Chicken Exhibitions and Showing: How to get into a great sport and not feel ridiculous when you start
(from someone who has already been there)
Chicken showing is just like any other type of show. The object is to choose the best representative of the breed or species while also recognizing who has put in the most work to get the best looking bird. So you really shouldn’t be afraid of trying it out. Although I know that when you pull up at big shows and see folks unloading trailers full of birds it can be intimidating. Really when you start talking to folks they are friendly and very helpful. Also you don’t need expensive breeder birds to have fun. Your backyard birds, while they may never win champion of show, will get you along just fine.
Truly the only thing you really need to get started in the sport is a good bird. Some tools and products might be useful later on but you have to start with a foundation. I won’t go into too much detail about good representatives of breed because you can go to any of the breed forums on this site and find lots of descriptions. I will say that at every show the judges are using The Standard of Perfection as their base for judging birds and it is always nice to have a copy of the book to judge your own birds by.
The first step to showing your bird is finding a show. There are tons of good shows out there in every state. The best resource to find all these shows is Poultry Show Central (http://www.poultryshowcentral.com/ ). Their website lists all the shows by state or region. On average I would say you should be prepared to travel at least 2 hours, depending on what state you live in. For all of us lucky folks who live in the great state of Ohio, we (or at least I) usually travel about an hour and a half for any given show. If you are located in California or Alaska you may have to travel a little longer. Most shows are hosted by a group or poultry association that is located in that state such as the West Central Ohio Poultry Club. If you really want to get involved in showing you could join one of these clubs.
After you have found a show you would like to attend you need to register in order to compete. Most poultry clubs have websites or Facebook pages with links to their registration forms, or sometimes they will have you sign up for their mailing list so that they can send you the forms with their show catalog.
In blue I’ve highlighted the general information section. This is where you put down your contact info so that we know who you are and where we can reach you.
In red is the box to check if you are a junior. Most chicken shows do have a junior show. If you are under 18 you can show against the junior class.
In green is the info that you really have to pay attention to. This is where you identify what and how many bird you’re bringing to the show. The first column marked, “Class” simply is asking what size bird you have. ‘L’ stands for Large, or large/regular/standard sized poultry. ‘B’ stands for Bantam or the little guys. And ‘W’ stands for Waterfowl or ducks, geese, etc. Some shows also have pigeon shows in conjunction with their poultry show. Don’t ask me about those, I have absolutely no idea what goes on at their shows. In the next column you would write down what breed or variety it is that you have, for example, “Wyandotte, Silver Laced.” The next six columns are for you to identify what age and gender birds you are bringing. In respect to the columns marked trio I can’t speak much to that as I have never shown trios, I simply don’t have enough birds. From my understanding trios are shown when you have three birds of a kind that look almost exactly alike, and therefore complement each other nicely.
In purple is a box specifically for you to write down what specialty poultry clubs you are a member of, for example the ABA (American Bantam Association), APA (American Poultry Association), or the WBA (Wyandotte Breeders of America). Most breeds or varieties of birds have an associated group. You do have to pay for a membership but usually its cheap, $5-10, if you go to a lot of shows it might be beneficial to get a membership. Firstly associations have informational emails and directories that will help you find new shows, breeders, and help you select better birds for your flock. Secondly associations oftentimes run meets or shows in concurrence with other shows. So if you are at the Ohio National Poultry Show in November you will be competing in that show against all the other birds but also the WBA might be running a show as well just for their members. Instead of competing against all the other birds in the building you are just competing against members of the WBA for the Grand Champion Wyandotte title.
In pink at the top of the page is your entry cost total. Depending on how many birds you are entering you will mark that number in the corresponding line. If you have a particularly huge rooster you may want a double coop so that he doesn’t get his feathers squashed. The number of coops you need you multiply by $3.00 (in this example) to get your entry total. Most entry fees average around $3.00 per bird. So pretty cheap if you aren’t bringing many birds.
The line I have highlighted in orange you do not need to fill out. That is for the show attendants to fill out so that when you come to the show they know what your entry number is. You do not yet know your entry number, you will find that out when you get to the show and check in.
Getting your Birds Ready
Now you have a show to attend, you need to select your birds and get them ready for their big day. The first thing to do is give them a bath. The universally accepted way to bathe a chicken is with three tubs of water. I use five gallon buckets a lot because that’s just what I have. Whatever container you use fill all three with water. Then put dish soap in the first bucket (most people like Dawn), leave the second one plain water, and put a capful of white vinegar in the third. To wash your bird soap and scrub them in the first bucket. If you have a particularly fluffy bird pay extra attention to the fluff around their vent. On my birds this area always attracted a lot of poop. After you have sufficiently scrubbed and gotten dirt off the birds put them in the plain water bucket. Get out as much leftover soap as you can as well as any other dirt. Then dunk the chicken in the vinegar bucket to make sure you have gotten out all the bubbles. After this your bids should be squeaky clean. In fact they will be too clean. That’s why you want to bathe your chickens one week to three days before a show. This is so that they can replenish the natural oils that coat their feathers.
After you have cleaned your birds you will want to give them a once over before you hit the road. Make sure they don’t have any discolored feathers, if they do pluck them. Make sure that if you are showing a clean legged breed (a breed without feathers on its legs) it has no tiny pin feathers on its legs. Some people like to separate birds before the show so that they don’t break any feathers or get themselves dirty again the week before the show. This might be a good idea if you have the space to do it.
What to Bring
Once your bird is ready to head to the show you need to get yourself ready. I have included a list of things that I bring to shows. More professional people might bring more products but the items I have included here will get you through a show just fine. Products will make a good bird stand out but they will not make a poor bird magically beautiful. That said these things are also good to have in case of emergency, like if your bird decides to poop all over her nice clean feathers just before judging. So here is my checklist of thing to bring…
-A bottle of water: this is for cleaning purposes and so that you can wet down your toothbrush. Also it’s always a good idea to bring along a water bottle to fill up your birds water bowl. Most every show though will have a hose or a pump where you can do this though. Bring a water bottle for yourself too, these things get dusty.
-Toothbrush: This is so that you can really scrub those legs and make them nice and shiny.
-Magic Eraser: Sometimes handy for really stubborn dirt.
-Aragon Oil, or Show Sheen, or Product of your choice: This is for your birds feathers so that they look really nice and shiny. Argon Oil is my product of choice because it’s cheap, easy to get, and I usually have it in my bathroom cabinet. That’s because, as many ladies know, Argon Oil is the best for frizzy hair days. In the same way it tames and shines human hair it tames and shines chicken feathers. I know some people like to use Show Sheen (aka the stuff they use on horses to make their coats all nice and shiny). And other people use products meant especially for chickens.
-Vegetable Oil or Baby Oil: Both of these products are meant to do the same job. You apply them to your chickens wattles, comb, and legs to make them look especially dramatic and red. It really does make a difference.
-Paper Towels: This is for general spills and messes. Paper towels or a good rag are always handy.
-Cotton Balls: Useful for applying vegetable oil/baby oil, and for cleaning.
-Cotton Swabs: Also useful for applying vegetable oil/baby oil and cleaning.
-Meal Worms or your chicken’s favorite treat: They’re being nice and strutting their stuff. Let them know they’re being good guys and gals!
-Food/Water Containers: These are nice in case the show doesn’t provide cups or the like to put food and water in. Most all shows will provide some containers but sometimes they aren’t very good ones and I like my containers anyways.
-Food: Bring a small bucket of food for your bird. You can bring their regular layer feed or some people like to bring Show Chow which is specially formulated to give your bird’s nice feather coloring among other things. The downside to Show Chow is that it’s expensive. I like to sometimes bring Medicated Chick Feed to mix in with my bird’s food because, as much as we try to prevent it, a lot of germs get passed at shows. I like the extra line of defense the medication in the chick feed gives me.
-Some spare bedding: Most all shows will provide bedding but if your bird poops on your nice clean bedding and you don’t want them to step in it it’s nice to have a handful of bedding convenient to throw on top of said poop (funny how all my emergency examples keep coming back to poop..).
-Your bird: Please don’t forget your bird.
-Pullorum Papers: Some states/shows require these papers. I know that just about anywhere you go in Ohio you will probably need them. If the show requires them then the entry form might have a line where you write the number of your test result on it. The surest way to know if they require it or not is to check the rules or call the club. I always carry my papers with me to shows, it’s just a good biosecurity practice to get your birds tested.
Yes this may be the feeling you get when you pull up to the show. Just relax, breathe and follow these steps. First find a place to park within easy walking distance of the building, remember you’ll be shuttling chickens back and forth. When you get in the building make a beeline for the registration table. It will be the table with a bunch of important looking people cloistered around it and a line of people holding cages in front of it. Bring your Pullorum papers to the registration table in case they want to check them. When you get there they will ask you your name, using that they are going to find your entry form and your entry number. Your entry number will match up with the number on your cage tag. All the cages have tags on them that list the bird’s breed and variety, but also they will list a number so that we know whose bird it is. Once you have your entry number go ahead and start wandering the aisles looking for your number. The easy way to find it is to look for which show you are in (Junior or Open) then look for which class (Mediterranean, American, or Continental in the case of Large Fowl. Or Rose Comb Clean Legged [RCCL], Single Comb Clean Legged [SCCL], or Modern Game.) If all else fails just look for birds that look similar to yours and start checking tags. When you find your number check the breed that it says to what your bird actually is. If they don’t match up then you need to get a show attendant. Don’t be afraid to ask the show attendants for help if you need help locating anything or with your tags or if you’re just confused in general. Your neighbors in the cages can also be good resources for this as well. Chicken people are pretty friendly, so make friends!
