- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) - There is a Dr. Seuss vibe at Omni Smith’s home on a hill northeast of Kearney that comes from a new two-story lavender teal-trimmed building that is part chicken coop and part playhouse.

The first floor and grassy area outside are home to her feathered friends with strange names and appearances to visitors not fluent in poultry, The Kearney Hub reported (https://bit.ly/ZEKzRn ).

There is award-winning Houdini, a Mille Fleur (speckled) Belgian Bearded d’Uccle bantam. Most of Houdini’s companions in and around the colorful coop have feathers from their heads to their toes

Omni’s friend and fellow Buffalo County 4-H poultry exhibitor Taylor Schubauer of Gibbon recently brought one of her show chickens, an Old English Silver Duckwing, for a visit.

The girls have accomplished much in their few years learning about poultry, culminating so far with Omni, 12, placing first and Taylor, 11, placing third in intermediate showmanship at the 2014 Nebraska State Fair.

Although both have other 4-H projects, they focus on poultry.

When asked why, Omni replied, “Cuz chickens, if you look for it, they have their own personalities. They’re more than poop and feathers.”

“They’re kind of weird in some ways,” Taylor added. “They’re kind of a monkey see-monkey do thing. … If one chick drinks, the other chicks drink.”

She trained a Speckled Sussex to come running whenever someone says, “Bug.”

Similarly, Omni said almost all of her poultry will come running when they hear the crinkle sound of someone handling their food bag.

Houdini may be an exception to some typical chicken behaviors. Omni said Houdini will wait until all the other chickens are done with an apple treat and then put her face in it.

“They (chickens) will cuddle with you if you spend enough time with them,” Omni said, later mentioning that Houdini was so relaxed during State Fair showmanship that she fell asleep.

Taylor said she selected Irene, an Old English Blue Duckwing, as her showmanship bird because of the chicken’s more laid-back personality. “I go with the tamest bird that will sit in my hand,” she said.

Omni is more inclined to select a breed she’d like to learn more about because she knows her showmanship bird is the one she will handle the most. That’s why she’s thinking of using a “frizzle,” a chicken covered with upturned feathers except on its wings, in 4-H showmanship next year.

The girls explained that poultry showmanship involves much more than going over a bird’s body parts, although that’s an important part of a presentation for the judge. “You start with the head and go all the way down to the toes,” Omni said.

“I practiced a lot, like every day twice,” she added.

Taylor said a judge expects an exhibitor to point out defects or potential defects in addition to the details that make a bird an excellent example of its variety and breed, as set in the American Poultry Association’s “Standard of Perfection” book.

One of Taylor’s five birds entered at the 2014 State Fair, a White-Crested Black Polish, was judged best in its breed and reserve best among all continental breeds.

In addition to learning about the different breed characteristics from the standards book, the girls said they also learn from talking to other people at the 4-H poultry shows.

Showmanship exhibitors have just four minutes to present all the required information, Omni said, and the judge then might ask additional questions.

Taylor said that for her Old English chicken she was asked when the males are “dubbed,” which means when their wattles and combs are removed.

Half of the showmanship points are awarded for the introduction, grooming of the bird and the exhibitor’s appearance.

So does an exhibitor groom a chicken?

“You put them in a tub of soapy water. They usually don’t like it,” Omni said, noting that the birds usually are washed at home a day ahead of a show to ensure their feathers get dry.

Taylor advised that if the water is a little warm, the chickens may like their baths better.

Another important grooming item is “glistener,” a mix of glycerine and oil. Omni said she uses sweet oil on the beaks because it tastes better than glycerine.

Her family got into poultry when her mother got some Rhode Island reds just to try chickens.

“At the first (county) fair, it was a disaster. We didn’t know what we were doing,” Omni said with a laugh. She described how they used her mom’s phone to quickly look up information after they saw what was required of other 4-Hers in showmanship.

“I begged my parents because the chicks at the store looked so cute,” Taylor said about her interest in poultry. “That was even before 4-H.”

Both girls said they’d recommend 4-H in general and a poultry project specifically to other to other young people.

“It’s very fun, even though it’s a lot of work,” Taylor said.


Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/



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