Preparing fowls for the show bench

To achieve success with exhibition poultry, one must study and learn and not allow initial mistakes to have a deterrent effect: rather should they spur one on to try to do better, which is generally the case when one’s interest is genuine and not merely on the surface.

Prospective show fowls should be taken in hand early. Any showing special promise should be separated from the main flock and placed in small groups until such time as a correct estimate may be formed of their actual merit.

To be able to do this it is necessary for the novice to make a close study of the breed he is interested in and to make himself familiar with its standard of excellence and its serious defects. Fowls showing serious defects are not worth bothering about.

Defects differ to some extent in different breeds and novices are advised to acquaint themselves with these matters.

There are some serious defects common to many breeds, such as side-sprigs on single combs and feathers on the shanks or between the toes of what should be clean-legged fowls. Discard fowls with such defects always.

On many occasions one has heard it said: “I can cut that sprig off, and no judge could detect it,” or “I can pluck these feathers out.” Apart from the fact that such action constitutes “faking” and is dishonest, consider the serious consequences that may arise from such methods.

Should you manage to deceive the judge such fowls are still worthless as breeders and if sold as such serious harm is done.


Common Defects

Defects common to all breeds are deformities, and a fowl with a crooked breast-bone is deformed. There are different degrees of this defect, and some judges may take a lenient view of it. While such a fowl may be awarded a minor card, however, it should never receive championship honours.

The defect is not always apparent in the early stages; a young fowl may have a straight breastbone at, say, three months old, and a couple of months later be badly deformed; prospective exhibition stock should, therefore, be examined periodically.

A very strict watch should be kept on prospective show fowls always as it is imperative that they be kept in perfect condition physically. They must be housed in clean, sanitary pens and on clean litter.


Maintaining Condition

Cockerels in particular are apt to become infested with lice, and this must be guarded against; intestinal worms must also be prevented, as if either of these parasites are encountered the fowls cannot thrive as they should, and their general condition will suffer.

Leg colour should be preserved at this particular stage, and much may be done to assist it. If the fowls have a grassy run to roam over it will help to preserve leg colour, but in any case it is advisable to wash the legs periodically and also to rub a little olive oil on them.

When the fowl reaches maturity the owner will find himself well repaid for the trouble, as bad leg colour detracts a great deal from the general appearance of an otherwise good fowl.

Feed a good, plain, non-forcing mash containing three or four percent of linseed meal, and provide a liberal allowance of succulent green feed. Remember that the more grain they can be induced to eat in place of mash the harder will be the fowls’ condition, the more glossy will be the plumage, and it will assist also in securing a firm comb carriage in males possessing large single combs, such as Leghorns and Minorcas.

If used to grain feeding, the fowls will feel more at home while at the show where no mash is given them, and they are not so likely to lose condition.

While this preliminary training is taking place spend as much time as you can among the fowls; handle them occasionally and talk to them all the time – this makes the show pen training which they are to undergo later much more simple. Take the greatest care not to frighten them as that will undo much of the good work already accomplished.

When talking to them, do not merely make a soft noise or think that you are talking to a baby – use “fowl” language; imitate the fowls as well as you are able (it may not be easy at first, but persevere) and you will be surprised to find how it soothes the fowls.

When handling a cockerel, or when among a flock of cockerels, imitate the voice of the male and see how they take notice; the more adept one is the greater the effect. When handling females, imitate the female voice, which is altogether different – a sing-song intonation in a higher key. It works like a charm.


Training for Show

Watch the fowl’s health. A little good iron tonic occasionally will do them good. Training them for show will be comparatively easy if the advice already given has been followed, as they will be quiet and tractable, and it should be a matter of a few days only to teach the fowl to show itself to the best advantage.

If, however, the fowl is taken from a flock running in a large yard, it may take weeks to get it into show condition.

Much depends on the temperament of the fowl; it is quite possible that it will fret for a few days when put into the training pen and by so doing lose condition. A week may pass in this manner, and, if so, it will take another week to restore the condition lost and get the fowl fit again.

The experienced showman knows that it is best to commence the show preparation early, and also that to have the fowl well trained and in good condition in every respect is a big step towards winning, as most judges admire a well-trained fowl but, generally speaking, do not waste much time on the untamed specimen that tries to get through the roof of the coop as soon as he approaches it scattering litter all over him at the same time.


The Training Pen

The training pen should be similar in size to a show coop, though a shade larger may be an advantage. The main thing to consider is that the fowl to be trained has sufficient room.

A layer of sand on the floor of the coop and a liberal supply of straw or rice hulls (if obtainable) makes good bedding. This must be changed frequently, as if allowed to accumulate, the plumage of a white fowl may become soiled to such an extent that the most careful washing cannot remove the stain.

Feed and water troughs should be placed outside the coop.

The best and simplest method to employ in actual training is to place the fowl quietly in the coop and leave it there for a little while. Then approach it and talk to it as already suggested and if proper care is taken the fowl should not take fright. Stroke it gently with a stick; if it objects, leave for a while, and at the second visit the fowl will be found more ready to submit.

Talk to it all the time – then, after a while, open the door of the coop and probably the fowl will walk out. Be ready to catch it. Hold it gently and keep on stroking it with the stick and it will quickly lose all fear if properly handled. Replace the fowl in its coop and after an interval repeat the operation; have a little tit-bit of some kind handy and give it to the fowl.

Careful and gentle handling will soon bring its reward. Teach the fowl to show itself to the best advantage.


