A Beauty Pageant for Chickens: Poultry Show Pits Fowl Against Fowl

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One of the many exotic chickens competing for Best in Show.

This blog post comes to us from independent producer Gideon Brower.

One of the many exotic chickens competing for Best in Show.

Hundreds of exotic show chickens vied for the title of Best in Show at the Seaside Feather Fanciers Spring Fling poultry show in Ventura last month. The last competition of the season offered birds and breeders a final chance to bag a chicken-topped trophy along with bragging rights until September.

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Donald Barger is one of the judges at the poultry show.

Not familiar with the world of exhibition poultry? You’ve got a lot to learn. Exotic chickens have been selectively bred for centuries, and most bear little resemblance to your common barnyard egg-layer. The ideal for each breed is exhaustively detailed in the American Poultry Association’s “Standard of Perfection,” the bible of the show chicken world. “The book tells what the shape of each body part should be,” says Donald Barger, one of the judges ranking the entries. “We judge them against the perfect bird, and place them accordingly to how they fall in that point system.”

For the poultry show neophyte, the Spring Fling presented a mind-boggling array of show chickens of every size, color and pattern: solid, spangled, speckled and mottled. Fluffy white Silkies look like manic collections of stray cotton balls. The Polish breed with its crest of wild feathers resembles a mid-‘80s Tina Turner. Some birds have long colorful tails; others have legs so densely feathered they look like overgrown Ugg boots. A few require a second look to see which end is which.

As the “urban chicken movement” continues to gain ground (Williams-Sonoma now sells chicken coops), even finicky city dwellers may discover the joys and challenges of raising exhibition poultry. “There is a chicken here for everybody,” says Peggy Aten, who’s been breeding exotic fowl for over 30 years. Whether you’re into feathery or sleek, refined or outlandish, “we can find you a chicken.”

Listen to the full report from the Seaside Feather Fanciers Spring Fling poultry show below:

This segment was made possible by KCRW’S Independent Producer Project with special thanks to Eric Drachman. See a slideshow of scenes from the chicken show below: