Picking show chicken breeds for your first foray into the world of fancy poultry can be as daunting as trying to understand genetics. But with a few simple pointers, you can be on your way to success.
First and foremost, don’t pigeon hole yourself by chasing the ideal breed. Finding good breeding stock can be difficult enough, being overly picky can make the difference between you wanting to get into “the fancy” and actually doing it. I suggest picking a general body type, going to a good-sized poultry show and seeing what peaks your interest in the for sale cages. Being flexible is key, especially for your first time out.
Especially for someone just getting into show birds, I highly suggest picking a breed that’s easy to keep and easy to show. There are many breeds out there that are simply a chore to prep for the show or require certain things to conform to breed standard that will turn people off from raising them. I generally suggest beginners start with something small, clean legged, monochrome and devoid of undue complications.
Bantam birds are much smaller than your typical backyard bird and many standard sized breeds have miniature counterparts in the bantam world. The bonus of keeping bantams for showing is that, well … they’re small. It’s easier to transport, handle, wash, and manage pint-sized chickens. They eat less feed which saves money and they’re adorable too. It simply makes life easier when your chicken fits the palm of your hand.
I suggest beginners start with a clean-legged bird, which means they don’t have feathers on their legs. A feather-legged breed like Cochin chickens and Brahma chickens are fun and appealing, but keeping their boots clean is a nightmare. Look for a clean-legged breed, like Orpington chickens, Rose Combs or Leghorns.
There are some beautiful color patterns out there to pick from. With all these gorgeous options, why would I tell someone to pick a boring monochrome variety? When you’re developing a line of birds for competition, you first work on your body type, then feather coloring, then you develop the color pattern. If you have a monochrome bird, you’ve cut out the third step. Cutting out that last step will save you lots of time and frustration. In the future, feel free to challenge yourself with a patterned bird, but for the first flock, keep it simple.
What I consider a deal breaker in a starter breed is complications that are inherent to the breed or breed standard. For instance, White Crested Black Polish are fun, quirky, and silly, but unless you’re willing to pluck their crest, you will have a hard time winning. These birds are notorious for growing too much black feathering in their white crest and these extra black feathers must be plucked until they grow back white. It’s a lot like tweezing your eyebrows, but not everyone is willing to do it.
Another deal-breaking complication is the Old English breed. The bird in itself is a fantastic bird, but the breed standard requires cocks to be dubbed, which effectively means their combs and wattles are trimmed off. This obviously does not sit well with many people.
Exceptionally fluffy chickens, like the Cochin, have a bad habit of making an absolute mess of their vent area. Because there is so much fluff at the “business end” of the bird, it has a habit of soiling itself. Cochins are also known for having low fertility rates because the fluff gets in the way.
Some complications are invisible, such as lethal genes. Araucana chickens are a terribly complicated breed to master since genetics is a crucial topic you need to understand. When breeding two tufted birds, about 25 percent of the offspring will never hatch, dying mid-way through incubation. This is a frustrating reality of that breed.
Before you buy into a breed, ask people who know the breed and find out if they have any peculiar needs you should know about.
Show Chicken Breeds
Rose Comb Bantams are one of the show chicken breeds I would wholeheartedly recommend without reservation. These majestic birds are not the smallest of the bantam show chicken breeds, but they are still a small, compact bird. Rose Combs fit well in the hand, which makes them easy to handle, transport and control. These birds are a clean-legged breed with tight feathering, which simply means they’re not fluffy, but sleek.
Albeit not the flashiest of them all, Antwerp Belgian Bantams are a lovely and attractive bird to own. They’re a compact bird that carries easily in the hand and have an understated attractiveness about them. My experiences have been that they are a smart, friendly bird that keeps easily and shows well. I highly suggest an Antwerp Belgian for their clean legs and small size, which makes them easy to keep in good condition.
Don’t Be Shy
Books are a great resource and the internet has lots of information, but when it comes to learning about show chicken breeds, it’s best to go to the source. Talk to breeders that have been doing this for years. Nine times out of 10, as soon as you show genuine interest in what they do, the floodgates will open. If you’re wise enough to clam up and soak in the torrent of information they’ll bestow upon you, you’ll have a genuinely solid understanding of the breed you’re researching. Go out there, window shop a bit and pick the brains of the experienced breeders.
Do you have a favorite show chicken breed? What is it and what drew you to it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!