Harrisburg - Pennsylvania is hatching a high-quality flock of poultry enthusiasts, as evidenced by the poultry showmanship contest Saturday, Jan. 8, at the 2011 Pennsylvania State Farm Show.
"Often only several points separated the 4-Hers in each category; they're sharp kids that are passionate about their birds," remarked Phil Clouer, Farm Show poultry program coordinator and Penn State poultry instructor.
Showmanship judges were Paul Kroll and Jamie Matts, who also joined two other judges in evaluating the birds that day. Using two judges helped break potential ties in the various age groups, said Clouer.
"These kids aren't simply showing at the Farm Show, they are traveling and competing across the country in shows and contests. Their interest in the poultry industry is pretty exciting," Clouer said. This interest often leads them to the small but strong poultry program at Penn State University, which in turn prepares them fully to find positions in the poultry industry.
Sarah Nafziger and Josh Cassar are two such examples. Nafziger took first place in the 17-18 year old showmanship class, while Cassar placed first in the 15-16 year old class. Nafziger, a high school senior, has been accepted to Penn State University, while Cassar, a junior, still plans to apply to Penn State, with hopes of attending its main campus and minoring in poultry science.
Showmanship for larger livestock like sheep, pigs, cattle or horses focuses on the techniques of presenting animals to judges. But poultry showmanship is a bit different. While the bird is still physically present, it is used more as a tool - for identifying parts and demonstrating the contestant's skill in handling the bird.
The other major component in showmanship is knowledge of the bird and of the poultry industry. Contestants must have a background knowledge of their specific bird - the breed, the variety and how and why it was developed, along with a good understanding of the poultry industry.
"Showmanship is as intimidating as the people you're competing against," explained Nafziger. "This competition is fun because I know the other participants."
And while most contestants' choices are birds, other fowl like ducks, turkeys and geese are acceptable, too, said Cassar. "Using them can have its advantages, as less judges have a deep understanding of these species - it can be easier to fudge answers to their questions." Cassar showed a silky in the contest.
According to Cassar, while showmanship can initially be intimidating, the questions asked by judges become familiar. After some practice and some studying, the avian showman is likely to answer those questions correctly.
This was the path Cassar has taken in his showmanship career. While attending fairs four years ago he noticed kids holding big chickens. "What they were doing was pretty cool, so we bought some birds, then some better birds, started breeding them, and it turned into a big fiasco."
He recommends that smaller children start with bantams, cochins or silkies, Cassar's favorite breed. "Silkies are docile, calm, get along with everybody, and are great moms who will hatch a clutch of chicks and raise them to adults," he said.
Dedicated poultry 4-H clubs will help newbies get organized with small flocks, he said. "Birds are easy to care for and provide a source of entertainment and responsibility," he added.
With just two years of poultry experience, Cassar joined a county 4-H poultry judging team that traveled to the Pennsylvania state contest. After winning there, the team continued to the national contest, where they captured first place and became the 2009 National Champion 4-H Poultry Judging Team. Cassar was proclaimed second-high individual in the contest.
Unlike other poultry 4-Hers who have grown up with birds and slowly obtained the necessary knowledge, Cassar learned all this information over three years. "I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time, so I cracked down and showed my birds more often and read a lot," he explained.
"I felt left out and wanted to be able to knowledgably talk with those kids. It took a lot of studying and a lot of work, but it's paying off now, as I have a better poultry background and can confidently answer a lot of questions."
While Cassar has reached the top in terms of 4-H judging, he has his sights set on another avian goal: the Avian Bowl at the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference.
This Jeopardy-style quiz-bowl competition tests two teams of four concerning their knowledge of the National Avian Bowl Manual - a bible of poultry knowledge. There is also a chicken and turkey barbeque competition and an egg preparation competition that he looks to master.
By then, he should be ready to attend Penn State and participate in the collegiate poultry judging competition.
Nafziger, on the other hand, practices diversified animal agriculture. She enjoys exhibiting her light brown single-comb leghorns and participating in 4-H poultry activities, which allows her to hang out with her friends from across the state. Yet she also raises market lambs, market hogs, an Angus market steer and a Shorthorn heifer.
Both agree that their 4-H involvement has been instrumental in keeping them in agriculture so far and has caused them to seriously look at further agricultural education and careers that involve agriculture, in whatever capacity that may be.
The following is the results of the 4-H Youth Poultry Showmanship Contest:
9-10 year olds
1. Will Kitsch, Mohnton, Berks Co.
2. Reed Smith, Telford, Montgomery Co.
3. Wyatt Zimmerman, Bedford, Bedford Co.
4. Bryce Murray, Spring City, Chester Co.
11-12 year olds
1. Heather Robison, McDonald, Washington Co.
2. Emma Holliday, Limerick, Montgomery, Co.
3. Grace Murray, Spring City, Chester Co.
4. Trent Goss, McClure, Mifflin Co.
5. Clayton Giedroc, Howard, Centre Co.
13-14 year olds
1. Mathew Holliday, Limerick, Montgomery Co.
2. Brian Cameron, St. Peters, Chester Co.
3. Kacie Cassar, Lansdale, Montgomery Co.
4. Emily McKissick, Middletown, Dauphin Co.
15-16 year olds
1. Joshua Cassar, Lansdale, Montgomery Co.
2. Matthew Bishop, Myerstown, Lebanon Co.
3. Jamie Cameron, St. Peters, Chester Co.
4. Katie Broderick, Lansdale, Montgomery Co.
5. Daulton Lape, Lebanon, Lebanon Co.
17-18 year olds
1. Sarah Nafziger, Mohnton, Berks Co.
2. Christopher Rob, Latrobe, Westmoreland Co.
3. Dylan Lape, Lebanon, Lebanon Co.
4. Tim Broderick, Lansdale, Montgomery Co.
5. Jodi Musick, Latrobe, Westmoreland Co.
The Pennsylvania Farm Show is the largest indoor agricultural event in the nation, featuring nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 290 commercial exhibitors. The show runs Jan. 8-15 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Admission is free and parking is $10.
For more information, visit www.farmshow.state.pa.us.
Editor's Note: To receive news releases, media advisories and story ideas, subscribe to the Farm Show Media Service at www.farmshow.state.pa.us (click on Media).