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Starting Out in Show Poultry










If birds are to be of maximum usefulness, good fit stock is essential.
Fanciers should look for:

        1. Condition--overall fitness and sound plumage.
        2. Colour--complying with Standard (critical in some breeds)
        3. Conformation of type (Shape).

Remember, it costs no more to feed top-class birds than it does poor specimens.


'Pure breed' fowls refers to birds that have been bred and selected to conform as closely as possible to set standards that have been written for each breed.

Breeding & exhibiting show poultry is a hobby followed by people all over the world from all walks of life and ages.  It is a comparably cheap animal hobby with the biggest ongoing expense being feed, but offers a lot to many people.  It gives us the opportunity to meet other people and build a network of contacts and friendships through the fancy.  The thrill of winning 'Champion Bird' at a show or just striving to breed the 'perfect bird' and watching the birds roam in the backyard makes a wonderful experience.

Poultry Fanciers can do three main things:

        1. Breed show poultry
        2. Exhibit show poultry
        3. Judge show poultry

Anyone who starts out with a pen of pure bred birds can breed and exhibit their fowls, but it usually takes years of knowledge and experience to qualify as a judge.  For this reason I will be focussing on the first two options.


A common question beginners ask is advice on what breeds to keep.  The best way to answer this would be to visit shows and make your own choice.  When inspecting the exhibits it would
be wise to ask breeders, showman & judges the advantages and difficulties of varieties that please your eye.  It is best to avoid the rarer breeds/varieties when starting off as stock is harder to obtain, and is likely to be of doubtful quality. They will also receive little competition in shows and judges
may be unfamiliar with them thus not assessing them properly.

I would recommend a breed that lays well and make good mothers. This way you don't have to get a separate breed to hatch the eggs or buy an expensive incubator.  Despite this the beginner is most likely to do best with a variety that he/she most admires, so long as they obtain good stock and are
not easily disheartened by early set-backs.

A common mistake made by most beginner's is to keep too many kinds.  Concentrate on one or two breeds at first and don't add another until you have gained experience on the first. This is the best advice in the world, but seldom followed.

For a brief guide on different breeds look at the breed list.


The golden rule is to hatch as many chicks as possible from your best birds.  This means that the beginner should start with the best stock they can buy or obtain from a reputable breeder.  It would be a good idea to let a top breeder advise you which birds to breed with until you get more confident and try your own talents as a breeder.  It is very important that you don't breed from two birds that have the same fault as it is very hard to breed bad characteristics out of a strain.

Different breeding strategies include:

        1. Line breeding--breeding closely related birds so that a specific strain can be established.

        2. Double Mating--this involves one pen to breed exhibition males, and another to breed
            exhibition females to achieve correct markings on both sexes. Breeds include some colours
            of Wyandottes and Leghorn's.

        3. Out-crossing--Introducing an unrelated bird of the same breed to improve a strain.  Good
            for improving fertility and vigour.
        4. Artificial Insemination--Collecting semen from a male and transfering to selected females.
            Often used in breeds with poor fertility.  eg Orpingtons, Pekin bantams, Indian Game etc.

After you have hatched several birds, it would be wise to keep accurate records of your breeding program so that you can trace the parentage of present and future generations.  The records should identify the eggs from the breeding pen, the chickens that hatch from the eggs & the adult fowls that have grown from these chicks.  This can be done by:

        1. Toe punching--where a hole is punched out of the webbing between the toes in different

        2.  Leg bands--these can be numbered and\or coloured

The most important thing to know is your breed Standard. Firmly picture this in your mind before culling and picking out birds.


Birds have to be together 7-10 days before fertile eggs can be collected.  Also the eggs must be incubated within 14 days of being laid.  There are 3 ways to hatch eggs.

        1. Letting the breeding birds go broody
        2. Using foster mothers.
        3. Artificial incubation-- ie Incubator

As Incubators are expensive and not necessary, I will only explain the first two options.

* option 1: Your breed must be a natural sitter to be able to hatch its own eggs. Look at the breed list to see if your breed qualifies.  If your breed is a natural sitter, then the eggs can be left in the nest, or taken out (stored) and replaced by false eggs.  When the hen(s) go broody you can replace the false eggs with the real ones.  This way they won't get damaged waiting to be incubated.

* option 2: Find additional hens to hatch your eggs.  They don't have to be pure bred, but must not be too heavy as to crush the eggs accidently.  I find bantams make the best mothers, especially birds that have breeds like Wyandotte, Pekin, Silkie or Old English Game bantam in their make-up. leave
their eggs in the nest, and when they go broody replace them with those from your breeding pen.

