Washed, preened and keen on Champion Row

07 Jul 2014 | 02:47

If it had feathers, it was there. About 800 chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons, along with their admirers, descended upon the fairgrounds in Augusta, New Jersey from as far as Virginia for the Sussex County Poultry Fanciers Association’s spring show.

It was at just such a show “umpteen” years ago – maybe 25 – that Arlene Sliker fell in love with the rooster that would turn her into a lifelong poultry fancier. Now Sliker, of Layton, NJ, who’s in her 70s, helps run the show, and members of her flock of 50 chickens occasionally make it into the central showcase known as Champion Row.

Judges, who’ve been through an apprenticeship and passed a rigorous exam, are looking for a bird’s conformity to the breed standard. “Of course they don’t make anything perfect,” said Sliker, but “you’re looking to see that [the feathers are] all in and they’re all uniform, and each breed has certain colors that you’re looking for,” said Sliker. “Same thing with the combs on top of the heads – some have three or four points, some have none.”

Why does it matter whether a chicken’s comb has three points or none? “It’s just like having a dog,” said another longtime Poultry Fanciers member, Janet Heida Little, of Sussex County. “When you have a Collie, you know, you want it to look like a Collie. The mixed breeds are nice, too, but they all look the same. They all have different colors all over them.”

You can buy birds at the show, or, for those who want to hatch their own, buy or swap fertile eggs. A pigeon judge who came down from Maine brought along some eggs for Sliker, who favors an unusual and friendly breed known as Partridge Plymouth Rocks. She put the eggs under one of her hens and, when we spoke in early June, was expecting them to hatch in a few days.

“There’s not too many people up in our area that have them,” Sliker said. “My bloodline has been getting thin.”

Some of the choicest eye candy won’t make an appearance until the fall show, though, which often draws a thousand birds. The best of the best have been in breeding coops, and lots of attention from a rooster can leave a showgirl not looking her best.