How to Get Best-of-Show Eggs

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 Hens like to hide their nests.


Getting twelve eggs to enter in a show or fair is difficult.  The eggs should be uniform, and of the same color and size.  One of our best laying hens always eats or claws up the eggs she lays.  Some of the others hide their nests.  If you are in this situation, the only way to get a good dozen eggs is to start saving them at least a month before you need them (the only way to do this is to refrigerate the eggs.

By the time over a month has passed, the eggs may not be good to eat.  But that doesn’t matter, since at most fairs the eggs are judged on appearance, not taste (there may be exceptions).  Just be careful that you don’t break any of them, or the smell may not be pleasant.

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Some hens will eat their own eggs.


 

To get the eggs looking good, we have found that it works best to was the eggs the day before.  We take a paper towel soaked in soapy water and scrub them off.  Usually you can scrub calcium deposits off the egg if you want to.

Once you have saved and cleaned the eggs, you need to sort them to pick out the best ones.  Usually it takes a lot of eggs to get a dozen good ones.


Practice Effectively for Showmanship

Chicken showmanship is like showing any other animal.  It takes practice, knowledge, and a well-trained bird.  But it’s hard to know where to start when practicing for this class.  Here’s some ideas to get the most out of your time spent training your bird.

If you’re training your bird, it should be in a safe area where your bird will be OK if it gets away from you.  Be careful that you don’t get clawed or pecked.

Keep your practice sessions short.  Only do about 5 to 10 minutes.  Practice often.

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 What you need: Your bird, a table, a mat or towel to protect the table (if you want), and a plate of treats (such as cheese chunks).  Keep the plate of food out of the chicken’s reach.  Otherwise, the food will be all gone before you even start training your bird.


 

The first–and easiest–thing you should teach your chicken is learning to pose on the table.  Make the bird stand still  without you touching it.  At first, the bird will try to walk away or fly off the table.  When this happens, pick the bird up and set it back on the table.  If the bird holds still for a second or so, give it a treat.  Gradually go for longer and longer times of your chicken standing still.  The ultimate goal is for your chicken to stand still while you walk a few steps away, wait a second, and come back.

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Step 1: train your bird to pose.


The next thing you can work on is getting your bird used to being picked up.  There is a specific way you have to do this for showmanship.  using whichever hand seems easier, put your middle two fingers together and spread your index finger an pinky away from them.  Slide your hand under your chicken.  The bird’s legs will go between your spread-out fingers.  Bring your fingers together so that you hold the bird’s legs firmly.  Hold one wing down with your thumb.  Finally, put your other hand over the chicken’s back.  Then lift up your bird.  If your chicken isn’t used to this, it will struggle and squawk.  When this happens, set the chicken down.  Keep trying until your chicken stops struggling–even if that’s a tiny fraction of a second.  Then give the bird a treat.  Don’t overdo this.  Do probably a minute max at the start.

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How to hold your hand when you pick up your bird.


After your bird is comfortable with being picked up–which can take a while–you can practice showing the wing.  Pick up your bird as described above, and then turn your hand until the bird’s head is facing you.  Then grab the wing closest to your other hand and gently pull it out by holding onto the shoulder of the wing.  Most birds tolerate this fairly well.  Then do the other wing the same way.  You will have to reach over the bird to do this.

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Showing the wing.


Once you’ve figured out how to show the wing, you can next practice showing the head.  Bring the bird up to your shoulder, with its head facing away from you.  Take the thumb of your free hand and gently bump the bird’s beak back and forth.  You should see each eye once.  When you’re done, lower the bird back down to the table.

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Lifting the bird up to show the head.


After this, get your bird used to having its feet handled for showing the feet.  Pick it up and position it like you’re going to show the wing.  Then–with your free hand–gently grasp the bird’s feet (one at a time).

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Practice for showing the feet.


Finally, make sure you spend time with your chicken.  This could be picking your chicken up, petting it, or feeding it treats.  The purpose of this is to get your chicken to trust you!

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Make sure you get to know your bird!  Spend time just petting it.


