Tips on Showing Poultry

This article is from MonarchzMan at Backyard Chickens

Tips on Showing Poultry

“I am Absolutely Sure…(I think)”

Alright, here’s a general timeline for preparing a bird for show. This is the method that I use, and it’s done a good job, but there are certainly more methods out there. This also is a GENERAL method. There are some specifics that need to be done for different breeds, so if you want more specific answers about your breed, just ask.

First, an unhealthy bird never shows well, so you want to be sure that you have your bird protected against disease and parasites. Vaccinations and other preventatives help this. They should be done on a regular basis. Parasites tend to be more of a problem, however, so make sure that you worm your birds and get rid of any external parasites, like lice and mites. It is the responsible thing to show a healthy bird, not only for your bird, but for the other breeders. Showing a bird can stress the bird, and for an unhealthy bird, that could be fatal. And other breeders don’t want their birds to catch any diseases. You also want to make sure that they’re tested. Most shows ask that all birds be tested for pullorum, but there probably are shows that ask for more than just pullorum, so be sure to check on that. And DO NOT DUST birds for lice before you get them tested for pullorum (like immediately before), this will cause false positives and will cause you a whole lot of headaches. This is probably the most important thing in showing poultry.

Second, diet. Now, there are many people out there who will create their own feeds that they believe will make the best bird. Personally, I just use the commercial feeds. For instance, Purina’s Gamebird Flight Conditioner is good for getting birds to grow in strong, healthy feathers quicker. If you want to add supplements, then that is your choice. A lot of these companies research these sort of things to make the best feed, so personally, I just go with them. I will, however, occasionally give my birds black oil sunflower seeds. This makes them very shiny, which is appealing to a judge. You have to be careful about how much you give them just because the sunflower seeds are high in protein and you don’t want to get fat birds. As a general trend, birds that are in production (laying), lose their luster. Their feathers become duller and the colour in their legs fade. It’s more obvious on some breeds than in others. Also, generally, you don’t want to feed your birds a lot of corn (the less the better, generally). This is because corn can cause brassiness in white feathers, that is, it can turn feathers yellow. Genetics play a role in this too. White birds lacking the silver gene can get brassy, oftentimes from the sun. The sun will fade or alter feather colour, so you want to keep them in a spot where they’re not in the sun a lot(though, they do need sun to get vitamin D, just like us).

Alright, now I will get into the specific timeline on preparing a bird for show.

8-12 weeks before the show, you want to pull any broken feathers. That is, broken wing feathers, tail feathers, and body feathers. It is especially important to pull the tail feathers and wing feathers at this time because they take a long time to grow in, and in many breeds, there are a specific number of each, so you want all of the feathers to be completely grown in. It takes a feathers 6-8 weeks to complete grown back, this just give them plenty of time. On turkeys, its a little longer, which would make sense, longer, larger feathers take longer to grow in. It is at this point that it would be a good idea to isolate the bird because many times, broken feathers are caused by other birds. You also want any wounds that the bird may have to heal completely. You want the feathers completely grown in. The judge won’t knock points off for partially grown in feathers, but when he has to compare a bird with completely grown in feathers and partially grown in feathers, he’s going to choose the one that’s in condition (completely grown in).

4 weeks before the show, you want to do any trimming that is necessary. Trim beaks, toenails, and spurs (on males). On both you don’t want to go past the translucent part (it’s more difficult to tell that on the dark nailed and beaked birds, so you have to get a feel for it). You can just use regular nail clippers for this. What I usually do in take of a little bit at a time, so if I do draw blood, it won’t be terrible. You want to do this around this time just so it is enough time for the bird to smooth the edges so that it looks more natural. The judge won’t count points off if you just trimmed the day before the show, but he will choose a bird that looks natural. It is general courtesy to the judge not to have your males have daggers on their legs, so keep the spurs dull. The trimming of the beak is vital to a bird’s health. Too long of a beak can cause the bird to have difficulty eating, and they can actually starve to death.

