Spring is always an exciting season for children active in the 4-H or country-fair circuit. The arrival of April means it’s time for these junior fowl farmers to select the cockerel or pullet that will be the poultry half of their showmanship partnership.
For the next four to five months, these kids will be completely responsible for the care and training of their chosen chicken. Showmanship guidelines may differ from state to state and even from fair to fair, but a common directive is that the bird be in the competitor’s possession for at least 180 days prior to the event.
A new guideline, however, is slowly changing the face of poultry showmanship across the country, making it more inclusive. Country fairs on the local and regional level have begun to add an adult division, allowing participants ages 18 and older to compete in showmanship. This exciting development gives adults another poultry competition option at country fairs, which traditionally only permit seniors to exhibit birds.
Allowing adults to participate in showmanship also turns this into a family event, one that parents and children can enjoy together.
Not all local fairs offer this option for adults yet. 4-H, being geared specifically toward kids, will most likely restrict its competitive offerings to youth. If you are interested in having an adult poultry showmanship division at your fair, contact your fair office and ask for the contact information for the poultry superintendent. Reach out to the superintendent and explain how an adult showmanship division would not only benefit local poultry keepers and their families but also the fair itself. You never know what can happen until you try.
Whatever age the showmanship competitor in your household may be, keep these five pointers in mind to make the experience even more positive.
Befriend Your Bird
Having all the poultry physiology knowledge in the world won’t help you if your cockerel or pullet is uncooperative. Showmanship birds are not only held, they’re manipulated and even turned upside down as you describe their anatomy to the judge.
A skittish, agitated bird will make showmanship competition almost impossible. It’s therefore crucial to befriend your bird from Day 1.
Get your chicken accustomed to your presence. Hold it, stroke its feathers, and talk to it. It’s vital that your bird become used to hearing your voice while in your arms. Once you’ve reached this stage, move on to gently turning your chicken tummy up, stroking its belly and speaking to it reassuringly. When your bird is comfortable with this type of handling, it’s time to start practicing your showmanship presentation with it—including placing it in and removing it from a show cage head first so that this routine becomes fluid and ingrained for both of you.
Study the Standards
Familiarize yourself with the American Poultry Association’s Standards of Perfection for your showmanship chicken’s breed and variety. Learn to identify traits that are specific to your bird:
- type of comb
- color of earlobes, beak, eyes and shanks
- number of toes
- pattern and color of the feathers
- size and hue of its eggs
- average hen and rooster sizes and weights
- breed’s temperament
- other facts and information about the breed
If your chicken deviates from any of the Standards, learn to identify these as well. When you are presenting to the judge, you will need to share all this information to demonstrate your knowledge of and familiarity with your chosen breed.
Interact with the Judge
Showmanship judges prefer competitors who can clearly and comfortably converse with them. A touch of nerves is understood, but totally freezing up and resorting to monosyllables is not (except perhaps from the youngest novice juniors). Be sure to make regular eye contact with your judge, stand comfortably, and speak in a clear, polite voice.
Regular practice in front of family and friends will help put you more at ease with your presentation. Have a loved one ask questions as you practice to better prepare you for competition day.
Dress to Impress
Even though the main point of showmanship is to demonstrate your poultry expertise, first impressions do set the tone for your presentation. A competitor dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt will not impress the judges the same way as a neatly groomed presenter dressed in business-casual clothes topped with a white lab coat.
Many fairs and 4-H festivals require competitors to wear white lab coats, so it’s best to wear one—clean and neatly pressed—regardless of the event’s requirements.
And remember to wear clean footwear. You’re not expected to wear dress loafers or high heels at the fairgrounds, but don’t arrive wearing mud- and muck-spattered boots.
Seek Out Self Improvement
Very few showmanship competitors receive perfect scores. Because of this, many judges will take time after the event to answer questions, offer advice, and give guidance to participants. After all, showmanship is about improving your poultry knowledge … and we all have room for improvement.
Take whatever post-event opportunity your judge offers to learn what you can do to improve your presentation and how you handle your bird. If your score was low, ask what mistakes you made and what the necessary corrections are. Some judges will offer this information to participants immediately following their presentation. Take notes if you can!
Remember above all that your judge’s critiques are meant to help you grow as a competitor and poultry specialist, not demoralize you. Thank them for their feedback and incorporate their suggestions to better prepare you for your next showmanship competition.