A Virtual Poultry Contest backed by Hands-on Learning

A Virtual Poultry Contest backed by Hands-on Learning
By Marsha Birk, 4-H Youth Program Associate in Cape County

A quick Google search on owning backyard chickens finds articles such as - “Raising Backyard Chickens for Dummies” or “Beginner's Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens” or “A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO RAISING CHICKENS” or “Raising Backyard Chickens for Beginners” - Farmers' Almanac or “10 Tips for Raising Backyard Chickens for Beginners” just to name a few. But if you want real hands-on learning, why not consider the University of Missouri Extension 4-H program? The 4-H program offers many project ideas and poultry being one of high interests. With backyard chicken owning on the rise, it’s a good place to start to learn real pertinent information not just as a grower but even broader – as a consumer.

The University of Missouri Extension 2020 State 4-H Poultry Day was hosted virtually Friday, June 12th through Friday, June 26th, with nearly 90 4-H youth from around the state registering. Contestants participated in a Poultry Judging Contest, Knowledge Exam, and Photography Contest.

Asher Ahrens submitted this photo for the Poultry Photography Contest that was part of the State 4-H Poultry Judging Event.

Parts of the Contest

Judging Contest
oReady to Cook Class
oExterior Egg Quality Class
oInterior Quality Egg Class
oProduction Hen Placing Class
oIdentification of Parts Class
Knowledge Exam
Photography Contest

“Virtual Poultry day was actually not just one day,” said Anna Ahrens about the event. Anna took 2nd place overall amongst thesenior judging competitors “The judging form was available for two weeks, so you could participate whenever you had some spare time. The judging form consisted of sections for interior eggs, exterior eggs, live birds, carcasses, and parts identification. There was also a separate trivia page, as well as a place to submit photos for the poultry photo contest.” Brother Kasen Ahrens said, “It felt a little strange doing the judging on the computer. It was weird to not go there (Columbia, Missouri) to do the actual judging. The judging did not take too long because we went through the classes at our own speed. We didn’t have to wait or be rushed to finish. When I was ready to judge, I clicked on the link and signed in with my name and county. Then I answered the questions and submitted my photo for the poultry photo contest.” Asher, twin brother to Kasen, added, “Virtual poultry day was strange because the trivia questions were part of the contest and not just a fun game to fill time as it is during the real poultry day”

“As a parent, I think poultry judging is a great learning opportunity. They have an understanding of what AA, A, B eggs are when they go to a store. When they see chickens packaged, they understand what the parts are. They have to learn to differentiate between small differences and be able to defend their decisions. In previous years on live poultry judging days, they had to give reasons to support their decisions for at least one class,” says 4-H parent Susan Ahrens. “The information is great background information for them as consumers.”

As a consumer, the grade of the egg is printed on the packaging for us. But what exactly does it mean? 4-H youth learn how to grade eggs. To begin judging an egg, youth judge the quality of the egg shell. It is either A (nice shape, no cracks, no thin or thick spots, only a few small calcium deposits) or B (can have more of the problem areas) or Dirty (any size or shape or type of dirt qualifies it as dirty). Then through a process called candling the interior eggs is judged. In the case of virtual poultry judging this year, they showed pictures of eggs being held up to a candling machine. They are looking mostly at the size of the air sac and the color of the inside. If the color is red, it is "inedible." If it has a yellow or orange color, they judge the size of the air sac which has to be very small for AA, small for A, or large for B.

For the consumer that wishes to purchase birds to have, how do you know what to look for? 4-H youth learn how to judge which hens are the best egg layers in the live birds category. They look at pigment loss (if a hen has less yellow color, it has laid more eggs). They also look at feathers (if a hen is molting, it is not currently laying eggs because its energy is going into feather replacement). They can also judge on handling quality and abdominal capacity. For the in-person poultry judging, they actually handle birds or look at real birds. For the virtual poultry judging, they looked at pictures of the feet, feathers, and whole birds as well as reading notes on the handling quality and abdominal capacity.

Again, for the consumer, buying chicken is much easier when it’s already fried for you. However, 4-H youth learn how to judge the carcass as well, meaning they judge the quality (A, B, or C) of the ready-to-sell carcasses. They have to look for broken or disjointed bones, missing parts, missing skin, or cuts in the meat. The more missing parts or cuts, the lower the grade. Again, this year they only looked at pictures so the deficits had to be pretty obvious where it is trickier when they look at the real carcasses. For parts identification, they have to know what a drumette, a wing tip, a flat, a boneless thigh, leg quarter. and so on are. There are about 20 parts that they have to identify.

Youth involved in 4-H indicated that because of their experiences in 4-H, they are able to describe methods used in poultry production, are seeking to learn more about agriculture, and advocate for the agriculture industry. They also reported that they show respect for others’ ideas and look for ways to involve all members. Anna shares, “There are many opportunities to learn things that are new and interesting to you, and that you can participate in many fun projects and events, like Poultry day, the Regional Energizer, or 4-H Camp.” While brothers Kasen and Asher both seem to like going places like the food pantry and all of the service projects like cleaning up the park and making pies for the Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner. Regardless, 4-H is inviting, accessible and inclusive for all youth using innovation, Intentionality and caring adults to deliver hands on learning. If you wish to know more, contact your local University of Missouri Extension office and speak with the 4-H staff.

The 2020 State 4-H Poultry Day was sponsored by The Poultry Federation with support from the Missouri 4-H Foundation. “Successful and meaningful programs, like State 4-H Poultry Day, would not be possible without support from our partners.” said Ty Peckman, State 4-H Agriculture Specialist.

About 4-H

More than 55,000 members strong, Missouri 4-H is an active, dynamic organization of young people who are learning, growing and preparing to be the leaders of today and tomorrow – making a real difference in their community, country and world. 4-H is the youth development program of the University of Missouri and the nation’s Cooperative Extension System. For more information on Missouri 4-H, visit 4h.missouri.edu.