Friday, September 28, 2012

Decision Time- Who Do you Take to the Show?

Showtime Series- Choosing Your ChickensNow that you're studying for the showmanship portion and having so much fun quizzing each other and learning about your chickens, you'll need to decide which chicken(s) you're going to show.  You may only own one or two chickens and not have to decide but since chickens are like Pringles, I'd be suprised if the majority of you (especially if you're reading and following our blog) have just one or two chickens! Noone can own just one!
Since this was our first Poultry Show, we were blessed to have an experienced breeder and poultry show winner we could rely on to help us make decisions.  I am incredibly appreciative for that!  If you do not have access to a knowledgeable person to help you choose your chickens, it's okay!  First, remember what we said in the first post, it's a learning experience for ENJOYMENT! :) Okay, but we all want to put our best  foot chicken forward, right?  So, there are things you can look for to help you decide.  Even if you don't make the best decision, it's okay, if you're lucky you'll get an amazing judge like we did who will explain to the kids (or adults) what he would have liked to see or how you can improve your breeding program/ chicken.
 Our judge was stern with several contestents about the size of their birds.  He marked many of them for being too thin and talked about proper nutrition.  So,

#1- Bring Healthy Chickens!  One would think this is a no brainer just don't know.  Be sure and keep your chickens healthy whether you are showing them or not, but if you have an unhealthy chicken or a chicken that's underweight from a recent illness or something of the like, don't bring it.  It's in poor taste to expose others to whatever illness your chick had and it's not good to stress an already unhealthy bird.  Put your chickens health and the health of the rest of the participants's chickens first.  Besides, you're not fooling anyone.  An experienced judge will let you know. 

I think THE most impressive compliment we recieved from the judge (and we actually had some great compliments- I was super proud of my kiddos I must admit) was to my daughter, Alyssa.  The judge told her that he was so pleased to see such a healthy pair of the bantam la fleche. He was in awe of this pair anyway but he said it made him happier that they looked SO clean and healthy! :) I told my daughter later, she should be proud of her birds in general and for choosing good birds but the largest compliment was that one because it shows how HARD she works at caring for her flock AND how much love and care she gives them!  THAT is truly an important quality of a solid, reputable chicken owner!

#2- Bring chickens that are recognized by the APA!  See that little, gorgeous Polish pullet in the photo above (to the right)?  Isn't she amazing?  Doesn't she look like a Show Chicken?  NOPE. Sadly, although Eleanor is a pure bred Polish and Polish ARE recognized by the APA, she is not a recognized variety (color).  She was bred from a pen with mixed color Polish chickens.  As much as I love her and as sweet as she is and as lovely as she is, she won't be heading to any shows with me because of her mixed color.  She's not even an unrecognized variety.  Now, that all sounds a bit confusing doesn't it?  Pure bred by breed but not really because of mixed color.

Here's another example  that might help. THIS beauty queen above is Elva, my Golden Lakenvelder hen.  Another lovely bird I'm proud to have.  Elva is a PURE bred Lakenvelder, she is also of PURE color (in other words, both of her parents are Golden Lakenvelder).  It becomes tricky though because Lakenvelders are recognized by the APA but GOLDEN Lakenvelders are sadly not.  :(  What a shame, I have such a lovely pair.  We will breed these two and they CAN show, however.  Have I confused you sufficiently.  Many/most shows have what's called an AOV class.  This means Any Other Variety.  So, Dear Elva and Sweet Tiger (the Golden Lakenvelder cockerel below) can and will be taken to our next Poultry Show.  The catch to this is that chickens entered in the AOV class can not win Best in Show.  If your best birds are AOV then IMHO I say, "Go for it!" just know that you won't be able to take the Best in Show, they can only win in this class and not go any higher in awards in an approved APA show.
How do you know if your chickens are a recognized breed?  Go to the American Poultry Association's website here.  In their header you will see Welcome to the APA, hit that drop down menu, click on breed classifications.  That will take you here.  There you will see the list of breed classifications.  To find out if your specific bird is recognized, head back to the menu bar, drop down to breed classifications and click to your right on the button that says, "Recognized Breed."  There you will find the most recent list (it's a .pdf form so you'll need to open it) of all of the recognized breeds.  Now, go through your flock and see which breeds you have that are recognized and move to the next step.
The APA also has a great link on their site, Your Show Birds that gives some other tips and information.
#3 Bring Your Chickens that Best Meet the Standards of Pefection- What is that?  From Wikipedia,
"The American Standard of Perfection is the official breed standard for the poultry fancy in North America. First published in 1874 by the American Poultry Association, the Standard of Perfection (commonly referred to as "the Standard") classifies and describes the standard physical appearance, coloring and temperament for all recognized breeds of poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese."
How will you know what those are?  The best thing to do is to purchase the book, "The American Standard of Perfection."  You can purchase the New 2010 directly from the APA here.  I also saw some on 
Other things the kids learned while studying for their showmanship portion. It's good to attend local Swaps and Sales and have the opportunity to speak to specific breeders and ask questions. I've also found specific breed clubs to be of great help, The American Silkie Bantam Club, for example.  The American Livestock Breed Conservancy has a page with a list of breed associations and clubs.  Of course, you can also use Google to try to locate information about your specific breed and any friends that know about them are a huge help. I've added some links throughout, specifically links for the birds we choose at the bottom of the post, remember, we are not judges or certified by the APA, these are just sites we found helpful when reviewing our birds.
Some standards are pretty well known if you know your breed.  For example, Silkies should have five toes, black skin, and walnut combs. The comb looks like half of a walnut with folds and a crease in the center.  Edward, our black silkie cockerel (to the left) has a the walnut comb.   The messy feet of the Silkie to the right have the black skin and five toes per the breed standard.

