Ruling the Roost

photos by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

photos by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Dana Jacobsen squeezes an upside-down chicken against her chest and pokes two fingers between its legs.

"This is a little over two fingers between the pubic bones," she says.

The Old English hen doesn't mind being inspected, the girl says, because as one of seven chickens she will show at the poultry competition Saturday in Carson City, it is held like this all the time.

To win, she has to know the parts and measurements of the chickens' bodies. Judges at the show will inspect the appearance of the birds, check their health and drill Dana on facts about the breeds.

But Dana, 11, has gone to regional and state poultry shows for five years, and said she knows what she's doing. She's learned a lot from other 4-H members and her 16-year-old sister, Shannon, who has been involved in poultry shows since the third grade.

Her parents have also helped her get ready. A coop stands behind their South Reno house and two cages of chickens sit on their patio.

More than a week before the show, the girls had started grooming the chickens.

On Tuesday, Shannon set out three bins on a patio table: One with water and dish soap to wash the chickens, one with only water to rinse them off and one with water and vinegar to get rid of the last of the soap in the feathers.

The girls also used a toothbrush to scrub the dirt off the feet.

Some chickens don't like the bath, Shannon said, but the two they washed behaved well.

"He's not flapping," she said dunking one of her chickens in a bin, "and I'm not soaked yet."

The day of the show is more work. The chickens will be wiped with towels, shined with baby oil and not fed immediately before the show. Chickens will "do what they're supposed to do" (go to the bathroom) during the competition if they are, Dana said.

Competitors have many details to watch for in their chickens, said Sandra Wallin with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. The beaks have to be trimmed, the plumage has to be full, the legs can't be too scaly, the cages have to be spotless.

These show birds don't go to market, Wallin said, and the work of caring for one "is just like for a person."

Chickens are not as popular as they used to be though, she said, because of the challenges of raising them for shows. Regulation makes it difficult to raise them in urban areas, she said, and "people (in cities) don't want to hear roosters crow."

There are dangers raising the birds, too. Skunks broke into the Jacobsens' coop last week, for instance, and killed more than half their chickens. Shannon said what the family found "wasn't a pretty sight."

"It's kind of macabre," said Janet Jacobsen, the girls' mother. "They kind of kill them and suck the blood out."

But the Jacobsens at least have some of their show birds left, unlike Alicia Knight of the Virginia City Highlands. A bobcat jumped a 7-foot fence guarding the chicken she was going the bring to the show and ate it.

Knight, 17, said she was disappointed the chicken was killed but said things like that can happen.

"We're a curious mix of urban interface and rural in Northern Nevada," Wallin said.

Besides chickens, the Jacobsens also keep rabbits, dogs, peacocks and horses, but chickens are the only animal they show at competitions. The family tries to keep a sense of humor about what they do the day of the show, Shannon said, and orders Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"It provides good motivation (for the chickens)," she said.

• Contact reporter Dave Frank at or 881-1212.

If you go

WHAT: Northern Nevada 4-H Youth and Open Poultry Show

WHEN: 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Saturday. Showmanship begins at 9 a.m. Saturday; judging of champions is at 5 p.m. Saturday. Anyone can enter the competition.

WHERE: Fuji Park Exhibit Hall, 601 Old Clear Creek Road

SPONSORS: The Storey County Comstock Coyotes Psychedelic Poultry 4-H Club, the Washoe County Feathered Friends 4-H Poultry Club and the Northern Nevada Poultry Fanciers Association. 4-H is a program of University of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.



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