Lisa Mancell National Sales Co-ordinator at Farmgate Feeds explains how important year-round nutrition is for raising show hens.
Preparing to show chickens starts by selecting the perfect show breed or breeding from your own flock. Showing can be a great way to get even more enjoyment from your flock, and it’s worth paying attention to the detail to be considered for those winning titles- the judges certainly will be! If you start with breeding stock and growing-on of the chicks, then you’ll want to do all you can to ensure your chicks have the best start in life, up until they are ready to show. Timing is everything so make sure you plan based on how your selected breed matures, ensuring they’re at optimum size and development stage when you reach show day. Here are some top tips for supporting their healthy growth.
Year-round nutrition is key to ensure your chickens thrive whilst developing good bone and muscle development – this provides the framework on which the feathers are built. Protein rich ingredients will support body and feather growth, maintaining your hen’s healthy condition and giving them the head start required to achieve those best-in-class accolades. A blend of wholesome cereal grains forms the basis of a hen’s diet, with optimum levels of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 to help provide the necessary energy and fibre.
A well-balanced nutritious diet is crucial to keep your flock happy and healthy. Negative behaviours such as feather pecking can be caused by too little protein in a bird’s diet, as feathers contain protein. At the same time, too much protein can lead to problems such as digestive upsets and grouchy behaviour. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your birds are gaining the correct nutritional balance every day for their long-term health as this will stand them in good stead ahead of showing.
Every show bird will be judged on positive signs of health including, bright eyes, red comb, dry nostrils, shiny feathers, a good weight, clean feathers under the tail, and an alert and active manner. When you let your hens out in the morning, this is the perfect time to do a quick health check – so wait until all your hens are out of their coop and are feeding to give you the opportunity to properly watch. Healthy hens are busy and active, scratching the ground, feeding, and drinking well (though not excessively) and preening. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the official standards for your selected breed so you know what to look for and can pick the best birds from the bunch, to show or for breeding from ahead of future shows.
Preparing for a show correctly will ensure that you are displaying the breed at its best and in a way that will catch the judge’s eye. Bath your hen 3-4 days before the show to allow enough time for the bird to replenish the oil on its feathers which may have been removed during washing. You can continue to tidy your show hen daily over the next few days, by gently using a cotton bud to clean the comb and wattles with water. The final part to pay close attention to is your show hens’ carrier; make sure it has good ventilation and is an adequate size for your hen to turn around completely but small enough to keep them secure whilst being transported.
When you arrive at the show and are getting your bird ready for judging, a tip we hear of from the showing circuits is to rub a little baby oil or Vaseline to the comb, wattles and legs for a final spruce up! The hard work has already been done but it works well to provide an extra shine.
Maintaining a good quality feeding schedule, managing your hen’s environment and health will make all the difference when showing your hens. Consistency is key, and there really is nothing more rewarding than seeing all your efforts come to fruition on show day.