Our little black Silkie pullet, Ninja, however, we had to rule out almost immediately because of her comb.  A silkie should have a nice walnut comb.   Our little Ninja, (we purchased -did not come from our stock) grew to have a single comb, her photo is below.   Poor Ninja also has "leakage" of color in her feathers.  Can you see the golden colors mixed in with the black on Ninja's left shoulder?  This little ring of gold and copper runs around her neck but not down into the rest of her wings.  Unfortunately, it's not enough color to consider Ninja a Partridge.  So, she's an automatic DQ, or disqualification, for her comb AND her color.  Ninja happens to live in a loving, chicken adoring household ;) so she is B's pet and I'm sure she'll feed us some nice little eggs but she won't be attending any shows with us, and that's okay.  Not to pick on our sweet girl but she was a great example of a bird you don't want to take to the show.  It's hard to admit that sometimes, but if you want to place and perform well, it's better to be honest with yourself over who to bring.  Had I asked Bri to bring her favorite, sweetest little pullet, Ninja probably would have been her top pick.  For a show quality silkie, she just didn't fit the bill... but we don't tell Ninja that!

#4- Avoid bringing chickens with other DQs or oddities.  For example, check out another gorgeous but non-showable pullet of ours.  Her name is Love Dove, quite appropriate isn't it?  Lovey is a little Porcelain Belgian Bearded d'uccle pullet.  Love Dove is gorgeous, without a doubt!  She looks like a lovely baby who will be ready for a show, right?  So we thought until my daughter noticed something odd about her...she's a nubby.  What's that?  Right, I know, I didn't know either, she is missing a nail on one of her toes! What a bummer! My gorgeous, satiny little girl.  It's okay, she's beautiful to watch and enjoy and we love her to death.  She has a total diva personality :) and hopefully she'll be broody and hatch some babies for me one day. :)  It's a character trait of the breed.  Regardless, we love the little girl. 

#5- Choose a chicken that's feathered out nicely.  It's that time of year when many flocks are molting.  It's not a good idea to bring your molting chickens to the show.  It's impossible to show how beautifully bred a chicken is when it's body covering is missing and in shambles.  As well, you don't want to bring your poor hen that's been picked on by roos or other hens, nor your chicks that are too young to be feathered out. 

NOW, Because we have such a young flock as far as our show quality chickens, we DID break this rule. I couldn't have two out of my three kids entering so we explained that they probably wouldn't win with their younger chickens but if they wanted to bring them, I was happy to help them.  As expected, they either didn't place or placed reserve next to a more feathered chicken and the judge was honest and told the kids it was because of the young age of their birds.  We're okay with that.  They still had an amazing time and learned so much.  The judge actually mentioned to my son and daughters should three of their flock continue to feather out as nicely as they've started that they were looking to be some great competitive chickens.  We were told many shows require the chickens to be at least four months old before entering. We had two that were just about 13 weeks but since this was a Youth show and mostly about the learning and experience, they were gracious in letting the kids enter them.

