P.O. Box 612

Columbus, IN 47201

(812) 603-7722

E-mail us at info@shadylanepoultry.com




Helping out the Juniors:                                    

Selecting Chickens for Exhibition and Conditioning           Chickens for Show

Selecting Chickens for Exhibition

Each young person participating in poultry exhibition projects will select the chickens they wish to show.  Assuming the exhibitor does not already have breeding stock, the selection process actually begins before the chickens are purchased.  There are many breeds and varieties of chickens in both bantams and large fowl.   Depending on several factors, one may choose one or more of these to exhibit.   County or local exhibitions are typically not as competitive as regional, state or national exhibitions so if the young person is only planning to exhibit locally, there are many more acceptable sources of chickens available.

The first step is to decide on a breed or variety.  There are many books, several magazines and a seemingly infinite number of internet web sites that show pictures, provide descriptions and opinions on positive and negative traits of many breeds.  For a beginner, it is best to start with solid-colored chickens or chickens with very simple patterns. Black is probably the easiest color to work with.   Buff, red and white breeds are also popular although white chickens can be a challenge to keep clean.   Avoid chickens with crests and foot feathering as these can be difficult to maintain for beginners.   Breeds with complex pattern such as Mottled, Laced, Penciled, Spangled etc. are eye-catching, but well-marked, competitive specimens may be hard to find. The original “jungle fowl” pattern; Black Breasted Red or Partridge varieties can be a good choice if a solid color is not desired.   

After the breed and variety has been decided, the next step is determine whether eggs, chicks, started birds or adult birds should be purchased.  The most common method of acquiring poultry is the purchase of day-old chicks.  There are many mail order catalogs and internet web sites that sell day-olds. Several of these sell hatching eggs as well.  Started and adult birds are harder to find.  For the most part, the large mail-order hatcheries offering dozens of breeds are selling production-type poultry.   Even the ‘fancy’ or ‘rare’ breeds offered by most of these hatcheries have not been selected for exhibition traits.  If an exhibitor is planning to only show locally, chicks from one of these sources should be adequate to participate.   If an exhibitor wishes to be competitive, it is advisable to purchase chicks from a breeder who specializes in a particular variety.  There are poultry publications that advertise chicks and chickens from exhibition-quality breeders listed at the end of this lesson.  These chicks will be more expensive in most cases, but it costs just as much to feed and care for non-exhibition quality chicks as it does to feed and care for chicks from exhibition quality stock.  Several hatcheries offer the choice of buying as few as one of each variety and sex.   Avoid purchasing small quantities of sexed chicks for exhibition such as; 1 Black Australorp cockerel, 2 Black Australorp pullet etc.  As an exhibitor, you do not want to limit your choices for the show.  Plan to purchase straight-run (unsexed) day-olds.  The minimum order is nearly always 25 chicks, so if space is limited, several families can go together to split an order.  Remember to purchase chicks early enough in the year so they will be nearly mature by your exhibition.  Larger breeds such as the Asiatics, some American and English breeds take much longer to mature. 

Remember that every individual chick purchased from the top breeders will not turn into a quality exhibition bird.  There are still several steps to selecting and conditioning the chickens you will show.

If purchasing eggs, have a reliable incubator ready and started about 3 days before they are scheduled to arrive.   If purchasing eggs via the mail, don’t be surprised with a poor hatch or no hatch as the eggs are subject to a range of temperatures and handling conditions in shipment which can adversely affect hatchability.     

The purchase of started chickens or adult stock is often more difficult unless there are reliable breeders within driving distance.   Postal shipment of poultry older than day-olds must be by Express Mail and is very expensive.   Purchasing birds ‘sight-unseen’ on the internet or auction site can be a costly mistake.  If possible try to talk to breeders in early fall and visit any poultry shows or state fair exhibitions nearby to see their poultry in competition.   Many breeders hatch more chickens than they need and sell started stock in the fall.  By purchasing started or adult stock in the fall, exhibitors will have the opportunity to select specimens and avoid faults or disqualifications.  Also there may be the opportunity to hatch chicks from these birds in the spring.   The downside is that winter care of adult poultry can be inconvenient.   Some of the publications listed at the end of this lesson have advertisements for poultry shows and breeder listings. 

Whether purchasing chicks, started or adult stock, it is very important to keep them well-fed and free from external and internal parasites.  Birds that are not properly cared for or have parasite infestations will not develop into exhibition quality stock.  Young chickens also need adequate space to grow to their full potential, crowding should be avoided.

It is a recommended that an exhibitor consult the American Poultry Association’s ‘Standard of Perfection’ to learn about your variety.  This book is published periodically by the APA and lists written descriptions for ‘type’ in each breed and color for each variety.   The county extension office or 4-H club leader may have a copy.  The hard-cover color version is somewhat expensive, but a soft-cover black and white version is available at a lower price.

By studying the general faults and disqualifications for chickens and the specific type and color traits for the chosen breed and variety, the exhibitor should be able to select a few individual chickens from the group to work with.  Each class of chickens has a scale of points which a judge uses to determine placing in an exhibition. It is described in the Standard of Perfection.   The most important criterion is for ‘type’ (shape) of the bird.  The exhibitor should choose to exhibit a bird with the best type which has defects worth the least amount of points based on this scale.  Never keep a bird that has a disqualification.

