Visitors can hear the noise before they enter the Lancaster County Convention Center in Lincoln, Neb. It’s a cacophony of clucking hens and ducks, honking geese and the distinctive crowing of roosters. This is the Nebraska State Poultry Show and 900 birds are vying for the attention of judges.
Vicki Gilliam, the show secretary, said the goal of the Nebraska State Poultry Association is to promote poultry, preserve poultry breeds and develop a new generation of breeders by encouraging youth to pick up the hobby. For 128 years, the association has held a show recognizing the best of our feathered friends.
It’s not an easy task. Gilliam said birds are entered in five categories: bantam, large fowl, geese, turkeys, ducks and pigeons. Each of those categories is embedded with smaller divisions and judges analyze a complex range of characteristics. When in doubt, breeders and judges reach for the bible of poultry judging, a book called the “American Standard of Perfection.” On its pages are the pictures and descriptions that set the standard for everything from the size of comb for a Bantam to the beak size for a male Plymouth Rock.
“You have to know what you’re looking at,” said Milton Gadberry, a judge from Hutchinson, Kan. “For example, a white Plymouth Rock has to have good body composition and the comb and body have to match the specifications in the book.”
Gadberry has most of those specifications memorized. He’s been judging poultry shows for 45 years and he knows the difference between a Coronation Sussex and a Nankin. He also took a test to become licensed, through both the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association.
Raising birds as a hobby is not for the faint of heart. It takes commitment, responsibility and old-fashioned hard work.
Just ask 11-year-old Evan Viger of Crete, Neb. He helps his grandmother raise the birds that used to belong to his uncle, Troyce Bridger. Bridger died last summer in an accident with an all-terrain vehicle while he was cleaning out a pond for his employer. He was 43.
“Me and my grandma have to live on his legacy,” said Evan, proudly showing off a Leghorn rooster that looks so much like the Loony Tunes character, Foghorn, you expect it to speak with a southern accent.
Evan’s grandma, Janet Bridger said her son Troyce started raising chickens when he was 4-years-old.
He was teaching me how to care for them so that I could teach the grandkids,” said Janet, fighting back tears. “So now we’re continuing the tradition.”
Troyce was a business consultant but raising poultry was a labor of love. Single, with no children, Troyce traveled the country, showing his “kids” off at competitions and fairs and meeting others poultry hobbyists. He mentored students in the 4-H youth development organization, often giving them birds to help them get started. When he died, one former 4-H student told Janet, raising poultry and selling eggs provided extra money needed for college. Others reported learning responsibility and discipline with Troyce’s help.
“His reputation lives on through the community, through the 4-H groups and the kids he helped,” said Janet.
Janet has also benefited from her son’s hobby. She suffers from a medical condition called fibromyalgia and at one time was unable to leave home because of the pain in her joints, muscles and tendons.
“This hobby made me get up every day and go outside to take care of the birds. It’s relaxing and uplifting,” she said.
Janet and her grandchildren took the birds to the Crete 4-H show and the Saline County Fair. And at the Nebraska State Fair, her birds had the most wins out of all of the entries.
Troyce would be proud. ❖