While there is little doubt about the Mississippi State Fair’s popularity — it set a new attendance record this year — some purists have found the fair too carnival-like, and wished that it offered more traditional agriculture-related offerings.
Well, they have to feel better now.
After a 30-year absence, the 4-H poultry livestock show returned with great fanfare to the Mississippi State Fair this year.
Jessica Wells, poultry science specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the poultry program has been very popular with 4-H’ers since it returned to the program lineup in 2012. She said 150 children participated this year with 64 showing their chickens at the state fair.
“The poultry project is one that kids can do from start to finish with very little parent involvement,” Wells said. “With some of the other livestock projects, there are tasks that kids can’t handle on their own because of the size of the animal. Poultry provides a child with more of an individual challenge.”
Poultry projects have lower costs and smaller space requirements than other livestock projects, such as cattle and horses, Wells said.
Participants in the 4-H poultry project start with 25 to 50 newly hatched chicks, which require intensive management from day one. To have healthy chicks that show well, participants must keep their flocks’ environments within the proper temperature range, provide them fresh water daily, feed them properly, vaccinate them and keep their cages clean. Each 4-H’er is required to keep an illustrated record book documenting all of this information. In the competition, judges review the record book and quiz participants on their care of the animals.
“In this project, we focus on management and production,” Wells said. “Right now we want them to show us that they know how to raise livestock. Their flocks should reach the proper weight and height, mature on schedule, and be kept clean.”
A lot of work goes into preparing for the poultry show, but Stone County 4-H’er Aaron Scara said the payoff is worth it.
“I really enjoyed this project,” said Scara, who raised Plymouth Rock chickens. “After working with them every day, they show you affection. They become like pets.”
Both junior and senior 4-H’ers participated in the layer division or the meat division, depending on the type of birds they showed. Chickens are judged on size uniformity and appropriateness, cleanliness, proper size, number of birds, and health. The recordkeeping book is judged on creativity, contents, neatness and effort. The 4-H’er is required to answer questions about the book verbally.
Participants who won grand champion and reserve champion in their district competitions were eligible to participate at the state fair show.