and Light Brown Dutch Bantams and am active breeding them to the Standard of Perfection. My conclusion that I hope others see to is that raising backyard hatchery egg layers and raising exhibition standard-bred show birds aren’t mutually exclusive and we should try to embrace both types for their own specific purposes—without claiming that anyone who doesn’t raise our type is wrong.
Lastly, thank you to all BYC members and moderators, who make BYC a better place! I especially want to recognise @TwoCrows, @Yorkshire coop, @NorthFLChick, @Mountain Peeps, and Sumi for being tremendously helpful, kind, and supportive, even if they didn’t realize they were making such a difference.
Best regards to everyone, and I hope you all enjoy reading this interview!
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
~ Shel Silverstein
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
~ Shel Silverstein