Cocks will retain their condition longer than hens which will show signs of a heavy laying period in their condition and colour of comb. Hens can be discouraged from starting to lay by feeding them on whole wheat only for a period before the show. Moving them around from pen to pen will also unsettle them and delay the desire to nest.
Before the show, birds should be kept in clean, dry conditions. Make sure the site is well-ventilated but free from drafts. Keep fresh feed and clean water continually available. If you have birds penned together make sure they are not over-crowded and that they are compatible.
Silkies (seen below) should be washed as close to show time as possible. Flat feathered birds should be given a couple of days after washing to allow the feathers to settle. Hard feather breeds can be spoiled by washing. You may need to plan well ahead to keep them clean by choosing their litter carefully. A rub down with a silk cloth will help on the day.
White birds such as the Dorking (below) or Light Sussex are normally washed before a show. Use warm, soapy water to wash the feet of dark birds too but it isn't necessary to wash them unless they are soiled. If you aren't accustomed to washing your birds, have a trial run in advance of a show. Wash the bird in a room with a temperature at 80 to 90oF. The room must be free from drafts.
Dorking Cock (above)
Fill a tub three-quarters full of lukewarm water. Add a mild dishwashing detergent and swish round to form suds. Place the bird in the tub and wash by sponging down on the feathers from base to tip. Washing again the lie of the feathers will cause them to fray. Use a soft brush to wash the feet, taking care to clean between the toes. Pat the water from the feathers then place the bird in a second tub and rinse the soap from the feathers. The feathers should float and fan out. Be sure to get every last bit of detergent out of the feathers. It is good to use a third tub for a final rinse. Pat the water from the body with a clean, dry towel. A hair dryer on a warm setting is a great help in drying. When finished, place the bird in a clean cage with clean straw or paper on the floor.
Don't leave the bird alone in the water. If the bird starts to panic, stop for a while and try to soothe it. Talk to it and make your movements gentle and slow. Drying can take ages so allow plenty of time.
Trim the beak and claws regularly using dog nail clippers or toe nail clippers. Avoid cutting the quick. Oil the legs to keep the scales supple. Mineral oil or Vaseline can be applied to the comb, shanks and toes. Keep the temperature at an even 80 to 90oF.If the temperature becomes too high, the feathers will curl.
It is important to take great care when removing birds from their cages. It is very easy for feathers to be broken, ruffled or pulled out when moving birds in and out of cages. One method of easy removal is to reach into the cage and face the bird towards the door. Put the right hand on the bird's back and hold the left wing. Move the bird towards the door. Then place the left hand under the breast, hold the right wing and ease the bird out of the cage. To put the bird back in the cage, put it in head first.
Light Sussex (above)
While you have it out, examine it as a judge would. Peer in its face, open up the wings, move the head back and forth. Walk around with it, stand it on a table and encourage it to stand properly. Move quietly and calmly and make any movements slow until the bird comes to trust you. Judges often use a pointer to move a bird in a cage without removing it out so accustom your birds to this as well.
Handle the birds once or twice a day for the fortnight before the show. At a show, birds will be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of crowds of people. They may be poked at and certainly removed for judging.
A bird not used to the situation may fly up in the pen, spoiling its plumage, upsetting other birds and annoying other owners and judges. It may even result in disqualification. Accustom your bird as best you can. Leave them in small cages or a rabbit hutch, preferably where there is plenty of human activity.
There are a number of ways in which unscrupulous exhibitors attempt to 'improve' their birds. Plucking out feathers, dyeing, glueing extra feathers and darkening combs with boot polish have all been tried. Judges have seen it all and will be quick to disqualify an entry if they suspect foul (fowl!) play.
On The Day
If you have a printed copy of your entries, take it with you on the day. Pen your birds at least half an hour before judging starts. This will give them time to settle down. Pack containers for feed and drink in case they're not supplied. Also take a cloth, cotton buds, kitchen paper and wet wipes. Once at the show, wipe their faces and apply a little oil or Vaseline to the legs and wattles (but don't let it get on the feathers). Some breeds with crests (such as the Polish) and/or muffling and beards (the Faverolle) will need the correct water container so the face area doesn't become wet. Use a small container or place a piece of tape across a large container to limit access. Check your birds regularly and remove any droppings. This will prevent your lovely White Leghorn getting dirty marks on her pristine white feathers.
Polish Chicken (above)
Birds are not normally fed or watered until after judging.
If birds are staying penned over night, you might want to take some small padlocks. It would be devastating if your prize-winner was stolen!
Faverolle Chickens (above)
After judging you may get the chance to talk to the judge. Listen politely and decide later if you agree or not. Judges may be paid for their petrol but they all keep their day jobs! Judging can be an onerous task and a judge can never please everybody so thank him/her for their advice and smile, however hard it is.
When you get your birds home, it is always a sensible precaution to isolate them from the rest of the flock for a week. This will allow any contagion that they may have picked up to show itself and will keep it from spreading to your other poultry. It is also a good idea to dust show birds for mites and lice.