So once you have found your cage get your birds into your cages and start hauling all of your cleaning supplies in. It’s time to get them pretty! Start by scrubbing and cleaning. Scrub and double check legs, pluck bad feathers, get any poop off the vent area, make your bird look clean and presentable. Then apply Argon oil, vegetable oil, and anything else you might like. Make sure your bird has plenty of fresh water. However I wouldn’t give your bird feed just yet. You want your birds to look energetic and showy. If they are eating a ton they will probably lay down and nap. My solution is to throw a handful of feed on the floor of their cage so they have to scratch around and be active to find the food. It also means they can’t gorge themselves because when they find themselves bored and locked in a cage that’s what they’ll do. Once judging starts its hands off, so make sure you’re ready by then.
OK, so now you are in the show and all around you are these weird abbreviations, let me define a couple of the important ones for you:
AOV- Any Other Variety, meaning a variety that maybe isn’t as popular or isn’t in the Standard of Perfection yet. Like Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes.
AOSB- Any Other Standard Breed. This is just another Large Fowl class, it’s for all those birds that don’t fit into any of the other classes.
SCCL- Single Comb Clean Legged, a class of bantams.
RCCL- Rose Comb Clean Legged, a class of bantams.
AOCCL- All Other Combs Clean Legged, a class of bantams.
BB- On a cage tag this means Best of Breed.
RB- On a cage tag this means Reserve of Breed.
BV- On a cage tag this means Best of Variety.
RV- On a cage tag this means Reserve of Variety.
All of the clubs and associations have their own abbreviations and most of the breeds and varieties have abbreviations too but you don’t really need to worry about those.
Well now that you’re here and your bird is being judged you should go walk around! There is a huge variety of birds at shows and you will be amazed at some of the crazy combinations and breeds people have come up with! (Looking at you pigeon people). There is also always a swap or sales section of the show where you can look at some birds that aren’t in the show but are for sale. And of course poultry shows are the best places to network with other breeders. Oh and one last note, if the judge is judging your bird or your row is roped off then don’t go in it. Judges don’t always appreciate people wandering around while they are doing their job.
A pile of chicken at Ohio Nationals 2014
A Polish frizzle at Ohio Nationals 2014
A Phoenix rooster at Ohio Nationals 2014
So now your bird has been judged and they have written some numbers or letters on your tag. If you see BV that means you got best variety, as in your bird was the very best example of its variety (variety meaning color variety). If you see RV that means that your bird was the second best of its variety. BB means that of all the birds in your breed your bird was the very best. And if you are so lucky to have Champion or Reserve Champion written on your tag then congratulations! You have made it to the big leagues. You see each bird has to advance through ‘rounds’ first it is judged against all the other birds of its variety. Then if it gets BV or RV it moves on to be judged against all the other birds within its breed. If you get BB or RB then you move on to be judged against all the other birds in your class if you get Reserve Champion or Champion of your class then you have made it to the bonus round for Best of Show! If you have Reserve Champion or Champion of show on you tag then you get to move your bird (or the attendants will move your bird for you) to Championship Row! Championship Row (or at least that’s what I like to call it) is where all the Champions and Reserve Champions of class move up to be judged for species and show awards.
They will start by awarding best of species award, Champion Large Fowl, Reserve Champion Large Fowl, Champion Bantam, Champion Turkey, and so on. After they have awarded those they will award the Reserve of Show and Best of Show. Depending on what a show has money for they will award ribbons for BV, BB. From Champion of Class and up though there should always be ribbons or trophies awarded and usually also a nice check.
Even if you don’t win it’s nice to hang around the show. Most shows are structured as two day shows with the majority of the judging usually taking place on a Saturday and the Championship row judging happening on a Sunday. Of course that’s not true for all shows but it’s the most common. I would at least suggest staying for a lot of the first day. If your bird doesn’t go any farther than BB you can come back late on the next day and just pick up your bird after all exhibits are released. In the general rules of any show catalog you should see the time at which they are releasing birds. If you take your bird out before that time then you might not receive a show catalog next year, or you might be barred from showing the next year, it depends on the organization. One way or another I would suggest you be ready to grab your bird as soon as they release them because there is no protocol as to check out. Literally anyone could grab anyone’s bird. While I have not yet had issues with theft I would be careful that you grab your own bird and pack them up quickly.
That is the basics of how to get to a show, compete, and be successful. I really, really do hope you all will consider going to a show, we’d love to have you. If you have any questions feel free to message me. And if you ever come to Ohio for a show please say hi!
APA Website: http://www.amerpoultryassn.com/
Poultry Show Central: http://www.poultryshowcentral.com/
-All pictures are my own, however they are not necessarily of my own birds.