It sounds like we have the Foster's Home for Imaginary Pets of Chickens going on here doesn't it?  Let me assure you we have a high quality flock.  I think many "farms" or breeders are afraid to show ANY negative information about their stock or they tend to cull those that may not be 100% show standard.  We're just not that way.  One, our flock doesn't pay the bills so we can afford not to be that way, two, if noone ever explained faults or shared them with us, how would we ever learn?  Lastly but most importantly, we love each and every one of our birds! Nubby or not, good or bad comb, they're ours and we're keeping them! 

So, how did we make out?  Who did we choose? 

Chance chose his Silver Ameracauna pullet, Chipmunk (below)  and his Barnevelder pullet, Stella (above).

Alyssa chose her pair of La Fleche, a rare French breed, Katie her pullet and Kyle, her cockerel.

Briana chose her Salmon Faverolle cockerel, Samuel Little and our White Silkie pullet, Edith.

We made good choices out of our young flock and the chickens AND the kids placed very well!  Choose your chickens and be ready because we're going to give you information on testing, washing, and preparing your chickens for the big day!  Thanks for visiting!  We're gearing up for our next show along with you!


Friday, September 21, 2012

Pears, Jam, & Canning

Pears, Jam, & Canning
 Farm & country people seem to be kinder and more relaxed than others.  It's a gentler kind of pace when you're involved with nature the way country and farm folks are.  It's easier to be in touch with the Lord when you spend your days admiring his glory in the simplest of things.  Nothing against anyone who lives in a big city, I'm not trying to get a list full of frustrated comments from anyone.  I'm sure you'll are good people too! :) I'm just speaking of my own personal experiences.  As of late, I've been touched by generosities and kindness from others around me and it lead my heart to this post.  It was outlined to be a post on pears and canning... and I WILL get to that :) but when my heart needs to spill over about some good, I just go for it!

Brantley Gilbert is a country singer (for those who don't know him) and one of my newer favorite country songs is one of his, it's "Country Must Be Country Wide."  Some of the lyrics go like this,

"It ain't where, it's how you live
We weren't raised to take, we were raised to give
The shirt off our back to anyone in need

We bow our heads before we eat
Before we start our day,
before we fall asleep
'Cause in God we trust and we believe

And we see what's wrong
And we know what's right

And old Hank, he said it all
When he said country folks can survive"

Now, I know I look silly grinning all stupid to myself driving my mini van but anytime this song comes on, this part right here strikes a chord with me and I sing loud and stupid and grin all big! :) Maybe seeing me look dumb will brighten someone's day.  I don't know- I just can't help it!
I was browsing the Farm & Garden and Free section on our local Craig's List last week.  I was hoping to find some materials for our next chicken coop or a show quality white Silkie or Silver Ameracauna roo.  What I found instead was a free post for pears.  (see, this is how kindness and pears merge, I told you I'd get there!) 

Evidently some nice family has a pear tree in a field and there's more pears than they want or need.  They posted this ad that if anyone was willing to pick them, they could come do so for free.  Well, I'm all over that.  It sounded like something fun to do with the kids, I've been wanting to learn to can lately, and it's FREE!  When we finished up piano lessons last Saturday, I took the kids on over there. 

It was only one tree but there was more than enough for us (and did I mention it was FREE?  I mean most local orchards charge just to walk onto their fields!)  They even left their long fruit picker out there for visitors to borrow for picking.  How kind is that?  Like I said, country folks helping each other.  We're helping by keeping the mess out of their yard, cutting back on grossness in their mower and bees, and they're allowing us to have free, fresh pears! Just like Brantley's song!  Is it in your head yet?  I'm singing it while I blog!

We had a great time, I think the kids just wanted to play with the long fruit picker mostly but we got the job done.  There were tons of perfectly good pears already on the ground so the girls and I gathered those up first so Chance could be the man and get some of the high ones.  Then everyone had to have a turn with the fruit picker.  You know how kids are so fascinated with anything on a long stick! I was just giddy with myself for such a great score, and for teaching the kids a bit about community. :)
So, now we have this huge mess of pears and I wanted to do something with them.  I've NEVER canned before so I was nervous and there are SO many things out there about it.  I think I've pinned dozens (check out my pinterest boards here).  As I'm discussing this on the Farm Chick Chit Chat Facebook page, one of the other sweet ladies offered up her latest recipe for Apple Pear Jam!  Did I tell you farm folks' kindness is good?  So, my farm chick, sweet friend Janet from over at Timber Creek Farm sent me her Apple Pear Jam recipe to try and the kids and I got moving on it!

