« Two Extension programs receive Star Awards | Main | Emeritus crop science professor receives honorary degree »

August 30, 2007

Down at the chicken wash

photo of chicken being washed
Wayne Justice, Western North Carolina Poultry Club president, helps 4-H’ers Hannah Worrell, left, and Gideon Worrell bathe a Dominque hen. 4-H’ers gathered Aug. 21 at North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Henderson County Center to bathe and otherwise prepare chickens they plan to show at the Mountain State Fair, Sept. 7-16. (Photo by Art Latham)

Even in killer humidity, a group of 4-H club youngsters sit raptly in the mountain summer dusk, hanging on the words of soft-spoken Wayne Justice as he dips a couple of handfuls of fluff known as a "silky" - a bantam chicken - into a plastic tub of water.

Though you might expect this scene in the picnic shelter Aug. 21 next to North Carolina Cooperative Extension's Henderson County Center to devolve rapidly into a flurry of wing-flapping fury and surprised squawking, the bird submits contentedly to the bath.

But this is not a random bird cleansing. This is business. The kids are learning the basics of chicken care so they can enter their fowl in the upcoming Mountain State Fair, which this year runs Sept. 7-16.

"The whole point of showing chickens is to get the best breed possible," says Justice, Western North Carolina Poultry Club president. "And we want to increase participation in the poultry show at the Mountain Fair."

After degreasing the silky's hairlike feathers with a mild detergent, Justice, who hails from Sandy Mush community northwest of Asheville, uses a cotton swab to clean the areas between the bird's claws and head.

"What's that called?" a kid wonders, as Justice moves the swab to an area under the bird's beak.

"Wattles," Justice answers patiently, continuing the grooming, while helpers ready electric hair dryers to fluff up the bird's feather. Once again, contrary to expectations, the bird seems to enjoy the warm air from the dryer, closing its eyes, seemingly hypnotized.

The birds - the silky, a Dominique, a Cornish and others - belong to the kids, who are members of several area 4-H clubs. Gideon Worrell, a Young Naturalists 4-H Club member and Justice's daughter Hannah of Sandy Mush 4-H Club, will show chickens at the fair, and others in the class are preparing their fair booths. The Justice family, which owns many chickens, travels daily during the fair to care for all the show poultry.

Two years ago, the WNC Poultry Club gave baby chicks to many Western North Carolina children, says Denise Sherrill, Cooperative Extension’s 4-H agent for Henderson County.

"When they talked about giving out chicks, I asked them to teach classes also," she says.

Club members obliged, especially Justice, who is teaching classes for the third time this year. Previous classes included "Getting Started Raising Chickens" and "Care of Chickens."

"We do this to give kids a chance to experience a pet animal," Justice says. "We all know family farms are dwindling away and some of them live in apartments or in places where they can't have large pets in town, but you can have a chicken on a small lot; they don't take up much space.

"Also," he says, "to take care of them teaches a whole lot of responsibility.

"But most important, he adds, "showing animals in the fair is all about learning to be a good sport."

In other words, says Sherrill, in any contest, there are winners and losers, so learning to be a good sport is taught in all 4-H competitions.

Somebody must have even told that to the chickens.

In addition to their young owners, who may garner medals at the fair, the overall winners seemed to be the hens. After the washing event, they sit around clucking contentedly, perhaps anticipating their next appointment at 4-H’s chicken beauty parlor.

Written by:
Art Latham, 919.515.3117 or art_latham@ncsu.edu

Posted by Dave at August 30, 2007 11:14 AM