All set for Show Time?
Exhibiting, by Grant Brereton
Anyone who assumed that the show circuit was solely for expert exhibitors should think again, says Grant Brereton. Birds belonging to amateur and professional keepers alike vie for rosettes and prize-cards on the circuit every year and everyone can try their luck
Many people’s first experience of a poultry show is visiting the fur and feather section at their local agricultural show. The thought of entering your own chickens (or ducks, geese or turkeys) into a show can be quite daunting, especially if you are just starting out, because it can be difficult to know how well your birds will be received. But there are many benefits to taking the plunge and having a go. Firstly, you will find yourself in the company of many like-minded individuals, and shows are a great opportunity to network and find new contacts in your local area.
Poultry shows are also great social events and quite often exhibitors gain entry to the whole show if entering a specified number of birds in the poultry/waterfowl sections. Each show is different, depending on size and status, so awards in terms of rosettes and embossed cards, etc, can be numerous and varied. Many show societies offer their own awards for different sections, which are often sponsored by local individuals or companies. No two shows are the same, so it is worth checking the rules before entering. Prize-money is occasionally available, which is another added bonus.
THE TIERED SHOW SYSTEM
In terms of poultry shows held in marquees (and under cover) across the country in the spring/summer/autumn months, the basic ones are regarded as voucher shows. They generally have limited classes, awards and judges, but are a great place to start. The more serious shows are the regionals, which have to have a certain number of entries to be regarded as such. They are generally judged by qualified judges. They have more individual pure breed classes than the voucher shows and the section winners go on to a championship row, from which one bird will be crowned show champion. A step up from this are the championship shows, where an individual championship judge is drafted in to choose the show champion. Then there are the royal shows, which have royal patronage, and finally the national shows are at the top of the pyramid. All are affiliated to the Poultry Club of Great Britain and held under the charity’s rules. The National Championship Poultry and Eggs Show (1-2 December 2018) is run by the Poultry Club of Great Britain itself.
BUT I DON’T KEEP PURE BREEDS…
It would be easy to assume that the obvious prerequisite of poultry showing is to exhibit pure breed stock, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Even prestigious championship shows, such as The Royal Cheshire County Show, have classes for cross breed hen and pet chicken.
Such birds have no written standard by which to be judged, so it is down to the judge’s discretion on the day which bird is awarded first prize. A clean and friendly bird will stand a good chance of taking the spoils.
If you keep pure breeds but are unsure of their quality, it is a good idea to visit a few poultry shows before dipping your toe in the water. Speaking to judges and fellow breeders is an excellent way of gauging the quality of your own birds while also checking out the competition.
There aren’t a million things to learn about each breed. There are common natural factors throughout the breeds that make for a reasonable specimen, such as straight toes, breastbone, good wings, etc, and there are also each breed’s distinctive features to learn. There are usually a handful of elements to become familiar with when looking for a good example of a particular breed. For example, a Pekin bantam should have feathered legs, be ball-like in appearance, have a forward-tilting stance (where the head is carried lower than the tail), the tail should be rounded and is referred to as ‘the cushion’, and the breast feathers should all touch the floor when the bird is standing. These feathers are known as the skirt. See below for an example of these points.
If you feel that showing and possibly breeding your own replacements is for you, then most breeds have a dedicated breed club or society that you can join for a fairly nominal annual fee. Joining will allow you to compete for their most coveted trophies at the national shows, as well as for special awards at regional shows. Most clubs offer an annual yearbook and contact details of many top breeders, so it is well worth the joining fee. In recent times, many clubs have set up dedicated social media pages, too, where you can upload images of your birds for an honest appraisal. This can be a great way to learn about your birds, but beware that not every breeder and exhibitor is subtle — despite having the best intentions of educating you and helping you to learn what makes a good specimen, you need to be prepared for some ‘constructive’ criticism.
Each breed has a written standard, often accompanied by photos of excellent specimens, and this is included in British Poultry Standards, which is updated every few years. The latest edition is available in November. This book also details all the faults to avoid in any poultry breed. It is available from the Poultry Club of Great Britain (www.poultryclub.org/) and other outlets.
WHAT NEWBIES NEED TO KNOW
The birds you enter in a show can be bought in, but in most cases should have been at your property for at least three months. The schedule for shows is usually available through the secretary and you generally have a few weeks to decide which classes to enter, with the entry deadline being around a fortnight before the show. (This deadline is so that the organisers can determine the number of pens needed.)
Since the Bird Flu restrictions (which ran from late 2016 to June 2017) which caused all shows to be called off, new legislation is now in place that requires shows to have welfare officers. Your birds will therefore be inspected on arrival for any signs of ill health or disease. You will also have to sign a declaration form that confirms your address and that the birds you enter are your own property and from premises with good welfare standards.
There is no minimum age to show as an exhibitor, but your birds must at least be young adults and look mature to be accurately assessed. Around 28-30 weeks is usually sufficient for most large fowl breeds, but bantams can mature a lot quicker.
Most shows take place over a single day, but some summer fixtures can have poultry classes on consecutive days, so it is worth checking before sending in your entries. The National Championship Poultry and Eggs Show, a two-day show, is held in Telford each year, while The Federation Championship Show, also a two-day event, is held in Stafford (15-16 December 2018). These shows, both great family events, are held annually in December, so that the current year’s crop of birds will be ready to be exhibited as they reach maturity.
Basically, don’t be afraid to have a go. Showing is a great experience and winning your first rosette will give you a real boost. You can also show your eggs and many standalone egg shows are now popping up around the country as well as being part of poultry shows. Most shows also have sections for best decorated egg, egg contents and chicken drawings and photographs. There has never been a better time to start planning a campaign.
Next month: Preparing for a show when your chicks are only a day old.
Grant Brereton is editor of Fancy Fowl.
Evie Williams is one of many children who enjoy exhibiting poultry
Special trophies from the Festival of the Plough Show
A Cuckoo Pekin showing the correct stature and feather
Some people prefer to show eggs rather than chickens
Champions’ row at The Royal Cheshire County Show