There are a few more things you will need to practice before a showmanship class.  But these are the solid basics to get you started.  Practice for a few minutes every day, and you will get a well-trained bird.   Of course, you won’t have to practice every day, but it would be ideal.  Also, once your bird gets used to being handled, you may only have to do this every now and then, like every few months.  You can do these exercises all at once (which I do), just one, or several at once.  It doesn’t matter.  These are not things you have to do to prepare for showmanship, but merely suggestions.  I designed them to use when I couldn’t decide what to do to practice for showmanship.   They seem to work.  I did them with my two-time Showmanship Grand Champion bantam Cochin and my Overall Grand Champion showmanship Old English Game Bantam.

Not covered here:

  • Showing the keel, which involves turning your bird upside-down correctly without hurting it.  I suggest watching a good chicken showmanship video to learn.
  • Showing the undercolor.  This uses skills practiced here.  You hold the bird like you’re going to show the wing, but instead pet the feathers on the chicken’s back gently the wrong way with your free hand.
  • Showing the width of body.  This is easy to do if you know how to show the wing.  Picking the bird up like you’re going to show the wing, wrap your free hand around the bird’s back crosswise.  Make sure your palm is facing AWAY from you so you don’t block the judge’s view.
  • Posing according to the standard.  Look up which way your bird is facing in the Standard of Perfection.  Your chicken just needs to face the right way.

That’s pretty much it!

BigThingsCoop

–BigThingsCoop

 


Why Chickens Dustbathe

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Chickens dustbathe to keep their feathers clean.


Chickens dustbathe mainly to clean their feathers.  Yes, dust sounds dirty, but it is the way chickens keep themselves clean.  Birds that don’t have access to a dust bath can get mites–dustbathing helps to prevent your chicken from getting infested.

Even if you supply your chickens with a nice sandy dust bath, they’ll prefer to dig their own.  Our chickens dug one several feet deep under a tree.  The dirt there stays dry all year because the tree keeps off the rain.  Also, chickens prefer a dry dirt dust bath to one made of sand.  They generally want their dust bath under the cover of a tree or roof–it makes them feel safer.

Chickens dustbathe by sitting down in a patch of dirt, digging a hole, and then rolling around in it while ruffling their feathers.  They like to dust bathe for a long time–sometimes for over an hour!  Mother hens teach their chicks to dustbathe when they are extremely young.  Dustbathing is an important part of a chicken’s life.

Below: How chickens dustbathe–demonstrated by Flinty, an Auracana hen.DSC01457 DSC01463

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Why You Should Train Your Bird BEFORE Going in Showmanship

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Blackie, a bantam Cochin, is my favorite hen to show.  She’s well-behaved and has won several championships and grand championships.


You should really train your bird to be picked up the correct way before going in showmanship.  Otherwise, you may find your bird perched on your arm, or worse, your head.  Handle the bird when it’s young to get the best showmanship bird.  And make sure you know the correct way to pick up a bird.  We handle our birds at home by not picking them up the way you are supposed to because they’re not used to it.  But the birds we’re planning to take in showmanship get picked up the right way in preparation for the show.

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Bantams are ideal for showmanship.


Also, not all birds are fun to take in showmanship.  Out of our 23 birds, there are only 3 good showmanship chickens.  Bantams are ideal because they’re smaller and you don’t have to work hard to pick them up.  Also, it’s harder when a 7-pound Jersey Giant misbehaves.  The absolute worst showmanship bird is one you can’t pick up without it perching on your arm.  Everyone will be staring at you in the showmanship class as it claws you and you try to shake it off.

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Not all birds are good for showmanship.


Handle your bird a lot before the show.  Make sure it is fine with being turned upside down to show the keel, having its wings stretched out, and standing calmly on the table without flying off.  If your bird likes to fly, it’s usually OK if you keep a hand on its back.  After you’ve practiced with your bird, there’s a better chance of it behaving at the show.

Tip for if you get into the round robin: the trick to winning is to show the biggest, nastiest bird you can handle and win with.  Other people will bring their huge rabbits, wild geese, and grumpy guinea pigs.  Also, know as much as you can about other peoples’ animals.  Offer to teach them how to show your bird in exchange for learning about their animal.

BigThingsCoop

–BigThingsCoop