For the birds: Poultry Show comes to Portage

October 1, 2018
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Nate Halbach of Montello displays his Old English Game rooster Satruday at the Wisconsin International Poultry Show at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. About 2,500 domesticated birds were displayed and judged at the annual event.

Kim Tuyls reached into a cardboard container that looked like it once held a fast-food sandwich, and brought out tidbits to feed to her chickens.

“It’s a hot dog bun,” she said. “White bread is like candy to them.”

At Saturday’s Wisconsin International Poultry Show at the Columbia County Fairgrounds, Tuyls, of Kewaskum, Wisconsin, wasn’t feeding treats to her five Bantam White Chanteclers just for her pleasure, or theirs.

It’s called coop training — presenting domesticated poultry to the judges in an engaging way, with the bird’s face to the front.

“If they see a person, they think they’re getting a treat,” Tuyls said. “The judges like it when the bird actively faces front. They show better that way.”

Ultimately, however, the difference between a champion bird and an also-ran comes down to one factor: conformity to breed standards.

Ben Porter of Morgantown, Kentucky, one of the judges, opened some cages and picked up the birds, to determine whether a chicken was actually as meaty as it looked.

“Some of them are all feathers,” he said.

The annual show attracted exhibitors from throughout Wisconsin and surrounding states, who brought about 2,500 domesticated fowl — chickens, ducks, geese, even a few pigeons — to show or to sell.

Nate Halbach of Montello has been exhibiting at the annual show since early childhood.

According to his father, Andrew Halbach, Nate’s great-great-grandfather, HW Halbach, originated a variety of chickens that Nate has shown in the past – the Halbach White Rock.

“They’re huge, they’re meat birds and they lay eggs,” Andrew Halbach said. “If you have them on your farm, you will have both meat and eggs. And they’re sold all over the world.”

Most of the 17 chickens that Nate Halbach brought to the show, however, were Old English Game birds.

There was one rooster he favored in particular, for its conformity to breed standards, although he acknowledged, “It’s a little darker than it should be.”

For Lauren Thompson, 15, of Woodville, Wisconsin, knowledge of breed standards and superior handling of her White Chantecler — named Klondike Kate, because the breed originated in Canada — helped her win advanced showmanship honors.

To qualify to compete in advanced showmanship, Thompson had to have won three showmanship awards previously.

And while breed standards are the criteria by which birds are judged, someone who shows birds has an edge if the bird is calm and sweet under pressure.

“Sometimes they get here, and they get freaked out because there are so many different birds,” Thompson said.

Throughout the fairgrounds, the squawks and quacks and cockle-doodle-doos could be heard all day.

In the fairgrounds’ administration building Saturday afternoon, another sound filled the air — buzzers.

This was the Avian Quiz Bowl, and the moderator and judge, University of Wisconsin-Extension Poultry Specialist Ron Kean, warned the participants at the outset that not all the questions would be about raising poultry.

He also threw in a few egg preparation questions, such as the cooking method involving boiling a broken egg in water (poaching) and the name of the Italian omelet that is usually served unfolded (frittata).

But breed savvy came in handy for the senior team from Columbia County — Mara Kolberg and Connor Polster of Poynette, and Medora Richards of Lodi — in their first-round match against a team from St. Croix County, when the Columbia County group made easy work of a bonus question: Name three poultry breeds that originated in France.

Tuyls said the American Poultry Association Book of Standards is her bible, when it comes time to choose which of her birds to show and which to sell.

Although Tuyls lives on a rural acreage, she said her birds are, basically, backyard chickens.

However, breeding show chickens depends on being able to keep roosters, something that’s usually not allowed, because of the noise the male birds make, in the growing number of cities and villages (including Portage) that have recently passed ordinances permitting backyard chickens.

“You’ve got to get used to the noisy boys, and once you do, they’re not so bad,” Tuyls said. “They don’t just crow at dawn. They crow all day long.”

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