1 week before the show. This would be a good time to give birds their first baths. Now a lot of people don’t have time to give birds multiple baths, but it helps. At this time, you can work off most of the dirt and manure that may be stuck to the feathers. For these baths, I recommend using human shampoo. If it is good for you, it is good for them. I try to stay away from de-greaser soaps because that can remove most of the oils on their skin, and as a result, you’ll have a frizzled bird, which isn’t good. If the soap leaves your hands dry and chalky (I guess that’d be the word), then it will do the same for the bird. Usually what I do is set up two tubs of warm water. One with soap in it and the other with rinse water, to get rid of any soap from the soap water. Now if you have a white bird, you can use bluing ( in a third tub, but you want to use a VERY LITTLE BIT. Only a few drops per several gallons. This will help make the bird whiter, but if you use too much bluing, well, you’re going to end up with a blue bird.

3-4 days before the show. Give them their second bath. I doubt that any chicken will stay clean for more than a couple of days, so this bath is just as a rinsing, really. To get anything that you missed. For drying the birds, you can use one of two methods. You can let them air dry or you can blow dry them. In both cases, you want to towel off any access water. For the air dry, put them in a cage with a heat lamp. For this method, it take 24 hours to completely dry, so plan accordingly. For the blow drying, it’s a lot faster, obviously. For your more poofy birds, like Silkies and Cochins, this would be the better option because it tends to leave the birds poofier. But with your hard feathered birds, like OEGs, air drying would probably be a better option. On the blow drying, you have to be very careful about not overheating the bird. Do not pinch their wings together (birds cannot sweat, so the will spread their wings to release excess heat). If they start panting, give them a break. After the wash, put them in a clean cage which fresh shavings. This allows then to stay clean for the maximum amount of time.

Day of the show. When you go to a show, you’ll notice a lot of people frantically working on their birds. They’re doing several things to their birds. On their combs, earlobes, beaks, wattles, and shanks (legs), they’re applying one of a variety of things. More common things are VetRx, Vaseline, and baby oil. These will make those surfaces more shiny, and bring out the colour in the faces, especially. On all of them, you want to apply a THIN coat. Birds also release heat through those surfaces, so you don’t want to hinder that by clogging the pores. VetRx is especially good because it helps the bird fight off disease and such that it might come in contact with at the show. You can also help shine up their feathers by taking rubbing alcohol and a piece of silk and dabbing the silk in the alcohol and run the rag along the feathers. The feathers are very oily, and dust will stick to them, this method removes the dust, and the rubbing alcohol will evaporate quickly, so you aren’t left with a wet bird. Then you also want to do the general cleaning, clean the feathers and feet of any dirt or manure. If you go around the show, you may notice a lot of birds have coloured water to drink. This is usually electrolytes to help them fight off the stress of the show. You can get these mixes from most poultry equipment suppliers. It would not be a bad idea to bring your own water to the show either. Some birds are finicky about such changes, and if you’re going from well water to city water, the birds may not like that. Few shows provide food for the birds, so it is often up to the breeder to bring food. You do not want to feed your bird until after it is judged. Birds store food in their crops, and it can create a lump in their chest, that makes the bird look disfigured. Not to mention that if the bird is flipped upside-down by the judge, the judge will wear whatever was in the bird’s crop. Now, if it is a long show, you can give them enough to scratch at, but not a lot.

And finally, now this is the most important part on the day of the show. Relax and have fun. Don’t go expecting to win because you cannot control that. You can, however, control the good time that you have. Meet other breeders, look at other birds, buy other birds (possibly the greatest hobby at these shows), get tips for other breeders. Most breeders are happy to help someone getting into the fancy, and you’re never too old to learn a new trick. I’ve been showing for 2 years now, and I’m still learning tips and tricks with my breeds.
If other show persons have tips and tricks that I missed, feel free to share them, after all, this isn’t the only method for showing, this is just the method that I use.