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Fowl is fair at Expo

August 08, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In more than 40 years of picking on poultry, judge Richard Holmes had never met a hen with enough guts to lay one back at him until Thursday.

The streak ended when Rhodi, a two-year-old Rhode Island Red, decided to lay an egg while she was being handed over to the 71-year-old judge by her owner, Hannah Smith, at the Ag Expo's 4-H Poultry Show.

After commenting that the hen may have been popular with the roosters, Holmes gave Rhodi back to the 15-year-old Clear Spring girl, who pulled it to her chest before suddenly holding the hen back away from her.

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"She's about ready to lay an egg now," Holmes said, chuckling.

The audience, clustered in lawn chairs around the judge's table upon which two cages sat, clapped as an egg fell almost 4 feet to the ground.

Rhodi tied for first place in the heavyweight egg production division.

Beneath the Ag Expo's blue and white striped poultry tent Thursday, where fans blew so loudly that the people almost sounded like they were clucking, Holmes, in a nearly four-hour stretch, ran his fingers over dozens of wings, combs and breastbones before naming a black silky hen the first premium grand champion.

The prize-winning hen, Black Cherry, had almost a pillbox hat of black feathers atop her head and a bustle of black feathers at the other end.

Black Cherry's owner, Rebekah Simmers, already had taken grand champion in the bantam (smaller fowl) division before Holmes announced the hen as the overall winner.

Thirteen-year-old Rebekah, after hearing Holmes scold another poultry owner for giving a chicken a bath too close to the start of the show, said she was worried Black Cherry, who also took a bath Wednesday, would meet the same fate at the judging table.

Holmes, wearing a white button-up shirt held in place with rainbow suspenders, often gave breeding tips and made anecdotal chicken remarks while handling the birds.

The American Poultry Association and American Bantam Club certified judge had the 4-H contestants herd their wing-flapping chickens into cages for comparison.

He joked that some birds had such an arch on their backs that saddles could be placed upon them.

"This is the old fashioned way," he said, before explaining that he talks so that the young people will have a better understanding of how to raise their chickens.

Rebekah, of Waynesboro, Pa., said that she learned a few things from Holmes.

"I didn't know her bones were black," she said.

Holmes learned a few things from the 4-H members Thursday, too.

He said he likes coming to Washington County for the annual Ag Expo because the children here really care for their animals.

As for Rhodi, she's a strange bird, he said. Most hens prefer the privacy of their own roost for laying eggs. She clearly had no such preference.

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