Show offs: essentials of poultry showing for beginners
Showing adds an extra dimension to poultry keeping outside of the supply of eggs and/or meat or pet elements that may be your first motivation. It can be a bit daunting for the newcomer but although there are rules and protocols to follow, as you would expect in any form of competition, it is an exciting aspect of poultry keeping and a good opportunity to meet other interesting and knowledgeable keepers to boot.
Enter the right class at the right time
It may seem obvious but the first thing to ensure is that you enter by the specified closing date and in the right class. Double check both and if you are unsure talk to the club secretary who will be happy to help you with either. There are no late entries and you will be immediately disqualified if your bird is classified incorrectly.
Do your research
If you are new to showing or are experimenting with different breeds it pays to do your research. All pure bred birds will have a standard specified by the Poultry Club of Great Britain and documented in the official British Poultry Standards book. The book is quite expensive new but as standards rarely change dramatically an older copy is a good start for reference and may be cheaper.
Each bird is judged on the standard criteria with differing amounts of points available for different aspects of the bird such as type, colour, head/wattles and comb and temperament. No bird is perfect but try to favour birds which have attributes that can score highly in the big point sections.
Your birds will need to be good examples of type to stand a chance in an official PCGB affiliated show so before anything else your stock needs to be bred from good lineage. Breeding and genetics is a complex subject that is way beyond the remit of this article but when buying stock or hatching eggs research is, again, key. Your best resource for breeders and for information on recent changes to standards is the breed association, club or society for your particular breed.
Show at the right time
Some breeds mature earlier than others so, make sure you are showing them when they are likely to be at their best. For some this means just around point of lay in their first year for others it may be a much as 2 years or more. Cockerels can take longer to reach standard than hens. Decide what shows you will be attending and you can plan your hatching and/or preparations around that.
It goes without saying that a happy, healthy bird is essential to achieve the best results. Make sure they have the best environment possible and a suitably balanced diet at the appropriate stages of their development. It is not necessary to feed ‘special formulas’ just the right balance at the right time – luckily the science has already been done and a full range nutritionally balanced feeds are freely available. TIP: White birds are especially susceptible too yellowing of the feather if exposed to the sun or fed maize, they should be kept in covered runs to minimise this effect.
This generally means getting your birds used to the show environment. They will be penned for long periods in an often busy and noisy environment with unfamiliar people handling them so some conditioning for this is essential. Get them used to being penned by placing them in something that mimics a show cage such as a dog crate, preferably in a busy or bustling area. Handle them regularly and get them used to being inspected as a judge would – he will hold them in usual fashion supported in the palm of his hand with legs held between the fingers. TIP: Try to encourage your birds to come to the front of the cage when being viewed as this projects a good air of confidence to the judge. Train them with titbits.
Handle your birds regularly as a judge would so they are accustomed to the inspection
The best way of show conditioning both your birds and yourself is, of course, showing. Perhaps start with small local shows before progressing to bigger events and in any case this is a good idea ahead of a big show. This is also a good place to see first hand what birds are winning shows and why they stand out from the others.
As the show approaches
Check the condition of your birds, they need to be within weight guidelines, fully feathered and free of lice and mites – it would be very poor practice to take a bird with any type of infestation to a show.
Washing and grooming
Most birds will benefit from a wash. This can be done anything from a week to 2 days before the show depending on breed. Check what is considered the best interval to allow plumage to naturally oil and return to its best. Some may just need feet and legs washed – you should do this before every show for all breeds – and others such as hard feather varieties need little washing as this may serve to soften or damage the feathers. The article here explains how to go about washing and you will find that many birds quite enjoy the experience and will happily sit quietly while being washed and blow dried. TIP: make sure beaks, toenails and spurs are cut and rounded off where necessary to save any unnecessary scratches to yourself or, more importantly, the judge.
Final preparation: rounding toe nails, beak and spurs
A word of warning – although most showers may pluck tiny feathers on the legs or feet for neatness or the occasional non-conforming feather, it is a thin line between acceptable preparation and cheating. My suggestion is if you are tempted to try adding or removing feathers, colouring combs or any one of the other ‘tricks’ you may have heard about, just don’t. It will be spotted and you will be disqualified.
The night before
After one final check your birds can be popped into whatever crate you have prepared for transport. This can be anything from a cardboard box through to custom built affairs. What matters is that they are big enough for your birds to move around in comfortably and that they are adequately ventilated.
Check your show kit contains essentials such as food and water along with containers that can be easily clipped to the pens, oil for last minute application to legs, wattles and combs, cloths, wipes and padlocks or zip ties and a silk scarf for a quick buff of the feathers especially for hard feather varieties.
At the show
Get to the show in plenty of time and check in with the secretary who will direct you to your pen/s and issue your number. Make sure your birds are penned at least half an hour before judging or as the show rules stipulate. TIP: Pen birds head first with wings held down to avoid damage to feathers or injury before you even start.
You would not usually feed or water birds before judging as this can affect their shape and cause excess droppings. You should stay in the general vicinity of your birds before and while judging takes place – perhaps taking the opportunity to talk to other experienced keepers but do not interrupt the judge in his or her duties. Once judging is complete you should feed and water your birds and you will usually be allowed to padlock or zip tie the pen shut to secure them while you wander round the rest of the show – unfortunately thefts can and do occur.
Championship row at a county show event
After the show
You should not remove your birds until the end of the show or the specified collection (lifting) time.
When you arrive home it’s always worth dusting your birds with mite powder in case others haven’t been as considerate as you, give them a favourite treat and generally try to ensure they are de-stressed after the day’s events. Some birds take to it well and can be shown again quite quickly with no ill effects others will need a break.
If you did well you will have a lovely warm feeling inside, if not you can try to work out why and the incentive is there to improve in these areas next time. Either way you will almost certainly have had an enjoyable day and be planning your next show already. Good luck.
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