I've only had chickens for a few weeks, but I can already see that the World of Chickens is way, waaay more complicated and fraught with controversy than I would ever have imagined! So. My question is about the whole business of "show quality" vs "ordinary" chickens, and what the general trends in this area might be. I've been spending a lot of time on this forum, and I really like to look at the pictures - especially of the "SQ" birds, which kind of remind me of hothouse orchids. They're gorgeous, of course, but I can't help but wonder: are these birds as productive and hardy as "ordinary" chickens? Are their traditional breed characteristics being exaggerated for the sake of exhibition, at the expense of more practical virtues? Some of these animals look quite artificial! I ask this because over-breeding and exaggeration is very prevalent in certain breeds of horses, and the overall effect on these breeds has not been positive. (I'm thinking here of those freakish Arabians that never leave their stalls, or the halter-bred Quarter Horses whose conformation makes them completely dysfunctional in real life, or even of the Miniature Horses bred so small they become deformed.) Dog people tell me that the same thing has happened to show dogs (witness the GSD!) so now I'm wondering about chickens. ~ Are there competitions that judge utility and overall hardiness, or is it always about looks alone? ~ Are the Heritage Breeds less prone to this kind of thing? ~ What if you'd like to have pretty, but productive, free range farm chickens? Is there a middle ground somewhere - something halfway between homely mutt and blow-dried poodle? Thank you!