Going to your first poultry show can be exciting, but somewhat nerve-wracking. What am I supposed to do? How do I “show” a chicken anyway? Where do I go, and when? What do I do when I get there? What will the judge do/say/think about my birds? Believe me, it seems complicated at first, but it’s really easy once you know the routine, and a lot of fun! Chicken people are great to show with, and chicken shows are much easier than almost any other kind of animal show. All you have to do is get your bird in the cage, the judges and clerks do the rest! But there’s a lot of preparation to do. But even before you’ve gotten your birds conditioned and prepped, there are some things you need to do. The first is to determine the date and location of the show you want to attend. An easy way to find out info about poultry shows is to subscribe to The Poultry Press, which is the monthly newspaper about the exhibition poultry fancy. It’s a great resource for show info, as well as informative articles about poultry husbandry. Two great magazines include Fancy Fowl and Backyard Poultry, which have lots of great tips and tricks for both the newcomer and the seasoned shower .Once you figure out which show you want to go to, you need to obtain an entry form and/or show catalogue. The entry form is key, you need to fill it out fully and have it back before the deadline so that the show secretary can determine how many birds will be at the show, and make cage cards for them all. So let’s say you’ve filled in your entry form, sent it off, and it’s the day before the show.
Before the Show
Every bird will need its feet and legs thoroughly scrubbed clean in warm water before showing. A cocktail stick or nail file can be used to very carefully and gently remove any remaining dirt from under the scales. Coconut oil, available from health food shops can be applied to the legs and will stop the dirt getting back under the scales, it also helps to keep the legs free from scaly-leg mite. When it comes to full washing, even dark colored birds may need some washing for show. Either washing-up liquid or baby shampoo is usually used. The birds are dunked (up to the head) in warm water, lathered (brushing feathers away from the head), rinsed thoroughly, and initially towel-dried and finished either in front of a fire or with a hair dryer. The birds will usually enjoy the experience if it is done carefully and thoughtfully. It is best to wash birds at least a week before a show to allow the natural body oils to return to the feathers. Put the birds in a clean show pen in an area with lots of human activity to get them used to the bustle of a show. The transition from free-range or outdoor pen is so much easier if the bird is tame and used to being handled. The legs and feet may need cleaning again in the run-up to the show. If you can only wash a bird the day before a show, make sure it is completely dry before you box it otherwise the feathers will stick out at all angles. Always try to use boxes for transporting the bird to the show that are slightly big so that the birds have enough room both to keep cool and to turn around which ensures the bird is comfortable and will not damage its plumage. The most popular method is to use cardboard boxes as they are disposable after use, readily available, and come in a host of sizes. Other have custom-made wooden boxes which must be cleaned after each use. Whatever is used, remember to ensure the box has sufficient ventilation holes.
Some shows are one day, and some are two days For a one-day show you might want to drive there early the day of, but be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to “coop in” your birds Before you leave, be sure to grab your health forms. Most poultry shows require entrants to be tested for Pullorum /Typhoid, and some require testing for Avian Influenza as well. That info will be in the show catalogue. Most states have a testing program (which varies from state to state), which will fall under the State Veterinarian’s Office. You will need to call your State Vet several weeks before the show date to find out what you have to do to have your birds blood tested before the show. Once you’ve had that done the paperwork is usually good for between 30 to 90 days, so should serve you for the upcoming shows.
At the Show
Ok, you’ve got your paperwork done (entries, health forms), got your birds prepped and packed up, and are off to the show. First thing to do is check in with the show secretary. They will have a list of exhibitors, each with their own number. This number will tell you where to put your birds. Figure out your number, and then go and find your cages. Cages are set up according to Classes (American, Continental, English etc. for Large Fowl; Single Comb Clean Legged, Feather Legged and so on for Bantams.) Once you find the Class in which your bird belongs, you’ll see the Breeds (Dutch Bantam, Silkie, Buckeye, and so on.) Breeds are broken down further by gender: Cock, Hen, Cockerel, Pullet. So look for the cages that have your number on them, in the genders and breeds and classes for each of your birds. Note that some shows require leg bands on each bird, and put the leg band number on the specific cage, others just designate exhibitor numbers and let you decide in which cage to put your specific bird. Once you’ve figured out which cages to put your birds into, there are a couple of things to do before you pop them in there. You might want to make sure there are enough shavings in each cage, most shows are very generous with shavings, but it isn’t a bad idea to bring a bale of your own just in case you’d like to put some more in (especially important for feather legged breeds.) You will see water cups in each cage, and again, it’s a good idea to bring some extras just in case, as you may wish to put feed in one cup (rather than scatter it on the floor) and water in another, which is more important for two-day shows than one-day shows. (Note it’s best not to give birds too much food to eat before showing, having a full crop ruins the look of a sleek, show-ready bird. So hold off on food before judging at a one day show, and give small amounts the night before a two-day show.) Bringing your own food and water is always a good idea, just in case. Some caveats about cooping in: it is considered bad form (and against ABA/APA rules) to enhance the cages your birds are in so as to distinguish your birds from other peoples birds. So don’t write your name on any cage cups, don’t put up opaque barriers between your birds and those next to them (clear plastic can be used, but it’s important that the judge can look down the aisle and see all the birds.) As well, it is never ok to bring birds that are sick or have parasites to a show, it’s not fair to other exhibitors, and you may wind up having to remove your birds and go home if the show superintendent or judges discover it. once your cages are set up, take each bird out and look it over before putting it in the cage. You may want to check its feet for dirt, give its feathers a going over with a clean cloth (some folks use silk to shine their birds up well), inspect its eyes and nose and beak and toenails and vent to be sure everything is perfect before judging. Then when you’re sure the bird is ready to go, pop it in the cage, and go onto the next. When all the birds are cooped in and watered, your work for now is done! Go find a cup of coffee or a cold drink, introduce yourself to some others!Make sure that your birds are penned in time for judging and a little oil, Vaseline, or hand cream, rubbed on the comb, wattles and legs will spruce the bird up. A silk handkerchief is said to be good for imparting a shine to the feathers, but it is obviously far more enduring to have the shine there through good feeding and management in previous months. Birds are not normally fed or watered in show pens before judging as this can change the correct outline or create dirt and droppings, but take food in the form of grain (firmer droppings) to a show plus water in a container suitable to pour into containers for the bird. Not all shows are of sufficient duration to enable stewards to feed and water birds. Water containers are sometimes provided but it is advisable to take a two-hook cup drinker or a small plastic container which can be wired, pegged, or fixed to the pen so that it does not tip over. After judging has been completed you should feed your birds and check their water. Your birds will be required to remain at the show until the stated lifting time. This period is usually a good time to talk to the judge or other fanciers and learn more about the birds on display and why the birds have been placed in a particular order.
With luck, you’ve won something! Awards and trophies are given out at the end of the show, and if you’ve won one, your exhibitor name will be called out and you can go up and collect your winnings. But even if you didn’t win the first time, don’t be disappointed, it’s a learning experience, and with luck you’ve met some other people who work with the breeds you do, and asked them questions and looked at their birds. Breeding good birds to win shows with takes time, and practice, and hatching a lot of birds! Once you win that first trophy it will make the hard work feel like it was all worthwhile. And in the meantime, you’ll have fun learning and showing.
After the Show
All show birds should be kept separate from your other stock for a week just to make sure that they have not brought something contagious home from the show, or that the stress of showing has not depressed their immune systems, allowing the entry of disease. A bit of cosseting after a show may well mean that a particular bird can be shown again soon, or return to the breeding pen in a fit condition.
Best of luck!