Ask a Poultry Farmer: What it takes to raise an award-winning bird
This entry was written by Beth Tallon, Dale Wheelock's daughter.
"If you treat the bird with respect, the bird will respect you", says 17-year-old Lukas Reible, member of Bradford 4H club and Clinton FFA.
Lukas has been showing turkeys for seven years. He's had his ups and downs with the turkeys, but he says he's leaving a solid legacy in place for younger relatives and friends.
Lukas has a bronze tom that earned a second place red ribbon in Thursday's poultry judging at the Rock County 4H Fair.
"It got a red because it was missing its tail, so I grant that," he says. "Everybody else did very well, so I have a lot of blues and one top blue (ribbon)."
Full disclosure: my dad sold the turkeys to the Reible family.
As we made our way around the poultry barn, he checked the tags to see how other customers fared in the judging. He stopped to ask one dad how his veteran 4Hers placed.
"Not as well as we hoped," he said. "No champion this year."
"Then you must have done something wrong!" was the immediate Wheelock comeback.
He's only half joking. Starting in January, the 4Hers' care of the chicks is a key ingredient to their success. The birds' feather health, leg color and size (all viewed as "condition" by the judges) can be affected by the type of feed they eat, amount of sun they receive and cleanliness of their pens.
Sometimes, though, the birds can suffer on a technicality. First-year exhibitor Lauren McKay lovingly raised Sullivan the Sultan and Roosevelt the Rose Comb. While we were at the fair, they had yet to be judged, but their condition was good. The birds were easy to handle, which means less stress on them.
Sullivan was a late bloomer, and the McKays were sure they had a pullet on their hands. My dad looked at the feathers and declared it a cockerel. Sullivan would likely receive a fourth place pink ribbon because he was entered as a female.
Roosevelt's chances seemed better. His feathers were also in fantastic condition, and he didn't have any gold in his hackles, which Dad deemed impressive.
In the end, Superintendent let Lauren move Sullivan to the correct class (won a red ribbon—a bit immature in the tail yet). And Roosevelt won a red also—a bit immature so his earlobes hadn't filled out yet. Lauren is in 7th heaven.
Questions about poultry shows? Ask them in the comments!