What To Expect at Your First Poultry Show
Going to your first poultry show can be exciting, but somewhat nerve-wracking. What am I supposed to do? How
do I “show” a chicken anyway? Where do I go, and when? What do I do when I get there? What will the judge
do/say/think about my birds?
Believe me, it seems complicated at first, but it’s really easy once you know the routine, and a lot of fun! Chicken
people are great to show with, and chicken shows are much easier than almost any other kind of animal show. All
you have to do is get your bird in the cage, the judges and clerks do the rest! But there’s a lot of preparation to do
beforehand, and in this article I’ll try to walk you through what you need to do.
At lot of what you have to do before a show is prep work, and it has to start long before the show itself. See this
article for more info on conditioning and prepping for a show..
But even before you’ve gotten your birds conditioned and prepped, there are some things you need to do. The first is
to determine the date and location of the show you want to attend. An easy way to find out info about poultry shows
is to subscribe to The Poultry Press, which is the monthly newspaper about the exhibition poultry fancy. It’s a great
resource for show info, as well as informative articles about poultry husbandry. Two great magazines include Fancy
Fowl and Backyard Poultry, which have lots of great tips and tricks for both the newcomer and the seasoned shower.
Once you figure out which show you want to go to, you need to obtain an entry form and/or show catalogue. The
entry form is key, you need to fill it out fully and have it back before the deadline so that the show secretary can
determine how many birds will be at the show, and make cage cards for them all. Here's how to fill out entry forms.
So let’s say you’ve filled in your entry form, sent it off, and it’s the day before the show. Some shows are one-day
shows, others are two-day shows. For a two-day show you might want to consider making a hotel reservation (for
larger shows it’s important to do this well in advance, as hotels can get filled up!) For a one-day show you might
want to drive there early the day of, but be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to “coop in” your birds (put them in
their cages and ensure they are ready to show.)
Before you leave, be sure to grab your health forms. Most poultry shows require entrants to be tested for
Pullorum/Typhoid, and some require testing for Avian Influenza as well. That info will be in the show catalogue.
Most states have a testing program (which varies from state to state), which will fall under the State Veterinarian’s
Office. You will need to call your State Vet several weeks before the show date to find out what you have to do to
have your birds blood tested before the show. Once you’ve had that done the paperwork is usually good for between
30 to 90 days, so should serve you for the upcoming shows.
Ok, you’ve got your paperwork done (entries, health forms), got your birds prepped and packed up, and are off to
the show. Once you arrive, what then? First thing to do is check in with the show secretary. They will have a list of
exhibitors, each with their own number. This number will tell you where to put your birds. Figure out your number,
and then go and find your cages. Cages are set up according to Classes (American, Continental, English etc. for
Large Fowl; Single Comb Clean Legged, Feather Legged and so on for Bantams.) Once you find the Class in which
your bird belongs, you’ll see the Breeds (Dutch Bantam, Silkie, Buckeye, and so on.) Breeds are broken down further
by gender: Cock, Hen, Cockerel, Pullet. So look for the cages that have your number on them, in the genders and
breeds and classes for each of your birds. Note that some shows require leg bands on each bird, and put the leg band
number on the specific cage, others just designate exhibitor numbers and let you decide in which cage to put your
Once you’ve figured out which cages to put your birds into, there are a couple of things to do before you pop them
in there. You might want to make sure there are enough shavings in each cage, most shows are very generous with
shavings, but it isn’t a bad idea to bring a bale of your own just in case you’d like to put some more in (especially
important for feather legged breeds.) You will see water cups in each cage, and again, it’s a good idea to bring some
extras just in case, as you may wish to put feed in one cup (rather than scatter it on the floor) and water in another,
which is more important for two-day shows than one-day shows. (Note it’s best not to give birds too much food to
eat before showing, having a full crop ruins the look of a sleek, show-ready bird. So hold off on food before judging
at a one day show, and give small amounts the night before a two-day show.) Bringing your own food and water is
always a good idea, just in case.
Some caveats about cooping in: it is considered bad form (and against ABA/APA rules) to enhance the cages your
birds are in so as to distinguish your birds from other peoples birds. So don’t write your name on any cage cups, don’
t put up opaque barriers between your birds and those next to them (clear plastic can be used, but it’s important that
the judge can look down the aisle and see all the birds.) As well, it is never ok to bring birds that are sick or have
parasites to a show, it’s not fair to other exhibitors, and you may wind up having to remove your birds and go home
if the show superintendant or judges discover it.
Once your cages are set up, take each bird out and look it over before putting it in the cage. You may want to check
its feet for dirt, give its feathers a going over with a clean cloth (some folks use silk to shine their birds up well),
inspect its eyes and nose and beak and toenails and vent to be sure everything is perfect before judging. Then when
you’re sure the bird is ready to go, pop it in the cage, and go onto the next. When all the birds are cooped in and
watered, your work for now is done! Go find a cup of coffee or a cold drink, introduce yourself to some other
exhibitors (most poultry show people are very nice and welcoming to new exhibitors), and find a place to sit. For
now until judging is done, there’s nothing else for you to do. Most judges prefer that exhibitors stay clear of the aisles
in which they are judging, so as not to distract them. If you like you can “cage hang” and peer at the judge from the
next aisle over, but best to do so discretely if you feel you must.
Once the judging is done, you can go back over to your cage and see how you’ve done. Reading a cage card can
seem confusing at first, I’ve written two whole articles on what the markings mean, see them here: Cage Cards 1 and
here: Cage Cards 2
With luck, you’ve won something wonderful! Awards and trophies are given out at the end of the show, and if you’
ve won one, your exhibitor name will be called out and you can go up and collect your winnings. But even if you
didn’t win the first time, don’t be disappointed, it’s a learning experience, and with luck you’ve met some other
people who work with the breeds you do, and asked them questions and looked at their birds. Breeding good birds to
win shows with takes time, and practice, and hatching a lot of birds! Once you win that first trophy it will make the
hard work feel like it was all worthwhile. And in the meantime, you’ll have fun learning and showing. Best of luck to
you, and may all your birds be healthy!
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