It is sometimes a good idea to separate young fowls into groups of the same sex, as this can help the birds to get along better.  If the cockerels fight with one-another, there could be permanent damage done to the comb, wattles, lobes etc.  Some fanciers put an adult cock bird in with their cockerels (this cock bird acts as a policeman) too minimise fighting .  If a bird is showing potential of being a champion, it could be a good idea to pen him separately, especially if the breed has a long flowing
tail, or showy head gear etc.  


Good preparation enhances your birds, but there is no substitute for good breeding, feeding and management.  It can be time-consuming but should not be rushed, as it is better to take a small team of well prepared birds rather than a large number of poorly prepared ones.  Show preparation could well be the difference between a bird with potential and a 'Champion'.  Every Fancier has his own methods and techniques for preparing their birds, so I will only provide a general guide which should be a good basis:

All birds need to be pen trained before a show so that they are relaxed on the day.  A bird could look a million $'s in the yard, but when its caught the night before, and whacked in the show, they usually sulk and tighten up their feathers.  It may also cover the judge in wood shavings when he attempt's to get the bird out of the pen. (very embarrassing for the owner)

Pen training requires the birds being put into a small pen, similar to that at the shows.  When penned they need to be handled and fed often which is all part of the training.  If possible find a stick (similar to what the judges use) and train the bird to display itself by directing it with the stick.  Don't be afraid to talk to the birds either, it seems to naturally calm them down.

Before the show:
        * Make sure the legs are not dry and scaly.  If they are, rub with vaseline, Olive oil or baby
             oil. Sometimes the old scales can be rubbed off using your thumb nail.
        * Dirt under the scales of the legs can be removed carefully using a tooth pick.

        * Beaks and nails can be trimmed with nail clippers, but  make sure you don't cut the blood
One week to three days before the show most birds need to be washed, especially birds that have an abundance of plumage or are light in colour.  All birds benefit from a wash, but for some dark coloured and hard-feather breeds, its not as critical.  Heres how you go about washing your birds:

        * Washing consists of 3 tubs which all contain warm water.
           Tub 1. contains pure soap or normal hair shampoo.
           Tub 2. is the first rinse.
           Tub 3. is the final rinse.

feathers with persistent dirt can be scrubbed along the feathers in the first tub (note: don't scrub against the feathers as it may damage the plumage).

The birds can be dried first by using a towel to soak off the excess water, then by using a hair drier.  Make sure the bird is NOT dried out fully, as it may make some of the feathers twist.  Instead dry it to about 80-90%, then let them finish drying outside in the sun if its warm.  Otherwise let them dry
off in front of a heater (making sure they cant get too close as to burn themselves).

The last piece of preparation is to use a rag dipped in oil (baby or olive) to rub on the legs, comb, face and ear lobes to enhance the birds brightness.  This can be done the night before or in the morning before the show, but be sure NOT to apply excess oil as to give the bird an oily appearance.

It is important when preparing your bird's that you don't 'fake' its appearance which is a serious disqualification and judges are likely to pick-up.  Faking includes colouring plumage and ear lobes or replacing sickle feathers.

NOTE: 'faking' is different from enhancing the birds natural qualities.


To be able to exhibit birds in a show, you will have received a show schedule prior to the show, and filled in an entry form appropriately. This is usually returned to the show secretary a couple of weeks before the show.

Now that your birds have been properly prepared, its just a matter of transporting them to the show and doing a few final touch-ups.  Good sturdy cardboard boxes make adequate carry boxes to get your birds to the show.  Make sure you add a few ventilation holes, and dry litter to soak up any droppings that may occur.

Arrive at the show in plenty of time too pen your birds.  Make sure they have not stepped in droppings, which can easily be washed or wiped off with a rag.  Once you have penned your birds, you can relax and talk to other fanciers.  After judging you may wish to ask the judge questions.

With enthusiasm and a little luck, you will be on the road to success....


*  Local library
*  Book shops
*  Poultry & Breed Clubs
*  Magazines - Fancy Fowl (England)
            - Poultry Press (America)
            - Australasian Poultry (Australia)
            - Chicken Chat (Australia)
            - North Island Poultry & Pigeon News Digest (New Zealand).
*  Stock feed Merchants
*  Club Newsletters
*  Newspapers

Original Source:
Mr. Andy Vardy
P.O. Box 7
Tallangatta, Vic. 3700