State fair's competitive chickens 'aren't your average birds'
There's more to chickens than "original" and "extra crispy." In some circles, beauty trumps tastiness. And the pecking order is determined by plumage, posture, poise and personality. "These aren't your average birds," said Brittany Wagner, 17, who raises fancy chickens at her home in Lithia. "You show them off. You don't eat these birds." The beauties of the bird world will compete for crowing rights at the Florida State Fair's Poultry Purebred Judging and Commercial Judging events, taking place daily through Feb. 15 in the Poultry Barn and Charlie Lykes Arena.About 300 to 400 varieties of poultry will be judged. Poultry includes ducks, geese and turkeys, as well as chickens. Some of the competitors showing off their tail feathers include: • Silkies: a powder puff of a bird with only a beak to hint which end is up. • Modern Game: a short, tight bird with long skinny legs and a sleek neck. • Phoenix: roosters with gorgeous tail feathers and bright red wattles and combs. "This is an important show for people that want to compete" in poultry, said Roy Thompson, a 2006 Florida State Fair Ambassador. "There aren't that many shows right now, maybe four or five a year. (Exhibitors) can win between $200 and $1,000 in savings bonds." One fancier hoping to win top chick is Wagner. The Durant High School senior will show three breeds of chickens at the show. She has been perfecting her flock for years, breeding Silkie, Modern Game, Serama and Dorking chickens. She also has to know her stuff - fanciers are judged as much as the chickens and are tested on their fowl knowledge. Finding the perfect bird - ones that are personable, have a good shape and sport perfect coloring - can take a lifetime. Wagner began her search for fowl perfection in the third grade after her sister persuaded her to enter a chicken in the state fair poultry contest. "It went from two to 12 to 24 to more than 100," said Wagner, a member of the Patchwork 4-H Club. Poultry shows are very similar to dog, cat and horse shows; each breed has certain standards that must be met. The judges first make a cursory round to check out all the birds. Then they return to the standouts and closely examine the birds, taking them out of the cages to inspect tails, wings and wattles. Hoping not to ruffle judges' feathers, exhibitors will straighten plumage, grease wattles and clean talons with baby wipes or WD-40. Before a show, birds are given the spa treatment: They're bathed and blow-dried; toenails and beaks trimmed. Although there's no award for Miss Congeniality, prizes are given for the best bird in each variety and the best-looking bird overall. "You want your bird to look good," said Wagner, showing off her favorite bird, Baby, a salt-and-pepper Silkie that will perch on her shoulder and nuzzle her with its beak. "You also want a bird that's not going to flip out if a judge reaches into the cage to take them out." Wagner's friend, Anna Hoffmann, knows what it takes to win top bird. Her Jersey Giant - a giant of the chicken world - won the American class prize at the Fair in 2007. "You have to be very dedicated to get a win," said Hoffmann, 16, a Blake High School student, who lives down the street from Wagner. "It made me really happy my chicken beat out the other students." Hoffmann will show seven birds this year, including her favorite Old English Creole. Win or lose, the girls say their fowls will never wind up in the deep fryer. "I would never eat them," Hoffmann said. "Never!" Wagner exclaims. "Not even their eggs. What if the egg is the next grand champion?" • The average chicken lives 10 to 15 years. • The largest recorded chicken egg weighed nearly 12 ounces and was 12.25 inches around. • The record for most eggs laid in one day is seven. • The greatest number of yolks ever found in a single chicken egg was nine. • Chicken language has real meaning. The birds give different alarm calls depending on what type of predator is threatening them. • There are more chickens than humans. • Chickens can travel up to 9 mph. • There are four cities in the United States that have the word "chicken" in their name: Chicken, Alaska; Chicken Bristle, Ill.; Chicken Bristle, Ky.; and Chickentown, Pa. • The fear of chickens is called alektorophobia. • The waste produced by one chicken in its lifetime can supply enough electricity to run a 100-watt bulb for five hours. Source: CountryCoopChickens.com
Reporter Cloe Cabrera can be reached at (813) 259-7656 or [email protected]