Cream of the crop

Pick­ing the right birds for the show cir­cuit from grow­ing stock can be a mine­field. Grant Br­ere­ton of­fers plenty of help­ful point­ers

Your Chickens - - Contents -

If you are in the throes of choos­ing stock for the show ring, you need to go through a process of elim­i­na­tion as your grow­ing stock reaches each stage of de­vel­op­ment. This doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that some are not worth keep­ing, it just im­plies that, hope­fully, your show po­ten­tials will be the ab­so­lute cream of the crop.

If you don’t cur­rently keep pure breeds and plan to en­ter in the cross breed or non­stan­dard va­ri­ety classes — put on by some but not all shows — then your main con­cerns will be the phys­i­cal fea­tures of your chicken, such as its toes, back and breast­bone. The breast­bone (some­times re­ferred to as the keel) should be straight and it is quite sur­pris­ing just how many pure breeds are ex­hib­ited with such a fault that can­not be seen from the out­side of the pen. Your cross breed also needs to have good, straight toes and no ques­tion­able signs of ill­ness.

If you have reared your own chicks, de­fects such as bent toes won’t nec­es­sar­ily do the bird in ques­tion any phys­i­cal harm, but they are not ideal for the ex­hi­bi­tion cir­cuit. The same goes for twisted beaks or faces when viewed from the front. But re­ally you can use your own guid­ance sys­tem to tell you which birds should stay at home on show day. We will get to the less ob­vi­ous points later on.


There is a huge mis­con­cep­tion that pure breeds pro­duce off­spring like peas in a pod, sug­gest­ing that you could walk into a shed of ado­les­cent grow­ing stock blind­folded and just pick out any two and they would be ‘grade A’ stan­dard. Un­for­tu­nately, it doesn’t work like that. Even the purest of blood­lines need con­stant in­vest­ment if they are to re­tain their stan­dard of ex­cel­lence.

Many new­com­ers have gone wrong with this ap­proach: they pur­chase a breed­ing trio — male and two fe­males, for ex­am­ple — from a top ex­hi­bi­tion breeder, but are then sur­prised when all of the off­spring don’t fully re­sem­ble their par­ents.

You could visit a breeder in Septem­ber to be shown a pen full of ex­hi­bi­tion pul­lets — let’s say Buff Rock ban­tams as an ex­am­ple — and they could in­deed look like peas in a prover­bial pod, as would their broth­ers housed in a dif­fer­ent pen, so that the two sexes couldn’t in­ter­min­gle and in­ter­fere with the grow­ing process. Cock­erels are ready to cop­u­late sev­eral weeks be­fore pul­lets and leav­ing the sexes to­gether in­vari­ably re­sults in bust ups and po­ten­tial dam­age to the comb and wat­tle ar­eas.

Any good breeder will have sep­a­rated the young cock­erels

and pul­lets at around 12 weeks of age. The young cock­erels will have an older male in with them to keep or­der. This is known as a ‘po­lice­man’ to many poul­try folk. The breeder will also have se­lected out any birds with de­for­mi­ties of any kind, so that he or she is only pay­ing for feed for the elite stock. Birds that don’t quite meet this cri­te­ria are of­ten sold on at mar­ket or to pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als want­ing pretty hens for the gar­den.

Of­ten birds are elim­i­nated from the main show po­ten­tials for what ap­pear to be very mi­nor things to the layper­son. They may have too many comb ser­ra­tions (spikes), which will make them un­de­sir­able for ex­hibit­ing and breed­ing. To use an ex­am­ple that ev­ery­one will know, the Kel­logg’s Corn Flakes cock­erel only has three comb ser­ra­tions, so if you were breed­ing Corn Flake cock­erels, their sib­lings with five or more comb ser­ra­tions would be elim­i­nated as soon as their combs were ob­serv­able.

So, re­turn­ing to the sub­ject of Septem­ber, you may have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence if vis­it­ing a breeder in Au­gust rather than Septem­ber. Not ev­ery­one se­lects as they go along and some peo­ple just as­sign a sin­gle day to thin­ning out the grow­ing stock. Visit a breeder in Au­gust and you may see a great vari­a­tion of birds within a pure breed va­ri­ety, but visit a month later and only the elite may re­main, lead­ing one to be­lieve that they all turn out that way.

It can be de­cep­tive and demon­strates that Mother Na­ture is con­stantly evolv­ing for sur­vival pur­poses. She has no re­spect for plumage pat­terns or the num­ber of comb ser­ra­tions we de­sire, so these fac­tors need con­stant se­lec­tion if they are to be re­tained in chick­ens.


It is very grat­i­fy­ing to show your friends a pen full of male or fe­male grow­ing chick­ens that all look very sim­i­lar and which are in a fit and thriv­ing con­di­tion. It re­ally sells a va­ri­ety and you feel a sense of ac­com­plish­ment that all your ef­forts through­out the year are pay­ing off. The elim­i­na­tion of the also rans is dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary so that you can get down to a short­list of show can­di­dates, of which you may only keep a cou­ple when the show­ing sea­son is over.

When you be­come fa­mil­iar with what makes for a nice in­di­vid­ual pure breed chicken, you will soon spot the ones that stand out among your prog­eny. Your friends will too — be­cause those are the birds they will try and per­suade you to sell. In all se­ri­ous­ness, keep­ers be­come bet­ter versed in what makes a good spec­i­men of their cho­sen breed by study­ing the breed stan­dard and ob­serv­ing those that are win­ning at shows. It also helps to dis­cuss faults and at­tributes with fel­low breed­ers.

The wis­dom is that pure breeds need con­stant se­lec­tion for their de­sired at­tributes and we all have to work at it on a yearly ba­sis. With­out in­sis­tence on a spe­cific look of fowl, Mother Na­ture will soon take over. No one said that breed­ing is easy. It is, how­ever, very grat­i­fy­ing when one of your home-bred birds claims a rosette.

Next Month: Weather con­sid­er­a­tions and how to house birds in the lead up to a show.

ABOVE: It is al­ways good to get a sec­ond opin­ion on which birds are the best for show­ing BE­LOW: Males and fe­males should ide­ally be sep­a­rated be­fore this age

It is not al­ways easy to pick show po­ten­tials. White Leghorns are pic­tured

Twisted beak is an ob­vi­ous fault

A bird with split-wing

A Buff Rock ban­tam with good wings

A short­list of Barred Rock ban­tam fe­males

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