A stuffed toy chicken that sits on a corner shelf of the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair office served as the substitute for the real thing for many children enrolled in last year’s poultry competition. But a year after avian flu concerns affected fairs statewide, fowl is fine for 4-H’ers.
A single flock of chickens with avian flu found west of Fort Wayne led to a statewide ban on exhibiting birds of any type. That forced several of the 106 exhibitors to hold the toy chicken while competing solely on their knowledge of raising ducks, chickens and turkeys during last year’s Poultry Show. Others brought in visual aids such as eggs, photos and posters to help give them an edge.
Despite the setback, most competitors took on the challenge graciously, sporting T-shirts that read “Birds of a feather can’t flock together — but their humans can.”
This year more than 800 birds are at the fairgrounds. The 4-H participants are evaluated not only on their entries but also on how they handle unexpected situations when their animals misbehave, according to conventional judging criteria.
“We’ll always have at least one bird get loose every year,” said Feathered Friends Poultry Club supporter Jill Huddleston. “While the little ones scramble, the more experienced kids are trained to capture, gather, give back to the owner and go on as if nothing happened.”
A cantankerous chicken got loose Friday morning during the Lil’ Wranglers Poultry Show for kids ages 9 and younger, and the scenario played out exactly as Huddleston described.
Twins Andi and Levi Carothers, 7, have been involved in the Lil’ Wranglers show for half of their lives.
“It doesn’t get easier,” said Andi, who attends Rockcreek Elementary with her brother. “You have to remember a bunch of words, and it’s kind of hard to do that.”
At age 12, Tia Brown has the experience to compare the Lil’ Wranglers event with the regular 4-H Poultry Show that also was conducted Friday morning.
“Lil’ Wranglers is just about having fun,” said Tia, a former Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln campus student who will enter Central Middle School next month. “It gets little kids ready by giving them experience to help them learn. But when you get older, it’s all about what you know and how you take care of your bird.”
Divided into three age categories (rookies, juniors and seniors), all entries in the regular 4-H Poultry Show are judged by size, condition and overall quality of the birds, according to Poultry Club member Stephanie McKee.
But that’s just part of the competition. During the Friday afternoon showmanship event, judges asked age-appropriate questions to each competitor.
“The older the child, the more complicated the question,” McKee said.
For an 11-year-old Southside Elementary student, the Poultry Show came after seven weeks of extensive work in raising two chickens.
Participant Andrew Hodson admitted he was nervous about the competition, but he also exhibited a realistic outlook about the outcome.
“I don’t care if I win,” Andrew said. “This is fun.”
While an admirable outlook, Jackson Township Trustee Bruce Bartells said a lot of 4-H members are competitive.
“I don’t care if you are 6 or 60, everyone is excited to win a trophy,” Bartells said. “I did car shows for many years, and I was excited to spend $200 to win a $5 trophy.”