Conditioning & Prepping for Shows
The first thing to remember about preparing to show your birds is that good feather quality doesn’t come
overnight, it must be grown, and it takes six to ten weeks to grow new feathers. Proper feather growth is
created by proper nutrients: food with the right balance of amino acids and proteins; and clean, abundant water,
both to drink and to keep feathers clean and conditioned. Conditioning should happen all year long, there’s no
way to take a bird with poor feathers and make him show ready in the space of a week.
We use feeds with protein levels between 18 and 20% (lower for large fowl, higher for bantams.) We try to keep
our birds on grass if we can (feather-footed breeds can be successfully kept on grass if they’re in pens you
rotate regularly so they’re not stepping in their own poop.) The moisture from dew is important for feather
quality, if your birds are in pens which don’t get access to the outdoors, misting birds once a week or so in
warm weather will help a lot.
Parasite control on a regular basis is also key. Birds with worms or mites will not have good body condition,
which may not be obvious when seen from outside the cage, but which a judge will feel when he picks the bird
up. Ideally you should check your birds at least once a week for external parasites, and worm them as dictated
by your conditions (different housing exposes birds to different parasites, some birds may never need to be
wormed.) If they show signs, de-mite/de-worm them with your product of choice (there are many options for
de-worming and treating for mites, too many to go into here.)
Once you’ve gotten your conditioning routine down, and have a show date on your calendar, here are some
things you can do to prep for a show:
- About two weeks before the show, have your state NPIP tester come and test your birds. Some shows will let
you test as you arrive, but then you may have bloodstains on your neatly washed birds, better to do them
- About a week before, clean out all pens/coops/cages in which your birds live. Re-bed deeply with clean pine
shavings (cleaning out pens regularly makes this task easier than if you use the deep bedding method.) Hay,
straw, and cedar shavings should be avoided as they are unsuitable for bedding (mold and/or odor problems.)
- About a week before, if you have cages, put the birds into them to get them used to being caged. Practice
taking the birds in and out of the cage (always headfirst!) so that it is comfortable with the process. Treats help
with this. A piece of wood as a perch helps the birds get used to being caged. Leave them in there for several
days (with food and water, of course!) then wash them.
- About seven to five days before the show, wash your birds. Assemble the following tools:
- Three pails or large buckets
- One large towel per bird
- Dog nail clippers
- Dog nail file
- An old toothbrush
- An old washcloth or other rag
- Blood stop powder, or cayenne powder (in case you nick a quick)
- Carriers deeply bedded with clean shavings
- Hair dryer (if it's cool outside)
- Dish soap or some sort of show shampoo (better to use something like Ivory than Dawn, which strips too
much oil from the feathers)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Bluing (only use if you have white birds, and not too much!)
- Crates deeply bedded with shavings to put the birds into for the final drying time.
Fill the buckets with warm but not too hot water. Put some ACV into the second bucket (not too much, just
enough to cut the soap) and if you are washing white birds, several drops of bluing into the third. Gently lower
the bird into the first bucket (but do not cover the head), swishing it up and down to get the feathers wet. Put
some soap into your hand and gently brush it onto the bird, stroking in the direction of the feathers, not against
the grain. Work the soap in, paying attention to the vent area and the toes. Be careful with soap around the eyes,
best to just use a washcloth to wipe the head area. Use the toothbrush to scrub the toes and legs, get all the crud
off of them.
Transfer the bird to the second bucket, swishing up and down to get the soap off. Then put into the third bucket
for a final rinse. Wrap the bird in a towel, leaving the head and feet sticking out. Sit with it on your lap (you will
get wet) and gently trim toes and beak (no judge likes to be scratched.) Use the file on the beak to remove sharp
edges and refine the look. Wipe around eyes again with the towel. Using the warm (not hot) setting on the blow
dryer, dry the chicken so that it is almost dry (you won't get it all the way dry.) Place it into the crate with
shavings in a warm, non-drafty place to finish drying (this may take several hours.) We find we can do between
six to eight birds per day effectively (run out of crates!) Once the bird is completely dry, return it either to the
cage or its clean pen.)
To take to the show:
- Your NPIP form, and health certificates if needed.
- Food and water for all your birds. It sometimes helps them to drink if you start adding ACV to their water
several weeks before the show, so if you run out of your own water you can add some ACV to the water at the
show and the birds will recognize the taste.
- Extra shavings, just in case (if you have room.)
- Some Baby Oil or Vaseline, for putting around eyes and beaks to make them shine (not too much!)
- Some folks use Pink Spray, or Show Sheen to spray their birds with, I find it tends to attract dust (and I don't
care for the smell.) You decide.
- Paper towels, you never know if you'll need some.
- Baby wipes to remove any last minute stains.
I’m sure there are some things I’ve left out, I’m not an expert, this is just a compilation of things we’ve learned
over the years. Modify to suit your own situation, nothing is written in stone. And best of luck to you at your
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