Cock-a-doodle-doo wasn’t heard at Indiana county fairs last year because of a statewide ban on poultry designed to prevent the spread of H5 avian influenza virus, or bird flu.
Since 4-H’ers couldn’t show chickens, turkeys, game birds or waterfowl, some opted to do a poster project.
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Fortunately, a turkey influenza scare earlier this year didn’t result in another ban, and poultry shows returned to county fairs this summer across the Hoosier State.
Despite only 11 kids participating in Monday’s 4-H poultry show at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, poultry superintendent Brenda Klosterman was glad to see chickens and other birds make a comeback at the fair.
“We’re involved in agriculture. We’re farmers, too, and I think the most important thing is to educate people for the fair,” said Klosterman, who has been involved with the poultry show for 25 years, including the past seven as superintendent.
“A lot of people don’t get to see a chicken,” she said. “You kind of take that for granted all of the things chickens give us. Food and eggs and all of the things we get from chickens, people don’t realize that, and I think that’s one of the biggest things with our fair is educating the public. If (poultry) isn’t here, it’s kind of hard to do that.”
Each of the 4-H’ers in Monday’s show has to exhibit at least one bird at this week’s fair, which runs through Saturday.
The number of 4-H’ers was down from the average of 20 over the years, Klosterman said. She blames that on last year’s ban and the show being canceled.
In talking with poultry judge Matt John on Monday, Klosterman learned the number of 4-H’ers involved in poultry is down in several other counties, too.
“I think part of the problem was in January when people started thinking about getting show birds, we had the turkey influenza scare, and people were afraid to do it,” said John, head of the agriculture department at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus who has been a poultry judge for 26 years.
Klosterman said she hopes to see the number of 4-H poultry members increase here.
“We’re trying to get a poultry club started,” she said.
One of this year’s participants, Anna Benter, 15, of Seymour, was especially happy to see the poultry show return.
By the end of Monday’s show, she had seven trophies and several ribbons in hand. That included earning grand champion in 4-H poultry and senior showmanship for her Wyandotte clean-legged bantam chicken and reserve champion for her white Leghorn chicken, master showmanship and eggs.
“I was very excited. I’m very happy,” she said. “I got some new chickens and have bought some new ones and tried to buy in better stock and build my poultry.”
Benter said John praised her champion chicken.
“He really liked the shape of her body and her color, so I think those are some of his favorite parts of it,” she said.
The male Leghorn also received a good critique.
“He really liked the shape of it and the body build, how it was big, but it’s missing some tail feathers, so that’s why it was knocked down a little bit,” she said.
John said he looks for poultry that meet the breed’s written standard description, ensuring the correct breed type and body size and style.
“We also look for the conditions, healthy birds that are well-fleshed, no sight of parasites or disease and for them to have as many of the feathers in,” he said. “In the summertime is when everything molts, so we have a lot of birds that are in bad feather condition, but several of the kids today had birds in good condition.”
In showmanship, John tests the 4-H’er’s knowledge of his or her bird.
“You could have a kid that has an average bird, a mediocre bird, but if they know a lot about their bird or a lot about the breed and chickens in general, they can win showmanship,” he said. “That’s always impressive to me, the kids that can win showmanship and have good birds, kind of throw those things together.”
Poultry showmanship includes rookie, junior, senior and master divisions.
“I have some real basic questions, and each level, I build on a little harder questions,” he said. “You get to the end, I really let them be the judge and tell me what they know, so I sort of just turn it over to them and say, ‘Tell me about your bird. What would you look for if you were judging this chicken?’ The ones that have a lot of detailed information are the ones that usually do best in that.”
After not being able to compete last year, Benter was glad to be able to do so this year.
“I took it hard because last year, I had some good chickens, I thought,” she said. “But I just kept them for this year and hoped they stayed well to show them again.”
Benter said she started working with chickens when she was in third grade. She’s now preparing for her freshman year at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour.
“When I was younger, my brother (Nate) did poultry, and I just kind of liked it, and I saw it here at the fair,” she said. “When I first started 4-H, I asked my dad (Mike) if I could do it, so we just got started by doing that. I just liked that they were small animals, and when I was younger, I could handle them myself without any issues.”
Benter said she feeds and waters the chickens once a day. To prepare them for the show, she also washes them a couple of times beforehand.
She had seven chickens in this year’s poultry show, and that’s what she said she has averaged each year.
“I like to hatch my own chickens, so if there’s one that (the judge) says isn’t very good and it’s genetic, I won’t use that one for breeding, and I’ll get rid of it,” Benter said. “I’ll only use the good ones for breeding.”
Benter said she plans to stick with showing chickens for the remainder of her 4-H career.
“It’s something I can do on my own without any help, so I can just take care of it and be independent with it,” she said.