Tips and Tricks for Exhibiting Show Chickens

Showing chickens is a popular hobby which can be enjoyed by all the family, and all shows have prizes for junior keepers and many will have a ‘best ladies exhibit’ section. All exhibits will be pure breeds of a type recognised by the Poultry Society of Great Britain, and it is the points allocated for each feature which decide the quality of the bird and ultimately it’s placing.Tips and Tricks Showing Chickens

Sometimes, you may find that a local show will have a general section for children where you will be able to enter a hybrid, but this is not usually the norm. Shows are run to strict guidelines and judges are chosen a year in advance and will either be qualified to Poultry Club standards or an expert in their chosen breed.

Tip number one:

It is worth knowing your judges, as even though they will deny it, they do have preferences, and a bird not placed by one judge will be on Championship Row when judged by another. It is often about when not to show if you know a judge dislikes a certain ‘type’. It may be worth entering two birds; one which you believe to be your best and one which you think the judge may like. Anyone interested in exhibiting chickens should do their homework well in advance by going along to a local show to see the standard of birds on display and talk to the exhibitors and judges who will be more than willing to give advice if you make it clear that you want. Pay attention to the type and quality of the birds winning.

Tip number two:

Essential poultry diet
A good diet is essential to success

A small local show is a good place to start your showing career – it will ease you in gently before getting to the larger and far more difficult (and bureaucratic) exhibitions. It is more likely that you will get a placing and if the show is reported in the poultry press your name will start to become visible. Do not assume however that you will win anything, my first show was a resounding failure, but it was the opportunity to ask questions and learn the ropes before the next show where I got a 4th!

Tip number three:

Demonstrate your enthusiasm and an experienced exhibitor may take you under their wing and teach you all that you will need to know. Network!!

Good husbandry is essential:

Serious show preparation starts a year before the exhibition date with the breeding stock and growing-on of the chicks, which is hugely exciting as you watch them develop and begin to see the best specimens standing out from the others. By attending shows the year before, you will get an idea of the timetable that you need to work to, and when is the optimum time to hatch. Remember that larger breeds take longer to mature than smaller breeds and males may take longer still.

Tip number four:

Read as much as you can and invest in a copy of the British Poultry Standards for reference.

Tip number five:

Feed your birds correctly as it is essential and they should be fed with a good quality chick crumb, growers’ pellets and layers’ (or breeder) pellets at the appropriate stages of their growth.

Tip number six:

Any birds which are lagging behind in the growth stakes can be encouraged to do better by increasing the amount of light for about 4 weeks before the show date.

Tip number seven:

Separate birds once the sexes can be identified as bullying can occur as the youngsters vie with each other to establish their pecking order, also when birds reach sexual maturity the cockerels will attempt to mate the hens and damage the feathers.

Tip number eight:

Keep your show birds indoors – light and the other elements will make bright feathers dull, and grass may stain them. White birds are particularly difficult to clean once they have been grass reared. Also it has been suggested that a white bird may develop a yellow tinge to the feathers from eating grass and other plants such as marigold.

Tip number nine:

If your bird is not ‘match fit’ do not show it – you will do more harm than good; it is better to take a perfect bird to the next show. By knowing your breed, you will have a good idea of how long they take to mature and therefore the period that you need to have in order to reach peak fitness and appearance before your show time. Males will stay in condition longer than females, who will become drained by the rigours of laying;

Tip number ten:

Keeping pullets and hens on whole wheat only, effectively reducing nutrient content, will often delay laying until after the show.  Laying can also be delayed by moving the birds from pen to pen, unsettling them and halting the desire to nest.

Preparation is the icing on the cake!

A well presented chicken
A well presented bird!

Without through preparation of both your bird and yourself before the show, you may walk away disappointed, despite your efforts to get the perfect bird. It is often the smallest of things that let the exhibitor down when there are two birds of equal quality vying for first place; the judge will pick the one which has been better presented. Having said that though, a beautifully prepared bird exhibiting serious faults will never win, you need to have good stock in the first place – you can’t polish a turd!

Tip number eleven:

Train your exhibit appropriately; it will be sitting in a small cage for hours, surrounded by people looking at it, poking it and generally making a noise.  Pen training (as it is also referred to) basically means confining the bird to a show pen or similar space such as a rabbit hutch for a week or so before the show. It is beneficial to place this where there is human activity as this will prepare them for the hustle and bustle of a show, some breeders place the cage on the floor where, if you have one, a dog provides a very active distraction (ensure though that the dog cannot get at your bird). The potential exhibit needs to be used to this limited space before attending a show as if a bird is taken directly from a large pen and placed in a show pen for the first time it may become distressed and continuously fly upwards in the pen as it tries to escape, which is both annoying to the exhibitors and alarming to the other birds and may result in a disqualification as nothing annoys a judge more than an ill trained specimen.

