Tonawanda News

August 27, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Don't forget about the birds during fair season

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — My substitution for Sports Illustrated, Men’s Fitness and Harpers magazine was always easy: Strombergs, Murray McMurray Hatchery and Holderread Waterfowl. 

These magazines would keep me occupied for not only hours, but days. I would study all the 1-inch-by-1-inch cells that would contain an exemplar picture of an adult male and female duck, chicken, turkey or goose. The magazines would arrive in late winter, days apart from one another, just in time for placing an order in the early spring. This way the chicks or ducklings would be ready to be judged at the summer fairs.

Chicks are usually shipped in quantities of 25 and ducklings in groups of 15. These numbers are the lowest quantity the hatcheries feel safe to ship. This size shipment keeps the individual birds company, potentially reducing the stress of shipping, and most importantly they could keep each other warm — something vital to their survival. 

All birds that are shipped are a day old and do not require food for approximately three days. The yolk which is still attached to their lower abdomen provides all the nutrients they require in the overnight shipping package.

I remember picking up my first package of live ducklings at the post office. It was many years after keeping ducks and chickens already, but these were exotic. They were hatched in Oregon. The postal worker went behind the partition and I knew they were returning to the counter when I could hear the immature quacking of fifteen or so ducklings coming from a shoe-sized box.

It was quite the setup from starting them out in the garage under a brooder light, then moving them to the barn with pine shavings on the bottom of their stall and then finally outside during the day with pools, river rocks and hide huts.

That was just the beginning. The judges at the fair were not interested in their upbringing, they were interested in the here and now. Each bird is judged against their ideal specimen which can be found in the book, American Standard of Perfection, created by the American Poultry Association. The bird’s size, weight, feather quality, alertness, legs, tail angle and more are all assigned certain points. The birds with the most points in their breed are then judged against other breeds and then other species of poultry to access the overall winner of the show. In the end an English call duck could be competing with a bantam Silkie chicken for best of show. 

To complicate things, birds are judged based on sex and age first. Cocks and hens (males and females over 1 year of age) and cockerels and pullets (males and females under 1 year of age) are judged separately.

If you are interested in becoming a poultry judge it is not a simple feat. First you have to be a member of the American Poultry Association for at least three years. During that time the association would like to see you raise and exhibit as much diversity as possible. Categories include large and bantam chickens, waterfowl, turkeys and guineafowl.

After your three years of membership, individuals interested in becoming a judge are required to submit a $225 application fee. After the paperwork is processed, multiple tests including open-book, written and show-room exams with at least 80 percent grades are required. Acting as a clerk for four to eight poultry shows with more than 1,000 birds at each show are also required to become a certified judge.

I hope if you have recently attended a county fair you appreciated the farm animal exhibitions. They are made possible by animal-loving pet owners who care greatly for them. From egg to exhibit, these caregivers have spent many hours preparing their pets to be judged. If you missed the Niagara or Erie County fairs, the New York State fair is still running until Sept. 2. With a two-story tall poultry building (including pigeons!) you might want to plan an extra day just for the birds.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.