Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 25, 2013

Birds of a feather

Poultry takes center stage at Miami Co. 4-H Fair

By Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — PERU – Squawks, squeaks, quacks, clucks and cock-a-doddle-doos filled the Miami County fairgrounds Monday afternoon, as 34 kids vied to have their animal named the grand champion from chickens, hens, roosters, ducks and geese entered into the annual 4-H poultry show.

The congregation of birds made for a colorful display beneath the poultry, rabbit and goat barn roof.

The large barred-rock hen breed displayed black-and-white-checkered feathers that looked like some kind of optical illusion.

The black-crested Polish bantam hens sported bizarre head feathers reminiscent of large, poofy, 1960s-disco wigs.

Silky-splash cockerels lay quietly in their cages like small, furry, gray pillows.

Then there were the typical white-meat chickens most people think of when they think of poultry.

But casting a critical eye on all of them was poultry judge Guy Studebaker. Hailing from Rossville, Studebaker assessed, critiqued, reviewed and evaluated the hundreds of birds entered in this year’s competition.

As the 4-H students stepped up to their cages wearing white jackets that looked like science lab coats, he quizzed the kids about their birds’ weight, posture and build. He offered kids advice on the best diet and keeping their birds away from too much sun.

And then he did what all the kids were waiting for: he handed out the ribbons.

Some kids burst into big grins after landing a top-notch blue ribbon. Others frowned dejectedly after their bird didn’t make the cut.

“There is going to be someone who’s extremely happy with me and someone who’s extremely unhappy,” Studebaker told the students. “That’s just part of the judging process.”

One of those kids who was extremely happy was 10-year-old Jadelynn Richards, who turns 11 this Friday.

Her two Welsh harlequin ducks landed champion, and took the grand champion title in the waterfowl competition.

“It feels great,” the sixth-grade North Miami student said through a huge smile. “I thought I would get a blue ribbon, but I didn’t think I would win.”

It was a pretty high achievement for Richards, who said this is only her second year participating in the poultry competition.

In fact, she beat out 17-year-old 4-H veteran Matthew Jelenek for the grand champion title. Jelenek said he’s been doing the poultry competition for eight years.

He’s won the grand champion waterfowl title in the past, he said, and judge Studebaker gave his pilgrim geese high praise this year, saying the two birds were the best he’s seen outside of a major competition.

But it was Richards’ Welsh harlequin ducks that ultimately won Studebaker’s heart.

“They’ve really got it going on,” he said. “They’re showing me exactly what I want to see.”

Jelenek’s geese ended up winning reserve grand champion, and the Maconaquah High School student didn’t seem too fazed by the runner-up position. He said he plans to stick with the poultry competition for two more years.

“I’ve got to finish it through,” he said.

Pete Jones, who supervised the poultry competition, said he likes this 4-H contest in particular because it allows every kid to show an animal at the fair. Unlike cattle or pigs, students don’t need a lot of time, money or space to raise a healthy hen or chicken.

“You don’t have to be a farm kid or anything like that to do this,” he said. “This is something anybody can do, even if they live in town. It lets them come out here and show them, sell them and make a little money.”

That’s what Richards said she plans to do with her prize-winning ducks. Jones said most poultry bring in between $50 and $75, depending on how generous the bidders feel.

But even if the kids didn’t win a ribbon or a champion title, judge Studebaker told them to keep their heads up and try again next year.

“Hey, you’ve got some good birds,” he told one especially dejected student who didn’t win a ribbon. “It’s all just part of the learning process.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at carson.gerberkokomotribune.com.

Today at the fair · 8:30 a.m.: Swine judging at show ring · 3 p.m.: Cat judging at activity tent · 5 p.m.: Carnival rides open · 5:30 p.m.: Hot lap practice at Miami County Speedway · 6 p.m.: Goat judging at show ring · 6 p.m.: Pizza eating contest at activity tent · 6:30 p.m.: Sprint cars at grandstands · 7 p.m.: Fashion revue at community building · 7:30 p.m.: "God Country" band at activity tent · 8 p.m.: Lutheran air-ambulance helicopter Wednesday · 9 a.m. to noon: Open flower show entered · 9 a.m.: Beef judging at show ring · 10 a.m.: Crazy cookie contest at community building · 5 p.m.: Carnival rides open · 6 p.m.: Sheep judging at show ring · 6 p.m.: Indiana Garden Tractor Pullers Association pull weigh-in at north arena · 7 p.m.: Miami County Clogging Clovers at activity tent · 7 p.m.: Indiana Garden Tractor Pullers Association pull · 7:30 p.m.: Dirt Drags at grandstands