Can I first say the directions for canning read MUCH more tedious than they actually are?  I was floored that I can read the classics, edit with photoshop, program all of our electronics, but had to read the canning directions like 10 times!! If it's your first time canning, hang in there.  It's so much simpler than it actually reads.  I'm not sure if it's suppose to scare you or what. :) My dear friend said this morning, "It just seems tedious!" Boy, that was the perfect word for it!  However, now that I've accomplished my first set of canned jam, the next time will be so much easier.  I'm trashing those directions from the Ball labels!

Here's Janet's recipe:
2 cups peeled cored and finely chopped pears
1 cup peeled cored and finely chopped apples
6 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup bottled lemon juice
6 ounces liquid pectin (2 pouches)

Crush the apples and pears in a large heavy bottom saucepan. and stir in the cinnamon. Thoroughly mix sugar and lemon juice with the fruits and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
Immediately stir in pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam and fill hot sterile jars leaving 1 inch of headspace.
Wipe jar rims, and cap the jars.
Process for 5 minutes for 4 ounce jar, 10 minutes for 8 ounce jars in a boiling water canner. **

Yield: 7 - 8 half pint (8 ounce) jars

I was all good until the "Processing" part came in.  Then I became nervous and looney.  It's not that hard, however!  Make sure you put your jars in hot water while you're working.  In hindsight, I would have started those soaking when I began the recipe but I didn't know and waited too long so I had to wait on those. I also didn't realize I should have had the water in my canning pot (or stockpot) simmering while I was cooking. 
This is how I would do it the next time:
Canning 101 with the Jam

Go ahead and set your jars and lids (not the bands though) in the hot water (I just filled my sink up with hot water and set them in that) and get your canning pot about 1/2 full of water and simmering with its top on while you're making the jam.  The jars just need to be warm so you don't bust them when your hot jam hits the glass. 

Make your jam according to the recipe above. 
Once it's finished, I took one jar at a time out of the hot water and set it on my counter.  I used my funnel to ladle jam into the jar leaving the "correct headspace", basically just leave an inch at the top of the jar without any jam.  Now, at this point, I was SUPPOSE to remove air from the side of the jar.  I didn't see any bubbles on the side of the jar.  I figured it might be necessary for a thicker recipe but this jam was pretty good and liquidy so I didn't do this.  I won't PROMISE you I did it the "right" way- it was my first time- but ours turned out okay :) so you decide! If you want to be a good girl and do it the right way, just take a spatula and run it around the inside of the jar between the jar and the jam a few times and make sure there aren't any air bubbles.

Wipe the mouth of the jar well with a damp cloth.
Set the lid on top so the seal is in line where it's suppose to be.
Screw the band on evenly and tightly.
Now, do that with all of your jars until you've used all of your jam (minus what you have to lick because you just can't wait to try it and then of course, what you have to let the kids come lick because now you have to show them what a cool mom you are!)

Once all of my jars were done, I set them on my canning rack (I just had to google the name of that) and gently set them down into my simmering pot.
Increase the water to boiling and then put the top on.
Boil them for the amount of time in the recipe.  I used 8 oz jars so mine boiled for ten minutes.

After ten minutes, I turned off the heat and removed the lid to the pot. 
Evidently, if you take them right out they can crack and that was a big thing on all of the directions I read- let them set in the water to cool in that some for 5 minutes.

Then we took them out of the pot and set them on a kitchen towel upright on the counter and there they set for 24 hours. 

The next day, check to make sure they've sealed and you've just canned your jam!!
I was so excited to have been successful at this!  You would have thought I'd won the Pulitzer or something.  There was just something comforting about all of those jars full of ooey gooey delicious, local fruit that I processed with my own hands with the kids that makes me feel good!  Country folk can survive, right?  Maybe that's what it is but the whole experience just gives me a warm fuzzy!  If you try canning this recipe or another, let us know, we'd love to try new recipes now that we think we have the hang of it and we'd love to hear how your first experience turned out! 

Love & Blessings! 




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Showtime & Poultry Showmanship Basics

As a mom, especially a homeschooling mom, I'm always in search of ways to provide new experiences and opportunities for my kids.  So, when a friend and fellow "chicken lady" asked if my kids wanted to show thier chickens at a local poultry show I was excited.  Then...I was nervous!  Once I realized how much was involved, I became a bit overwhelmed.  After all, we didn't have any knowledge or experience showing chickens!  We've only been chicken parents for about a year!  What had I gotten them into? 

