On a brisk November day more than 170 years ago, hundreds of breeds of poultry were all gathered at the Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Carriages passed by on the streets, and electricity was in its infancy. A booming city that was a pillar in establishing the United States of America was also the home of the first identified poultry show.
At least 10,000 people attended, and 1,423 birds were shown. Another show was held in 1860 drawing in even more people and nearly 12,000 birds. Commonly known breeds were grouped together, but lesser known breeds were exhibited indiscriminately.
There were so many people that judging the birds was difficult, and organizers decided not to judge the poultry. The poultry show ultimately failed in exhibition. But it certainly harbored the public’s interest.
Judging birds fell to the opinions of the persons established to judge. This led to confusion and tension among poultry enthusiasts. In 1867, a copy of the English Poultry Club Standards was printed, and modifications were made.
As judges proceeded with the Modified English Standard, judging became fairer. Poultry fanciers increased in number.
Seeing a need for a governing body, in 1873, William Churchman of Delaware helped to establish a committee, and the American Poultry Association was born. One of the first things that the APA accomplished after being organized was establish an American Standard of Excellence. This blended attributes from the English Poultry Club Standards and characteristics from the birds available in the U.S.
The Standard of Excellence was later changed to the Standard of Perfection (SOP). These standards then became what judges based their pointing systems off of and what poultry fanciers strived for with strenuous breeding practices.
Finding a Beauty
While the SOP still exists, it has been revised numerous times to reflect changes in breeds over time. The most recent SOP is currently in its 44th version.
The very first thing you need as an exhibitor is a copy of the most recent standard. This will let you know all the characteristics the judges look for when judging your bird and eligible breeds accepted by the APA.
If you already have the poultry you wish to show at the exhibition, compare it to them. If you don’t have your beginning stock yet, look for birds that match the SOP as closely as possible. You can start with chicks, but look at what confirmation and body type both of their parents had.
Finding a breeder who is already established with the APA and is an active exhibitor is good practice. I have learned so much just by buying stock from APA members. Usually, they happily pass on their knowledge to you regarding the breed they are selling.
The age of the fowl you plan on showing will also play a role. Poultry under a year old are in a different exhibition category than those over a year old.
A female younger than one year is referred to as a pullet, and a male is referred to as a cockerel. Hens and cocks are birds older than one year are judged differently from younger birds.
Whether you begin with grown hens and roosters or chicks, get your birds used to handling. Judges have to handle each bird. Having a calm bird during this time helps the judges see the bird’s conformation and attributes easily.
Also work with your birds so they feel comfortable being in a small place for a period of time. This is referred to as coop training.
Birds who have no experience with this are more prone to causing a large disturbance the first time they are in one. Your birds need to be calm and know that they won’t be hurt because they’re in a small area.
You can easily do this with a travel cage or a small to medium dog kennel.
Seek out Shows
Once you believe that you and your flock are ready, start looking for shows. Join local poultry clubs, look online and check out the APA’s website to find an exhibition. There are also youth shows available.
Most times, agricultural fairs will also have a club hosting a show. Each poultry exhibition may have a different way to register.
Check your SOP to see what category and/or variety your bird is included in. Do you have a bantam or large fowl? What color is your fowl? These are just two out of very many questions that you will answer on your entry form for the show.
Practicing good biosecurity will also help expedite your way into the show. Some shows will have a veterinarian on site to test your bird for certain transmissible diseases, but others won’t. You will have to show that your bird has been tested and is in good health within a certain amount of time before the poultry exhibition.
When the organization that’s hosting the show announces the poultry exhibition, many times they’ll have other articles of information that will relay all of this information to you.
It’s Show Time
The first day of the show may or may not be open to the public. It may be just a drop-off day. When you first arrive, you’ll most likely need to go to a check-in desk. The organization will already have assigned you a pen area where you can drop off your bird(s).
Arrive early to the poultry exhibition. Almost all shows that span over one day provide the bedding, water and feed while you’re at the show. Some shows also have representatives to ensure the food and water cups stay full.
A one-day show may not offer this. With waterfowl, they may or may not be provided a large container of water but a small cup. Take a larger container with you just in case.
The day of the poultry exhibition, I carry a small bag full of items to touch up my birds before a judge comes through. I keep petroleum jelly for their legs, wattles and combs. Cotton swabs and water are handy for nails and earlobes if they get dusty while penned. I also clean their nostrils with a cotton swab before they are judged.
A clean cloth and a toothbrush are useful if birds get their legs dirty. For fancy breeds such as the Silky, a toothbrush can help brush out any shavings or debris they get in their feathers. Some exhibitors use silk cloths to add sheen to their birds feathering.
You can also use baby oil in place of petroleum jelly.
Once your birds are all set up and comfortable, explore! Many shows have vendors and educational booths available. With your first show, nerves will be on edge, but try and enjoy it.
Make some contacts, talk to club representatives and volunteer.
Don’t miss your birds being judged. Watching your bird being judged is a great way to learn. If you can catch the judge afterward, ask him or her how they think you could improve.
Everyone’s a Winner
After your bird is judged, the pen they are in will have a card on it. You may see some abbreviations on it. Besides the variety and breed of your bird, these abbreviations could be for the club.
But they also set the space for awards.
Just a few of the abbreviations are:
- BB (Best of Breed)
- BV (Best of Variety)
- RB (Reserve of Breed, aka 2nd place)
- RV (Reserve of Variety)
- DQ (Disqualified)
- Cham. (Champion)
- Res. (Reserve, aka runner up)
After the show is over, you’ll see these abbreviations on your coop card. If the show has a ceremony, stick around to claim your awards.
Even after the show is over, you need to take some precautions. When you get home, inspect your bird. Ensure that they don’t have external parasites present. You’ll also need to quarantine your bird for 14 days after the show.
Watch for any signs of illness before you return them to their regular pen. While birds are tested, shows don’t test for all illnesses, and maintaining biosecurity is important.
With that, all that is left is a hearty congratulations!
About three to seven days before your show, you’ll need to wash your bird(s). This will help bring out their true feather colors and make them nice and neat for judging.
The first time you bathe your fowl, be patient. After their first few, most birds come to enjoy it. (Or they’ll tolerate it, at least.)
You’ll need to shampoo, rinse and allow them to dry. I have known some exhibitors to blow-dry their birds to speed that process up and give extra volume to the feather base. Other exhibitors just let their bird air-dry.
After they are dry, your bird will preen and restore its feathers to their natural shape. You can also add a little petroleum jelly to their wattles, combs and legs afterward.
This will help those areas shine and not look so dry when they are judged.
Keep them separated from the flock and in a very clean cage from this point until your show. With waterfowl, letting them bathe in clean water will suffice.
I often get the question about shampoos. Some exhibitors use Natural Enzymes chicken shampoo, others use Johnson’s baby soap (I don’t recommend this). I, personally, use Messy Mildred’s chicken shampoo.
Sidebar: COVID-19 Impacts
The pandemic shut down many poultry shows. Some do remain standing, with mask mandates and social-distancing precautions. COVID-19 hasn’t, however, negatively impacted poultry enthusiasm. If anything, it has driven poultry enthusiasm to a new record high.
Once the shows open back up, many new members will be joining the world of poultry exhibition. And to that I say, “Welcome!”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.