At 10 years old, Mercedes Martinez is already an old hand at poultry. She began raising ducks and chickens at the Urban Farm when she was 5. Last year she and her duck won the junior showmanship competition at the Adams County Fair. This month she’ll show both her chicken and duck at the National Western Stock Show.
“You train them by having them since they are chicks. They are around people a lot. You pet them and lift them in and out of their cage,” said the 4th grader, an Aurora resident who attends St. Pius X Catholic School.
Martinez will compete against approximately 50 other kids in this year’s Junior Poultry Showmanship event at the National Western. She will hold each bird for the judges and show its head, feathers, feet and wings. The final challenge of the competition is positioning the bird in a posed stance and—ideally—letting go of the bird.
“Getting your bird to pose is really hard,” Martinez said. “You have to practice a lot. You can tell them to stay in position but it’s up to them whether they want to or not.”
Brenda Strong, superintendent of the poultry show for the National Western, said the poultry showmanship competition is judged more on the kid’s abilities than on the bird: “The bird counts for 10 points, judged against a standard for their looks and their health. The other 90 points is on the kid and how they present themselves.”
Strong said the activity builds kids’ confidence and teamwork. “Kids learn to walk up to the judge, shake hands, make eye contact and introduce themselves. They learn to use resources to find the answers to what they need to know for competition. They get to know everything about their bird and they are excited to tell about it. They work together and help each other, the older kids helping the younger ones. You’ll see them all sitting on the floor, studying what they need to know about their bird.”
Kids also learn the agricultural purpose of livestock. Martinez noted that while her birds are like pets, they have the added advantage of producing eggs. “They produce as many as six eggs a week during the summer,” said Martinez. We use them to make bread, cakes and cookies.”
Strong said more city kids are competing in livestock competitions now that cities allow residents to raise chickens and goats. “The numbers of competitors is going up,” she said. “Last year we had 20 more birds shown.”
Martinez is preparing for the contest by spending extra time with her birds: “Butterscotch,” a buss orpinton chicken, and “Sunflower,” a runner duck. “I get them out of their cages more often and we practice the routine,” she said. “Before the show I’ll wash them to make them shiny and pretty, and oil their combs and wattles to make them shiny.”
Birds to be shown will be on display 9am to 3pm on Jan. 24 on the lower level of the Hall of Education. The poultry showmanship event begins at 10am.
Two new events will draw audiences to the stock show this year, according to Karen Woods, marketing and PR director: “Families will love the CINCH Super Shootout, a touring rodeo where teams compete, including our National Western team. Also we’ll have the new barbeque throw-down competition between 40 Colorado chefs on opening day.” For more information about all events, see www.nationalwestern.com.