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Bird Lovers From Across The U.S. Flock To Ohio

A Silver Laced Wyandott Bantam shown by Jack, a 14 year old competitor from Cincinnati
Renee Wilde
A Silver Laced Wyandott Bantam shown by Jack, a 14 year old competitor from Cincinnati.

It’s that time of year when Turkeys take center stage in the homes, and on the tables, of Americans across the country. On the second weekend of November in Ohio, it’s not just the Turkey’s that are on display.  Snowy Call Ducks, Peach Splash Pheasants, Silver Laced Wyandottes and many other heirloom and exotic fowl take center stage at the Ohio National Poultry Show held in Columbus.

Today on County Lines Producer Renee Wilde talks to poultry breeders from across the state, and the nation, who have traveled to this years show in search of the coveted National Title for their birds.

Stepping through the doorway of the Voinovich Livestock Arena for the Ohio National Poultry Show, the first thing you notice is how loud it is. The clucking, crowing, and honking from over five thousand chickens, ducks, turkeys and other fowl echo off the vaulted ceilings in the large hall.

Row after row of stacked mesh wire crates fill the space. Each crate contains birds of every shape, size and color. They’ve been meticulously bred by poultry lovers of all ages for the chance to be named the best representation of their class in the nation.

Mary Ann, 11 year old from Kenton with her chicken Queenie, a Mille Fleur Belgian Bearded D’Uccle, on her head.
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
Mary Ann, 11 year old from Kenton with her chicken Queenie, a Mille Fleur Belgian Bearded D’Uccle, on her head.

Judging for the Youth Show portion of the event is already underway. The class lets younger  breeders compete against each other. Kids are milling around the floor of the exhibit hall with their birds waiting for the showmanship class results. Eleven year old Mary Ann from Kenton has her chicken Queenie balanced on her head.

Mary Ann says it’s “Because she likes it. She’s here for showmanship. We already showed but I don’t know how I did.”

Mary Ann is a pro at this, she’s been showing chickens since she was seven.  But for Jack, a 14 year old from Cincinnati, this is his first national show. He explains what the judges are looking for in his white and black patterned Silver Laced Wyandotte Bantam.

“The lacing on the silver laced Wyandotte shouldn’t have any smut, which is what is in between the lacing,” Jack tells me, “ If there’s black in between the lacing it’s not a very good feather. And you want it to be very firm lacing around the white. And looking at the legs, eye color and comb.”

Poultry is judged using a thick reference book called the American Poultry Association Standard of Perfection. Each breed has specific traits that make it a prized specimen. 16 year old Gabby from Bath, New York explains what the judges are looking for.

“I have a Mille Fleur Belgian Bearded D’Uccle, says Gabby, “Her variety is called Mille Fleur and that means thousand flowers, so she kind of looks like she has little flowers all over her, so she’s pretty unique. So for this breed’s standard it says a good chicken would have a good beard and muffs, and that’s up here around her face. Reddish colored eyes, and a big thick neck, and a well spread tail. So lots of unique things that make her a good chicken.”

Conner from Coshocton with his Pencil Runner Duck
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
Conner from Coshocton with his Pencil Runner Duck

Poultry shows aren’t just for chickens. Connor from Coshocton is holding a large brown and white duck with a black face called a pencil runner.

“At our County Fair my dad saw a kid who had a duck. It was doing some funky stuff with it’s tail,” Conner says, “My dad said, ‘We gotta get a duck’. So we ended up getting into the whole duck part of poultry. We have Snowy Call Ducks, Muscovy Ducks, Pekin Ducks. We have too many.”

While rural youth programs like 4-H and FFA are common ways to get into poultry showing, the passion for breeding prize winning birds is often passed down through a parent, like Sheridan from Claremore, Oklahoma who shows the same game birds her father did.

Russell from Elyria with his newly purchased Peach Splash Pheasant
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO
Russell from Elyria with his newly purchased Peach Splash Pheasant

“My dad used to show when he was younger,’ Sheridan tells me, “I found ribbons and trophies and stuff like that, and asked him what it was, and he said it was from showing chickens. So that’s how I got started and we got back into it. Usually we’ll raise about a thousand or so, but this year we only raised 600.”

Over in the duck aisle, Don from Wisconsin Dells is both a judge here today and a competitor. He started in FFA 48 years ago. With him is his 35 year old son David.

“I’m also a judge, “ David tells me, “I’ve been going to chicken shows since I was two years old. This is my dad’s first chance to judge the National in 48 years, so it’s a really special moment that I get to spend time with him and do it as a judge myself.”

You don’t have to be a competitive breeder to enjoy these birds, like Russell from Elyria, who is cradling a brilliantly colored small pheasant.

“He is a peach splash pheasant,” Russell says as he cradles the bright bird in his hand, “ I just bought him, a $100 a pair. No, I probably won’t show him, just something cool to have around the farm. I just love the birds!”

Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

County Lines is made possible by a grant from Ohio Humanities.