Tip number twelve:

Once the bird has been pen trained it is important to handle it regularly by removing it from the pen and examining it as a judge would for example opening up its wings, holding it up to your face and moving the head back and forth and walking around with the bird in your hands, if you have one, a judging pointer (similar to extendable magnets is a useful tool to poke into the chicken’s cage every now and then.

Tip number thirteen:

Once you have selected and trained your bird(s) for a show make sure that the beak and claws are regularly trimmed making sure you avoid the quick as this will bleed profusely in both claw and beak. Dog nail clippers or toe nail clippers work very well. Oil the legs too to keep the scales supple and prevent a build up of crust.

Tip number fourteen:

Just before the show you will need to wash and prepare your bird according to breed; silkies should be washed as near to the time as possible, flat feathered birds a couple of days before to allow the feathers to settle.  Some birds (Particularly hard feather) however are spoiled by washing and will need a more long-term plan to keep them clean and a rub down with a silk cloth on the day; if in doubt visit another show beforehand and speak to other exhibitors. Washing a chickenWhen washing your bird, remember:

  • Never leave a bird alone, either in the water or on the side of the sink.
  • Do not stress the bird as you wash, if the bird becomes panicked, stop for a little while.
  • Talk to the bird as you wash as it will make it and you feel much better.
  • Dry the bird slowly (it may take all day) so leave yourself plenty of time.

Tip number fifteen:

Do not modify the bird in any way by amongst other things, plucking out or dyeing feathers, gluing in extra feathers, or darkening combs with boot polish; a good judge will spot any attempt at faking and disqualify the bird.

Tip number sixteen:

It is important to keep your birds free from lice and mites as the last thing a judge wants it to be crawling with parasites, and they will spread quickly to neighbouring exhibits.

Tips for the show

All shows have a closing date and your birds must be entered before the deadline. Show dates are published in various poultry magazines and local press and will have details of the show secretary whom you should contact for a schedule which will list the classes available.  Pick the class that you wish to enter your bird, making sure that it is appropriate i.e. correct breed, size, age and sex, and pay the necessary fee.

Tip number seventeen:

Double check your entries and take a copy of the form Confirmation is usually sent before the show with details of classes entered and when you attend the show your pen numbers will be available from the show secretary, with the slips of paper often set out on a table at the entrance to the show area.

Tip number eighteen:

On the day of your show make sure your birds are penned 30 -60 minutes before judging starts, (which will be advised in the schedule). This will allow them to settle.

Tip number nineteen:

It will help to have a check list the night before and keep your birds penned inside with their carry boxes ready and labelled with class and pen number if you have it. Remember to pack drinkers, feed hoppers, a cloth and cotton buds, wet wipes and kitchen roll and invest in some small padlocks if you intend leaving the showing area for any length of time as thefts do occur.

Tip number twenty:

Once at the show and having found your showing pens, sponge off any face dirt with a make up sponge, and apply a little oil or petroleum jelly to the legs and wattles to spruce them up, making sure that it does not soil the feathers. Birds are not normally fed or watered until judging has finished as this can be seen as ‘marking your exhibit’ that is making it known to a judge that it is your bird and perhaps influencing the decision. At some shows water containers are supplied but is advisable to take your own along with a container of fresh water just in case, and recent legislation says that you must provide your bird with water. When showing certain crested breeds it is important to have the correct water container so as to prevent the crest or muffling from getting wet.

Tip number twenty-one:

This can be prevented by using a small container or placing tape half the way across a larger container to limit the access to the water.

Tip number twenty-two:

Keep an eye on over zealous stewards who may attempt to water your exhibit at a crucial point and ruin the feathers.

Tip number twenty-three:

Check your bird regularly before judging starts and remove any droppings to prevent soiling.

Tip number twenty-four:

After judging has taken place there is sometimes the possibility to speak to the judge to discuss the merits (and faults) of your birds, and this is invaluable and well worth the effort; difficult as it may be, try not to take any criticism to heart as the Standards that the judges use are there for a purpose, and all the advice you can get will ensure you learn and improve.

Tip number twenty-five:

When your birds have returned home it is a sensible precaution to apply some form of flea spray/powder. Show birds should be kept separate from other stock for a week to ensure nothing contagious has been picked up.

Tip number twenty-six:

Enjoy yourself – if you get stressed or frustrated or angry, then showing is not for you, it has to be fun. Now off you go and show those chooks!!!! Photos are copyright of the author and should not be taken without permission.

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Laurence Beeken

Author at poultrykeeper.com
Laurence has previously judged at National level and has sat on several international breed club committees. He is the author of the Haynes Chicken Manual as well as contributing to several poultry magazines.

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