June 21, 2009
Dear Chicken Lady, I want to win every single trophy at the fair and if not that, at least win one of those big fancy ribbons. So how do I find birds good enough to win? Every year I buy some and they turn out to be failures. We want nothing but the best to win a trophy, fame and fortune. Where do I start? Sincerely, Wanna Be a Winner
Dear Wanna Be, A favorite ad in the Poultry Press reads “Show the best, eat the rest. No birds for sale.” You might as well try to light a match underwater as to find a breeder who will sell their best birds, not just the ones they don’t want to feed or eat. (Even chicken farmers like a good pork chop now and then instead of chicken stew.)
Now if you are like us and so poor you can’t even pay attention, your best bet is to save your pennies and get a Book of Standards, also available at any sensible library. It’s the go-to resource of the poultry fancier so memorize it, take it with you wherever you go, and go to shows and swap meets. Every now and then you will find a bird that is good enough to show at the fair and if you can get it in good condition you might be able to win with it.
There are no classes for coolest, strangest, or prettiest bird. Judges want to see a bird that looks like the Book says it should and the easiest bird to do that with is first, a white bird and second, a black bird. No one can resist the fancy colors, the silkies, the top knots of the polish, the frizzled, the naked necks. But any of the exotic birds that we are not used to seeing are the hardest to breed to match the standard.
Granted, we have not taken our own advice because how boring would that be? We are breeding the big uglies, the Malays. It is one of the older breeds around, and many of our other breeds came from it like Rhode Island Reds and Cornish. Judges aren’t familiar with it or the breed standards, however, so they rarely win top prize.
Folks, you gotta think the way the Champ does. Muhammad Ali said the only way he was able to be the world champ three times was by losing twice. Failing is OK. Not trying again is not.
Keep working on breeding your own top notch bird. In our first year breeding Rhode Island Reds we hatched about 150, and ended up with a few good ones. Of course, not knowing the standards well enough, we sold the best and ate the rest but did manage to save a few good ones along the way.
Another way to winning is knowing how to get your bird in good condition. This is a top secret course you are welcome to take from us for the small price of some bird coop cleaning. [And the course has added benefits, like access to the famed Locust Lane spa mud, and various treatments with garlic mustard and other exotic specialities.]
You realize, I hope, that like the many other people we have calling us this time of year it is really too late to get birds in shape for this year’s Fair. After trudging through the snow and mud all winter and spring caring for their birds, the likelihood of anyone selling their best birds to last minute callers is quite slim. The early bird gets the worm and the trophies. Sincerely, Chicken Lady