Grooming and washing

Coloured fowls do not require washing, but white fowls, unless very special care has been taken, will need to be washed.

All that dark-coloured fowls require, in addition to having their legs thoroughly cleaned, is to have their faces, combs, and wattles washed with soap and water. Do this very gently so as not to draw blood, which is easily done. Careful grooming of the feathers with a piece of silk a few times prior to the show should ensure that the fowl is shown to best advantage, as such grooming produces a glossy appearance.

White fowls require washing; even such varieties as light Sussex and Columbian Wyandottes will be much improved in colour if washed, almost the only exception in the case of white fowls being pullets before their first show. It is possible to prevent the latter from becoming soiled if proper care is taken and their quarters are kept pure with clean litter.

Only by the greatest care can this be done, but it is worth trying as repeated washing has a tendency to take the bloom off the plumage, and, for the same reason a fowl that does not require washing stands the strain of repeated visits to the show better.


How to Wash a Fowl

The method of washing a fowl has been described on many occasions, but it is worth repeating as it is a most important operation, though quite simple when one knows how to do it. Whether two or three or a dozen fowls are to be washed, the preliminary preparation is practically the same.

Three good-sized tubs and plenty of boiling water must be available to provide bath water of the correct temperature.

If a fair number of fowls is to be washed it is best to start early in the day so that they can all be well dried before nightfall, and fowls dry out much better in open sunlight than before a fire.

Of course, in some climates and in wet weather drying in front of a fire may require to be resorted to, but, if so, every care must be taken to see that the fowl is not too close to the fire or irreparable damage will result in blistered lobes and comb.

Three tubs of water are required to make washing a success because all traces of soap must be rinsed out. Otherwise the feathers will not web properly.

In the first tub the water should not be a greater depth than five or six inches, (13-15cm) and it should be as hot as the fowl can stand without causing it distress. A fair amount of blue may be dissolved in this tub, and a quantity of Lux dissolved in a jug of boiling water should be added also. **

The second tub must be filled right up so that the whole body of the fowl can be plunged into it. This water should be luke-warm only and contain just the faintest trace of blue; this is for rinsing purposes.

The third and last tub of water may be nearly cold, though not to such an extent as to chill the fowl, as may easily occur in cold weather; the chill must be taken off it and this water should not contain any blue.

Preparations must also be made for drying the fowls. If it is a nice sunny day and a clean grass lawn is available, the conditions are ideal. If the lawn is not clean enough, put down a deep bedding of clean straw. Otherwise the washed fowl may be put into a drying crate comprising a box about 2ft. 6in. (750mm) square with sides and top of wire netting, but the lawn is best as if the day is fine and there is a breeze blowing the fowls will be dry in a couple of hours, whereas in front of the fire the process is slow and unsatisfactory.

The actual washing can be done by one person, but an assistant to hold the fowl is an advantage.

Place the fowl on its feet in the first tub. Saturate the plumage thoroughly with water, also the head, so as to soak any spots of dried blood or sores that may be on the comb or wattles, but leave the actual washing of the head until every other part of the body is clean in order not to cause the fowl undue distress.

Lather the plumage thoroughly with soap, taking care to get right down to the skin; the short body feathers may be rubbed all ways, but great care must be taken with wing and tail feathers. Rub with the feathers only and do not break them; a soft brush may be used if desired, and a piece of cloth is also useful.

When plumage and legs and feet are thoroughly clean, wash the head gently, clean out nostrils carefully and when satisfied that nothing more can be done, lift the fowl and scoop off as much of the soap as possible with the hands.

Now plunge the fowl into the second tub and rinse it thoroughly, remove every possible trace of soap. The final rinsing takes place in the last tub, not forgetting the head.


Drying the Plumage

Now the fowl is ready to dry. The best way to do this is to sit down on a low stool, with a piece of oilcloth across the knees over which a clean cloth is spread.

After as much water as possible has been squeezed out of the feathers with the hands, dry carefully with clean towels, starting with the head. When nothing more can be done with the towels, tie a string about 2ft. long to one of the fowl’s legs, and on the other end of the string place a small peg which, when driven into the ground, securely tethers the fowl.

On a fine day a fowl dries quickly and is then ready to be put back into a clean coop and fed as usual.

The novice must not be disappointed if the plumage does not look very white while it is wet; if the washing has been well done it will dry out snow-white.

It is best to do the washing the day before the show if possible, and not several days earlier, as in such case the fowl is almost sure to get soiled. Fowls always look their best on the day following the wash.

Before crating the fowls for the journey to the show, sponge again their face, comb and wattles with clean water only; do not mess them up by applying oil to these parts – it is unnecessary and may do more harm than good.

Forward the fowls in a good traveling crate divided into the required number of compartments and place only one fowl in each compartment to prevent them getting soiled.

If the show is handy and it is possible to do so, attend to the penning of the fowls yourself, and carefully dust out their pens: many a well-washed fowl has been practically ruined for the time being by being placed in a dusty show pen.

If these hints are followed, everything possible will have been done; it is then up to the judge and the quality of the exhibits.

The novice should not be discouraged if success does not smile on his first efforts. We see exhibits winning the blue ribbon repeatedly at one show, and a week later under another judge they pass unnoticed.

If satisfied that your fowls are up to standard don’t worry, but try again and success will come.


Adapted from an article originally printed in “Poultry”, 14/9/61.

[**Exhibitors should be careful how much “blue” they use in the washing of their fowls. Experience has proven that very little is required]