When I came to my senses...breathe Tiff, breathe...I realized it didn't matter.  It was a fun opportunity for them to show off a new found passion and meet other like minded kids. 

Now that we've done it and have our first show under our belts, we are counting the days to their next one!  It was an incredible experience and they had so much fun!  We did meet some great "chicken folks", learned from a very encouraging judge, brought home some nice awards (YEP! They placed!), and my kids gained confidence and knowledge about their beloved pets!  Showing poultry has become a hobby they're quite compassionate about!
Each of my three children registered two birds and signed up to participate in the showmanship part of the show.  Over the next couple of weeks we're going to share with you how we prepared for and handled our first show and keep you up to date on how we're preparing for our next one.  Of course, we MUST post our next show results too, come November 13th!

Our hopes that if your children (or you!) are interested in showing thier chickens, some of our posts may make it easier, provide you with some accurate resources, and motivate you to just give it a try!
My first recommendation is to find out exactly WHAT a poultry show entails.  Since showmanship is something that could take a bit of study time, I wanted to focus our first post on that.

The APA ABA Youth Poultry Club introduces showmanship in this way,

"The purpose of poultry showmanship is for the exhibitor to have the opportunity to prove to the judge that the exhibitor is knowledgeable about poultry in general, their showmanship bird and that he or she possesses the proper handling ability. Proper handling means that he or she can catch, restrain and hold the bird without hurting it and without that bird hurting the handler.

Showmanship is the time for the exhibitor to be judged, not the bird per se’ since the bird has already been judged.It's the exhibitor's time to shine. "
I LOVE this part!  I was particularly interestesd in them participating in this category!  Obtaining the skills required to present themselves properly will benefit them throughout thier lives!  Being confident in doing so, especially in front of adults they're not familiar with and an audience is a great tool for them to develop.   Showmanship also requires the kids to be knowledgeable and compassionate about their chickens.  It aids them in being responsible pet (chicken) owners an ethical, quality breeders should they decide to take that route.  Our judge encouraged all of the children to learn about breeding according to the APA standards. 
We were quite blessed with the judge at our show.  He was a natural with the kids and kept the kids (and adults) attention during the entire process with his knowledge and love for showing poultry.   
To prepare for the showmanship portion we initially searched You Tube looking for videos about youth poultry shows and more specifically, showmanship. 
It was a little intimidating, some of the kids in the videos were true professionals! 
Here are some of our favorites:  
Chicken Showmanship Demonstration
What is a poultry showmanship presentation?
Examples of poultry showmanship?  
We visited a site sponsored by the American Poultry Association for youth interested in showing, The APA ABA Youth Poultry Club website.  This site has a WEALTH of information!  Bookmark it, visit it often, anything and everything the kids might need to study for showmanship can be found on their website.  We especially frequented their Educational Material found here
On that page you'll find worksheets you can download and print for the kids.  If you look under the Showmanship heading on this page and choose the age group appropriate for your kids.  Pee Wee is ages 4-7, Junior is ages 8-10, Intermediate is ages 11-13, and Senior is ages 14 and over.  These pages provide you with questions the judges ask for showmanship.  These are just suggestions and the judges may ask a different question here and there but they cover a good amount of the basics.  My kids had fun printing them out and then quizzing each other.  Part of the fun was looking for answers we didn't know.  We used many of our poultry and chicken magazines and books and the Internet.
Don't be overwhelmed!  There's a LOT of information here and a LOT of information for them to learn but remember, it's for FUN!!  I initally did my over-achiever mom thing and wanted them to know it ALL but more than anything, they should know THIER birds. :)  My kids love their birds and they actively participate in taking care of them so they were already familiar with much of what the judge asked them.  These resources should help make it more fun, not stressful :).  Trust me, the joy for us came in the experience! 
 My daughters didn't place in the showmanship category, they have no regrets.  They were ecstatic for their new friends who did place and were excited to get home, study more, and practice together for their next show on November 13th!
Chance placed 3rd in showmanship!  He was shocked, I was so proud.  We really didn't expect to place at our first show so it was a blessed surprise.  He also couldn't wait to get back home and study up on the things the judge spoke with him about to prepare him for his next show! 


Next week we'll go over how we prepared the birds for the show, including information on testing, bathing, and choosing your birds! Have a blessed week! Love & Blessings, Tiffany