I see it all the time. "I've got a show this weekend, how do I whip my bird into shape?" We have all been there at one point or another. A beginner ready to wash their favorite hen for the first time. The truth of the matter is, it takes a lot more than soap to get a chicken show-ready. To do her justice, show prep must begin in the brood pen.
She needs quality feed to start her life. While there are feeds for the developing stages, I like to feed the same from hatch to lay. Chick Starter, Meatbird, or Gamebird/Showbird are my favorites. Each of these have 20% protein or more. Once the pullets start to lay, I like to give them an 18% breeder ration.
Some breeders like to give feeds without the added calcium, and give Oyster Shells on the side. Why? Because the extra calcium is needed only for the production of eggs. We all know roosters do not lay eggs, right? Well, making this nutrient optional is just one way to make life a little easier for the boys.
Unless you are breeding, keep the hens and roos separate. An overzealous rooster can tear out a hen's back feathers in a matter of days. This is the method I use. I can give the hens their 18% breeder ration, and the boys can snack on calcium free feeds.
White birds need special feed. Yellow corn is a big no-no, because it will turn a their feathers brassy. Excess sunlight, animal fats, and some oils can also do this.
Good daily care is vital. Not only are you getting the birds used to you being around, but you are getting used to the birds. You are more likely to notice a limping chicken, an empty feeder, or a potential threat. Keep roosts low to prevent Bumblefoot, keep waterers clean, keep bedding fresh, ect.
Here is a mistake I made just this year: if you plan to show your birds this year, don't clip their wings!
I'm banging my head time and time again for doing this. Feathers can be plucked six weeks in advance of a show, but did I just cut a few feathers? No, of course not. I cut the whole wing. Don't be like me. Put a top on your run instead.
Now, the hens are grown, and you want to show. Great! But even grooming starts sooner than a week before the show. Do some research on your breed, and pick out a few of the best to show. Double-check for illness, and maybe add some extra vitamins and electrolytes to the water. Change in feed is usually unnecessary if you give quality feed in the first place. Treats can be used as a supplement, however.
Black oil sunflower seed gives a nice shine to the feathers, but may cause a white bird to yellow. Cat food is a popular additive, as are Calf Manna pellets. Mealworms add a bit of protein, and scratch grains firm up stools to keep butt fluff clean.
As mentioned, you can pluck feathers about six weeks before the show, and they will grow back shiny and new. Some like to spray their chickens with horse sheen spray to keep the feathers supple and prevent breaking. The day of the show, however, I think Olive Oil is less greasy.
NOW we wash. I have been recommended Dog grooming products from Chris Christensen, horse products, and even human hair products before. It all depends on what works for you. If you are going to employ some trial-and-error, do on your non-show birds first, always keeping them out of the face and eyes.
Here is an article with photos on how to bathe: http://www.poultryshowcentral.com/Show-Prep.html