My husband Joe and I are just back from the crossroads of America poultry
show, where I exhibited twenty two of my white crested black Polish bantams.
There were over 10,000 poultry exhibited, from 30 states. I've been raising
chickens for 12 years. I began with feed store chicks that I wanted to grow up
tame enough for me to use as models for a children's book I was illustrating
called HEDGIE'S SURPRISE. I modified the looks of my silverlaced Wyandotte hens
when painting them to create a character for my story. They became tame enough
to stand on my art table. Painting them was far more difficult than I
imagined! After I went to my first poultry shows, I acquired Silkies and soon
afterwards a trio of white crested black Polish bantams. One of the Polish
cockrels has a role in GINGERBREAD FRIENDS and later a buff Cochin pullet became
the model for the team pulling the Easter bunny's coach in THE EASTER EGG.
I'm just finishing up on my turtle book for the fall of 2012, and I'm
planning a poultry Cinderella book for 2013. I jump-started my imagination with
a trip to the crossroads show. Here are my reflections:
I've never been to a poultry show where on cooping in, someone hasn't asked
if they could help me. Mix that spirit in with the thousands of hours setting up
breeding pens, hatching baby chicks, selecting and growing youngsters, and
washing and preparing that every exhibitor logs, and then add the sheer beauty
and majesty of hundreds of breed varieties of poultry at the top of their form
and vigor and you have a start to what a poultry show is about. And, an electric
current runs beneath it all, making a spectacular display into a stomach
churning mega event.The birds are judged. Each and every chicken, duck, goose
and turkey will be graded, it's wings spread, it's confirmation assessed, it's
breeds characteristics weighed and it's vigor acknowledged. A poultry show is
part celebration, part drama, part exhilaration and part whoop it up fun.
The Crossroads show, being a joint ABA and APA national virtually
guarantees that the best breeders in the country will bring their best birds
(with the exception of the judges' birds which they cannot show if they are
judging) . It insures that as you walk through the aisles of the show halls, you
are seeing the top of the quality pyramid, the best examples of each breed and
variety. You will see breeds and varieties that are so rare that you stop and
wonder, "What is that?" It makes a show of this magnitude, genetically
speaking, an historic occasion.
At every show I have a ritual that never fails to please me as I think back
on the show after it's over. I clear my mind and walk through the aisles with
no agenda, just looking at every bird with focus. It's strange how one bird will
loom large. At that moment, he or she just shines. Once it was a effervescent
white leghorn cockerel, another time an elegant grey Japanese cockerel, another
time a standard white Cochin pullet so commanding that it drew me in like I was
a fish in a line. At the last Crossroads in 2007 the special bird was a lemon
blue old English cockerel. He had an unearthly beauty - each feather sculpted,
the combination of breast, saddle, hackles and sickles explosively gorgeous.
This year it was one of my competitors birds in the white crested Polish bantam
class, a cockerel that was so eye capturing and fine that his elegant image
still comes back to me when I 'm running or trying to fall asleep. What is this
spark or charisma that radiates from certain birds? It goes beyond the
instinctive behavior that birds show in courtship displays. There is a
communication between bird and human that jumps the normal paths, and why it
makes a big show like the crossroads seem like a treasure hunt.
I had an experience at a show when a flighty duck of mine got loose and
flew crazily into the windows, thankfully missing the huge wide open door to the
show hall. It flew to ground and zigged between rows in a panic. I had just
about given up on ever bringing that guy home when one of our judges appeared,
magically picking it up . He brought it to me as if it were "business as usual".
There was something transmitted in the judge?s hands that made me curious. How
could he have first commanded my duck to give up , and then calmed him? I don't
think this ability of a great poultryman can be described, but I think it can be
emulated, just like if you see a graceful runner, you feel by just observing, a
little can rub off on you. I like to take a little time at a big show like this
to watch and try to put into my muscle memory the way great judges and breeders
handle the birds. There does seem to be moments where it seems like you can
emotionally communicate with poultry by touch.
A visit to The Crossroads isn?t complete for me without a visit to the
turkeys. Maybe it's because I can't have turkeys myself, but I love to hear
them call, and especially admire their fanned tails as they ?bestow their
magnificence?. Wild turkeys are very prevalent in new England where we live, and
it never gets old surprising a hen with poults or a flock of jakes in the woods.
To see all the stunning domestic varieties close up is a marvel, especially
considering the selective breeding it took to create them.
Tearing oneself away from ones own birds and their emanate success or
failure is difficult, but I usually know one or two juniors who have bought
birds from me, and being a spectator at the junior show is fascinating. I see
their progress as well as the "future of the fancy". I remember being a kid and
yearning for the chance to own a creature that I could nurture and believe in.
It's poignant to see the junior exhibitors realizing how steep the learning
curve is. I feel even more poignant when I know I'm still trying to crack the
code myself! I remember the production red chickens my sister and I bought for
35 cents from the local dairy farm, and how we trained them to ride on the
handlebars of our bikes. We thought they were the most beautiful chickens in the
world. There is always a little heartbreak on that road to show super grand
As I walk away from a big show like the crossroads, I carry with me two
strong emotions. The first is pride for my birds. They weren't elevated to
championship row this time, but they looked healthy and beautiful. The second
is gratitude for the traditions in the fancy, for respecting the master breeders
and exhibitors who breed the stock we show sometimes for generations, and the
judges that try so hard to amass their knowledge and hone their eye to evaluate
our poultry so we can raise the bar another year.
Bye for now, your friend,