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
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.
LIKE PEAS IN A POD?
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.
FIT FOR THE JOB
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