Conditioning Chickens for Show

Whether you have production-bred chickens from a mail-order catalog or exhibition stock from a prominent breeder, your birds will do better at the show if they are properly conditioned.   Conditioning is a term that is frequently used in exhibition poultry.  This encompasses coop-training, handling, some aspects of feeding, washing and final touch-up for the show.

They actual process of conditioning begins when the chicks are hatched.   Proper care, feeding and providing plenty of space allows the birds to reach their full potential. Crowded, stunted and sickly birds will not make good show specimens.  Also, make sure your birds stay free from external and internal parasites.

When your poultry have fully feathered and developed to a point where you can begin to distinguish specific breed characteristics, it is time to narrow down the potential show specimens.  This may be anywhere from 12 -20 weeks of age depending on the breed and time of year.  Select 2-3 birds for each one you plan to show and try to pen them separately from the rest of the flock.  Remember to provide them with adequate space.   Give them a pen with plenty of room to move around, but where you can catch and handle them without much chasing.   Try to pick each up and handle them at least once per day.  You can begin feeding treats to the whole group.  Use moist dog food, scratch grains, fresh greens or fruit.  Poultry training treats are also available from some suppliers.   After a couple of weeks, you will be able to tell which birds have calmed down and have a better idea of which has the best type and color.  

Move your selected bird to an individual pen - preferable in a large, roomy coop.  Avoid coops made from chicken wire as this can tear up feathers.    Handle the birds daily and take time to open wings, look at their heads, and other body parts just like a judge would.  Be sure to feed them treats after you handle them. 

Always take birds in and out of coops head-first.  When releasing your chicken back into the show coop, gently hold the bird and let its legs touch the floor. Then release slowly and let the bird walk away from your hand.  This way the bird gets the sense of moving away freely instead of ‘escaping’.

Many exhibitors feed supplements to the regular ration 4-6 weeks before the show to aid in feather condition.  Wheat germ oil, cod liver oil, soy-based oil and other similar supplements will add sheen to their feathers.

About three days before the show, wash your chickens. The typical method is to use mild detergent in very warm water and dip the chicken into the tub.  Do not submerse the head. Using a rag or sponge, gently wash the feathers, feet and legs.  Have a second tub ready in slightly cooler warm water as a rinse.  Often a third tub is used with room temperature water and a little vinegar to cut the soap.  There are Poultry shampoos available, using these specialized products makes washing simpler.  Just follow the directions on the bottle.   Be sure to dry your birds. Many exhibitors use a hair dryer and place them in a warm, draft-free area to finish drying. Avoid leaving chickens in direct sun with no shade.  When they are nearly dry, put them in a clean coop and let them finish preening.  It may take a couple days for the birds to get their feathers back in the right place and for the natural oils to return.  That is why you wash the birds 2-3 days ahead of the show and not the morning of or the night before.

Use mineral oil or other show oil to lightly rub on the bird’s comb, wattles and shanks. This is best done the night before the show so it has time to work in and your birds won’t have a greasy appearance.  Many fanciers use an aerosol show sheen to give a final shine to their chickens right before the show.

Don’t ruin weeks of conditioning by stuffing your show birds into small boxes or wire cages to transport to the show.  Be sure you have well-ventilated carry boxes with smooth sides and plenty of fresh bedding.  It is usually best to place only one bird per carrying box or compartment so they don’t soil or pick on each other.

Be aware of temperature and weather conditions.  Don’t leave chicken in hot cars or trunks in the summer. Avoid transporting chickens in open pickup truck beds if possible.

At the Show

Many shows require blood-testing.  It is best to purchase chickens from sources that participate in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). Be sure to bring the paperwork provided by these NPIP sources.   If you must have your birds blood-tested, try to make arrangements with the tester to visit your place before the show. (Preferably before you wash the chickens)   Most shows accept test results that are less than 30 days. If there is no option but to have your birds tested at the show, have plenty of paper towels on hand.  The testing is done under a wing. As soon as the tester has finished, place a wad of towels under the wing and hold the bird for a couple of minutes until the bleeding has stopped.  Chicken blood clots very rapidly, so it shouldn’t take long.  There is nothing more disappointing than seeing a clean, shiny white chicken at a show with blood-stained feathers on one side.

Be sure to arrive early so as to have time for final clean-up and to get your birds into the coops.  Make sure there are not shavings or manure clinging to the feet and run a clean rag over the birds a final time before placing in the coop.  Keep an eye on your chicken to make sure it does not try to fight with the birds next to it.  It is usually best to not feed your chickens until after judging, so they will stay alert.

Junior Exhibitors may or may not be allowed to stay with the judge depending on the show.   Be respectful of the judge and ask questions if you have any.  It is important to be a good winner and a better loser.  Congratulate those who win and if you happen to win a prize or award be sure to thank the sponsor/donor at the show or in a written note afterwards. 

Matt John







Shady Lane Poultry Farm,  P.O. Box 612 

Columbus, IN 47201

(812) 603-7722
E-mail us at info@shadylanepoultry.com