Palisade, Colo., woman raises championship chickens
for The Fence Post
I’ll bet you’ve never washed a chicken in your kitchen sink — and I don’t mean one from the grocery store — I mean a live bird with feathers and all. Palisade, Colo., resident Karen Derrick shows her championship Bantams in competitions all over Colorado and neighboring states, and washing them is just part of the preparation.
Derrick was introduced to animals of all kinds by her parents, Blaine and Mary Alice Derrick, and followed a feathered path from her parents’ laying flock to exhibition poultry. Early on, she started collecting cute and pretty feathered creatures: chickens with top knots, feathers on their feet, ones that laid colored eggs. At one time, finches from around world and Racing Homer Pigeons were added to her collection of feathered friends, along with turkeys, ducks, guineas, pheasants and quail. She is fascinated with anything wearing feathers.
“At the state and county fairs, I was always drawn to the poultry barn, for some reason, and, after showing dairy goats in the 1970s, I decided to go into Bantams, a miniaturized version of large fowl. I bought, raised and showed black Wyandotte, Cochins and Silkies,” Derrick said. “At a show in Phoenix I discovered Modern Game Bantams and purchased breeding stock to start my own flock of this unique breed. I travel a couple thousand miles a year showing my Blue Ribbon Bantams, and winnings barely cover my expenses, so it’s mostly just a hobby.” Her menagerie now includes two horses, a dog, a parrot, 99 show chickens and a dozen laying hens.
Raising and showing poultry has been a fun experience, except for the time a raccoon got into the pens and wiped out the entire flock. When you have chickens, predators like raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes are your biggest worry,” Derrick said. “Nevertheless, I look forward to doing this for a long time to come.”
She has a wonderful reputation among other “feather fanciers,” and her chickens are in great demand by other breeders. The two Bantam breeds she now raises exclusively are Belgian d’Anvers and Modern Game. Modern Game Bantams are descendents of Pit Games bred in England in the early 1800s for cockfights. When cockfighting was outlawed, poultry shows came into being, and breeders exhibited their birds there, where they became known as the Old English Game breed. The Modern Game Bantams are a miniaturized version of the Old English, and are bred strictly for show — they have no other purpose in life. The fighting gene has been eliminated, and they are now very docile.
At the last two shows in 2017, Derrick had Best of Show on a birchen Modern Game pullet, and Reserve Champion on another birchen Bantam Modern Game. A birchen is a variety/color that is black trimmed with white. Of all the breeds, Modern Games are the only ones that have to be trained to assume a certain stance for the judge, and the bird garners extra points if it does so. Derrick trains her birds using a small stick and a treat. As training progresses, they eventually learn to follow hand signals, too. When they strike their distinctive pose, these Bantams present a very regal appearance.
The other breed Derrick shows is the Belgian Bearded d’Anvers, a miniature breed that has no large fowl counterpart. The quail color/variety is specific to that breed, and the bird sports a distinctive “beard” and “earmuffs” of lighter-colored feathers. In the world of show poultry, there are hundreds of breeds, and thousands of different varieties of those breeds. It would make your head spin to view the entire list.
The procedure followed when judging a poultry show is quite different, say, from that of a horse show — Shetland ponies don’t have to compete against large breeds like Quarter Horses. But in this case, judges assess breed shape and type, color/variety and feather quality/condition, then pick Best of Variety, Best of Breed, and Best of Class from all the Bantams entered. Next, the Champion Bantam is chosen, and it must compete against the Champion Large Fowl (such as large breed chickens, turkeys and water fowl) for the ultimate prize — Best of Show.” It’s humiliating to get beat out by a duck.” Derrick said, jokingly. Over the years, she has won numerous championships, sometimes competing in shows featuring as many as 10,000 birds. Win or lose, she still has a smile for everyone and is very popular with her fellow poultry exhibitors.
In 2015, Rocky Mountain Feather Fanciers’ 36th Annual Fall Show was proudly dedicated to Derrick for her dedication to the poultry fancy and for her support of the club. The officers and members of the RMFF thanked her with a beautiful plaque for her friendship and all around hard work that she has given to the organization over the years. Rocky Bennetts, her partner of 17 years, is also an integral part of the operation, according to Derrick. “He does the heavy lifting, while I get all the acclaim,” she said.
At the show in Fruita, Colo., in June of this year, Derrick’s Blue Ribbon Bantams continued their winning ways, coming away with Champion and Reserve Champion Modern Game Bantam, and Best of Breed Belgian d’Anvers quail variety. For more information on Blue Ribbon Bantams call (970) 464-4696.❖
— Martin is a freelancer from Grand Junction, Colo.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.