Show Chickens For Kids
How to get youth started in poultry showmanship
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Show chickens are a fun and cost-effective way to get your kids interested in agriculture and started in 4-H. Since show chickens are more form than function, most parents start their kids in 4-H with layer birds, because they want eggs. This theory is valid, but let me explain why investing in some pint-sized show birds will pay dividends in the form of your child’s 4-H experience. But first: if you don’t know what 4-H is, let me give you a quick primer.
What Is 4-H?
In 1902, a small club called “The Tomato Club” was born in Clark County, Ohio. The premise of the club was to teach farm kids the newest concepts of agriculture of the day. By 1914, this and other agricultural youth clubs were collectively known as “4-H” clubs thanks to their clover insignia pin with an H on each leaf. In 1914, the Cooperative Extension System was formed within the USDA, and these clubs fell under the supervision of this newly created branch.
Evolution Of 4-H
4-H has evolved over the last 100 years and has become the largest youth development organization in the United States. 4-H is firmly rooted in agriculture but also branches out into other topics like STEM programs and youth outreach. The Cooperative Extension System still manages 4-H and keeps 4-H and state universities closely tied.
Show Chickens And 4-H
Most 4-H clubs hold monthly meetings. Clubs teach kids about their topic and do projects to teach new things. That’s where I began learning way too much about chickens, poultry management, keeping show chickens healthy and avian biology.
Life’s A Project
4-H kids have “projects,” which typically culminate in an annual exhibit at the local 4-H agricultural fair. For show chickens, it’s a chicken show. 4-H youths bring their favorite chickens to the fair after they’ve been groomed and bathed for the show. The birds are judged, and competitors receive ribbons for their bird’s placings, but exhibitors themselves also compete in a showmanship event.
Show Chicken Showmanship
Poultry showmanship, in a nutshell, is a series of moves kids learn with a show chicken in hand. Every move the competitors learn is designed to teach them something about the bird, such as anatomy, production evaluation, and health assessment. After the initial physical showmanship part of the event, each kid answers a few questions selected by the judge, usually two or three general knowledge questions.
Kids compete in groups by age and experience level. The competition can get rather intense in the experienced senior class, but in the clover bud classes (the youngest of them all) it’s more comedy than anything, and far more relaxed.
Picking the Right Show Chicken
Most kids start with the layers their parents have in the backyard, which is fine, but not ideal. If your child is competing in poultry showmanship, do them the favor of buying a Bantam show chicken. When you have a large bird that isn’t happy about being a part of the show, it becomes frustrating for the kids. Small show chickens are easier to handle and control, making it more of a positive experience, and more fun for the kids. Be sure to know the disqualifications in show-quality chickens when you’re buying them. You want your kids starting out on the right foot with show-worthy birds.
Less Is More
During showmanship, competitors hold their show chickens up to identify different parts or measurements of the bird. If this bird is hefty, their arms will fatigue quickly. In the interest of success and the overall enjoyment of the experience, I highly suggest that parents buy a few small chicken breeds, such as Old English Bantams, Sebrights, or Seramas.
Children should spend time with their show chickens, especially the ones they use in showmanship. Any show chicken that is small, light-weight, tightly feathered and has an easy-going temperament will work well. I say tightly feathered because fluffy chickens like Cochins and Silkies make it harder to find parts amongst the fluff. Also, avoid booted breeds, since their foot feathers stain easily and make grooming and bathing chickens for a poultry show that much harder.
The Real Deal
If you have children that are interested in poultry or even agriculture in general, I highly suggest giving 4-H a try. The education is valuable, and the experiences 4-H has to offer are fantastic. 4-H influenced who I am today. 4-H sparked my interest in poultry, taught me valuable lessons on agribusiness, and got me started with public speaking. The kids I met along the way have become invaluable contacts, friends, and some became fellow college students. 4-H also prepared me for the transition into the FFA through high school, which is another exceptional youth development program
Do you have kids in 4-H? What’s your take on the experience? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.