Select Page

5 Steps to Poultry Showmanship

4-Hers are waiting for their moment with the poultry judge. Photo Credit: Misty Smith

4-Hers are waiting for their moment with the poultry judge. Photo Credit: Misty Smith

I am often asked, “How do you wash a chicken?” I reply, “Just like a turkey, only on a smaller scale!” But for many 4-H’ers, washing chickens is part of showing chickens and is a skill they have to master.

Raising and showing poultry is quickly becoming a hobby for people of all ages. Youth who are active in a 4-H poultry project, are already one step ahead of the rest. Not only do they learn about poultry health, bio-security, and nutrition, they also learn about sportsmanship and other aspects of the poultry industry through showmanship.  Many UF/IFAS Extension Offices offer day camps and clinics to help youth learn how to raise and show poultry, so contact your local office for more information- there’s one in every county!  Here are a few steps 4-H youth can take to prepare for a poultry show:

Step 1: Handle your chicken daily. By handling your chicken daily, this will ensure that it is used to people, and will be friendly to the judge. A friendly chicken shows the judge that the chicken’s owner has been dedicated to preparing the bird for showing, not just ignoring it and bringing it to the show on show day.

Step 2: Practice holding your chicken. There is a correct way to hold a chicken when you are showing it and you will need to practice, practice, practice. When you and your bird feel comfortable around each other, you can start practicing holding and walking around with the bird the correct way, by placing your middle and fourth finger between the bird’s legs. Using your first finger and pinkie, hold the bird’s wings down.  For carrying, put the bird’s head under your arm. When youth practice holding and carrying their bird, the bird becomes very docile and calm which makes for a great show chicken.

Step 3: Know the parts of the chicken. This step is one of the hardest in the entire showmanship procedure.

Poultry Showmanship can help youth build communication skills and confidence. Photo Credit: Julie Dillard

Poultry Showmanship can help youth build communication skills and confidence. Photo Credit: Julie Dillard

It is based on simply remembering the steps and practicing with your bird. Youth are quizzed on the parts of the chicken and whoever knows the most, does the best. Make sure you know about the head, wings, under color, width of body, breast, vent, abdomen, pubic bone, legs and feet, and how to cage a bird. All of these will ensure to the judge that youth have studied about their bird and are very knowledgeable on the parts of a chicken. Also, know about the breed of your chicken. You will want to do your homework on the breed of chicken that you are showing so any questions that the judge may ask about your bird you will know how to answer correctly.

Step 4: Know how to bathe your chicken. The easiest way to bathe a chicken is with a 5 gallon bucket of lukewarm water and dish soap. You want to “dip” the chicken 2-3 times in the soapy water, avoiding getting the head wet, and then dip them in clean water to rinse them off. Never submerge a chickens head in the water due to the fact that the chicken can aspirate and die. If your chicken’s head is soiled, use a wet cloth to wipe it clean. The chicken will take care of the rest by preening itself so make sure that you bathe the chicken 48 hours prior to the show so that there will be time for natural oil replacement. Place your chicken in a wire cage to ensure it stays clean before the show.

Step 5: Have fun! Showing chickens is a great and rewarding experience for youth. Poultry shows are a great opportunity for youth to demonstrate their skills, gain confidence, make lifelong friends and practice responsibility.  The 4-H poultry project can be the spark that leads youth to a career in animal science industry where the possibilities are endless!

Do you have a passion for poultry?  If so, consider using your knowledge, skills and interests as a 4-H poultry volunteer.  We could use your expertise planning shows, teaching workshops and helping youth experience success with their poultry project.  Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org for more info.

Recommended Resources for Poultry Showmanship:

The Impact Ag Judging Had on Me

Here in North Florida, as the dogwood trees start to turn colors and drop their leaves and I wait for the first cool breezes of a seemingly delayed Autumn I often find my memory is easily awoken by hints of past falls.

As a teen I participated for several years in the Agricultural Judging contest on the Wakulla County 4-H team. I fondly remember sticking my nose into a bail of bahia grass hay to check it for freshness. I can still recall my nerves as I stood silently beside my peers, clipboard in hand, intently looking over hogs and heifers rating them by confirmation and preparing the oral reasons to defend my decisions. The feel of oats in my hand as I compared and contrasted the merits of several samples.

The lessons I learned in Ag Judging stayed with me. It was one of my first introductions to the science of Agriculture. As a 4-H Horse project kid before my participation in the contest I had never stopped to consider many of the other aspects of agriculture that informed and supported my interest in horses and my horses themselves.

Understanding how to recognize and judge the grain and hay I fed my animals daily sparked an even greater understanding and interest in agriculture as a whole. Learning to judge other livestock piqued my interest in equine judging and led me to compete in that event at the state level and even win a state judging division one year. Once I was able to drive, my experience in judging agricultural commodities gave my parents the confidence to send me to buy the large amounts of hay and grain needed to keep the horses at our family’s boarding stables happy and fit. One less chore for them to have to worry about.

In college as an agricultural student I found that the 4-H judging programs I had participated in had prepared me perfectly for the practical lab tests in class. I discovered that they were set up in the same format as the 4-H programs I had been in just a few years before. 4-H helped me prepare for college by giving me practice in the exact kind of tests and exams as I would face in almost every practical agricultural lab I would end up taking.

Reading this some might think that the Agricultural Judging contest sounds great for a farm boy or girl looking to have a career in agriculture but it may not be for me or for my 4-H’er. They may change their minds after considering the life skills learned. The ability to think on your feet and the independence to rely on personal knowledge when making decisions are vital real world examples. These are the exact positive life skills that 4-H judging competitions teach and hone in young people.

Long-time Leon County 4-H Agent Marcus Boston says that he has, “seen the positive difference that 4-H has on young people. Agricultural judging teaches independent thinking. Youth have to make choices based off what they know and can’t ask for someone else to decide for them. That’s what you have to do every day as an adult.” Mr. Boston has been organizing the Ag Judging program at the North Florida fair since I was participating in the early 2000’s. That kind of dedication speaks to a real belief in the benefits and results of a program.

The youth who participate in the program can anticipate judging categories that will be chosen from the following:

  • Beef (Steers)
  • Poultry
  • Corn (shelled)
  • Oats
  • Heifers (Beef)
  • Perennial Peanut Hay
  • Soybeans
  • Grass Hays (e.g. Bahia, orchard grass)

Since different categories depend on availability and community support participants should be prepared for all of the categories.

If coaching or participating in an ag judging team appeals to you, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org.  You can find out more about ag judging at these links: