I grew up on a dairy; that is well- (shorthand for "overly-") documented. Dad loves cows, and continues to collect them.
My sister is a horse fanatic.
My brothers and I raised chickens.
With 70 acres of land, lots of barn and corral space, and a father extremely knowledgeable in all things bovine, not one of us ever raised a steer for 4-H or FFA (an activity which, let's face it, is really a license to print money come sale time) or any other market animal. Why not? Were we idiots? Well, I'll come back to that question.
We didn't raise livestock because 4-H and FFA animals don't get to ride home in the truck with you after the fair. No sirree; they go on to places like Bob's Big Boy, Kibbles & Bits and, heaven forbid, Taco Bell, to become Extreme Value Meals.
But chickens have a Get Out of Abattoir Free card. They have return tickets from the fair. So my brothers and I raised ornamental bantam (miniature) chickens, and gave them names like Cluck, Brewster, and Fluffy. Poor Fluffy. (Pet names have never been a LaGrone family strong suit.)
But do you know what it takes for Fluffy to bring home the blue ribbon? Well, I'm gonna tell you. As much as I remember, anyway.
First, the chicken must be healthy, and healthy looking. No scaly leg (a condition I battle myself in these dry, dry months); you've got to grease up the chicken's legs. (At least we didn't have to wax them.) If I remember right we used Vaseline on their legs, combs, and wattles, which made them look plump, shiny and very rosy.
If you're gonna enter that bird in the fair you'll need to dust it regularly for mites and other nasty bugs. My brother Mantel Man usually was in charge of dusting with Malathion, which is why he still walks funny to this day.
But you're not done. Beaks must be kept trimmed, so we used nail clippers. This is every bit as tricky as it sounds with a feisty bantie rooster, or even a hen. So to calm the chicken you've got to cradle it on one hand, with the wings held down with your thumb and pinkie finger. If you do this right, it's very easy to invert the chicken with one hand -- that is, hold it upside down -- while you trim its beak and talons (claws, fangs, nails -- whatever they're called). This is apparently calming to a Bird of Very Little Brain, and it's fairly easy to groom them once they're calm.
And, for the pièce de résistance, you must bathe your chicken, especially if it's white.
I'm not kidding.
In the utility sink. Yes, bathe. Go on, you're wasting time. Chop chop.
Have your sink full enough to partially submerge the chicken but not so full that you can't find Fluffy in the bubbles. Water should be the same temperature you'd use for a baby. A very gentle shampoo is best, but if your chicken is white, get a shampoo with bluing in it, like you might use on a drop-kick dog white poodle.
The chicken may try to get away, so have the door closed. But don't worry -- they can fly only a little bit. Did I mention you should clip their wings first? Oh, sorry. You should have done that.
Rinsing the chicken may actually be more challenging than lathering it, but you'll get the hang of it. Plus, that bird won't have much fight left after it's flown around the laundry room a few times and smacked the window.
Lightly towel dry the chicken. You'll probably want to use the one-hand-upside-down method as described above. Then get the blow drier from the -- what? You didn't have your blow drier out and plugged in already? Well, that was a mistake, because now you have to carry your wringing-wet bird through the house to your bathroom to retrieve the drier. Please don't use the hot or high settings, or your
will get all
and you don't need that. Gently blow dry your chicken. It could help to have some soulless European house music thumping in the background. I know that's how the big-time hair dressers do it.
Those are the basics for getting your chicken ready for the fair. Next time, Judging Day Etiquette: How Not to Be a Backstage Mother. Thank you for your time. Also? We are idiots, very likely.