Q: What is a poultry show?
A: A Poultry Show or exhibition is very much like a dog show. Breeders and fanciers---often 4-Hers---bring their best chickens to show them at the exhibition, and have them judged according to "breed standards," in other words by what the American Poultry Association (APA) says the ideal bird of that breed is like.
(Did you know that a lot of the photos you see on our website come from special breeding lines at poultry shows?)
APA breed standards outline what color feathers, legs, skin, earlobes and so on the ideal bird should have. It also points out if there is fancy feathering or not, what the body shape should be, what range the weight falls in, how fluffy or tight the feathers are, what color eggs are laid--often even the number of points on a comb. The description of the standards are pretty minute in detail, and go on to outline common faults that should be avoided. Judges look for all of that.
Are show birds the best birds? It really just depends on what you're looking for.
Generally speaking, show lines will be easily handled, because the birds need to be reasonably calm to be examined by judges. But production lines may produce birds that are just as friendly, but also lay more eggs, forage better, and so on. Poultry shows primarily measure appearance and temper. But a production Rhode Island Red with perhaps lighter-colored plumage than is really ideal may be friendly, produce more eggs, and live a long, healthy, productive life---in short, it may be the best bird for your backyard flock, even with her technical flaws.
Don't get us wrong! We all want that "perfect" hen, and show lines are beautiful. Every hatchery and breeder including ours strives to meet APA standards. But even in strict "show lines," not every bird is going to win shows. To win, you'll have to choose the very best of your flock, provide special grooming, get your bird accustomed to handling by strangers... And afterwards, it's a good idea to observe a quarantine period and provide special accommodations, in case your hen should have been exposed to anything at the show by close contact with other birds and other flocks.
Showing poultry is rewarding--and it's also a lot of hard work and sacrifice. If your aim is simply to have backyard pets-with-benefits, you may be perfectly happy with chickens from a regular hatchery. If you do want to win shows, you may want to attend a few to get a feel for how they're run and speak to the winners about their strategies and preparations so you'll know which show lines to pursue for your flock.