Originally published: 12-03-2006
Rev. Paul Ashbrook is a master showman and conditioner of show birds. This is his method of washing and fitting which has proven successful over a long period of time with both bantams and large fowl. I am proud to say that Paul is my best friend in the fancy and I thank him for sharing his technique with all of us.
The Basics - The optimal time to wash chickens for a given show is 3-4 days before the show. That amount of time allows them to air dry thoroughly and to preen and re-oil their feathers. One day prior to washing, put the birds on hard whole grains which will make their stools less messy and keep their vents cleaner. They should remain on hard grains through the show. Toenails should be clipped 1-2 weeks before the show. Never wait to clip toenails until after you have washed the birds. Toenails which are too long are unsightly and actually can affect how the bird stands and walks.
The Wash Process
Washing should always be done early in the day. Use Blue Ribbon Shampoo. Go over soiled areas with small amounts of the soap on a soft brush, working with the grain of the feathers. The bath water should be tepid (warm but not hot) and should contain one or two squirts of the shampoo. Be sure to clean the feet and legs well and remove any dirt that may have accumulated beneath the scales.
For White Birds - Use Sterling Solutions Silver Brightening Shampoo or Dawn Dishwashing soap (available at many Walmart stores) which is used to remove yellowing in gray hair in humans. Work small amounts of it into yellowed areas of the plumage with a soft brush. Rinse well. For stubborn stains, wrap the bird in a towl before it is rinsed and let the soap pentrate for about 15-20 minutes and then begin the rinse process.
The Rinse Process
Use two large buckets of rinse water. The water should be warm, not hot and the second bucket should contain water slightly cooler than the first.
Rinse Number One - This bucket should contain a generous amount of white vinegar (about 20% of total water volume) Remember that the vinegar water solution may need to be renewed if more than a few birds are being washed. The vinegar will cut the soap and allow it to be removed from the plumage. The primary cause of washing failure is that all soap was not washed off of the bird. The bird should be immersed long enough to allow the vinegar to penetrate the plumage.
Rinse Number Two - This bucket should contain clear water which will remove any soap or vinegar residue which remains. Remember that the water temperature should be slightly cooler than Rinse Number One. For white birds, 1-2 drops of bluing should be added to each gal. Mix the bluing in a separate container and then pour it into the bucket. Be precise about the amount and pour out the bucket and start over if too much is accidentally added. Too much bluing is much worse than not using any at all because it will leave a blue cast on the plumage which can only be corrected when the bird moults.
The Drying Process
Each bird should be wrapped in a soft and absorbent towel after the second rinse. Allow the towel to absorb as much of the water as possible- letting the bird remain wrapped in the towel for several minutes is not too long. The bird should then be placed in a wire floored cage with wire sides in a room that is kept at about 70- 72 degrees F. The room must be free of drafts. Do not blow dry the bird ( exceptions: Cochins and Silkies). The birds should remain in the drying room for the remainder of the day or even until the following morning. They then can be returned to individual show cages in unheated housing that has been thoroughly cleaned. Feed them lightly and tempt them to eat the grain out of your hand. This will condition even young birds that have never been shown before to expect good treatment in a show situation.
Fitting means the final preparation necessary to prepare a bird for the showroom. Fitting is usually done in the showroom prior to when the birds will be judged. If the above recommendations were followed and if the birds were transported to the show in clean and spacious carriers, all that will remain to be done is to attend to the details. First, check the feet and legs to assure that they had not been soiled in transport. If the bird is of a clean legged breed such as my Wyandottes are, it is prudent to check them for “stubs” which are small feathers that sometimes will pop out on the legs or feet of clean legged birds. If a judge finds a “stub,” he is required to disqualify the bird. if a bird has soiled it's plumage during transport, wipe it clean with moist "baby wipes" and let it dry.
Next, one should verify that the upper beak is trimmed so that it does not protrude over the lower one. A clipper used to trim toenails is ideal for the purpose. Last, one should bring out the red color in the bird’s face and comb. That is best done by applying a product called Vet- RX to those areas with a cotton swab. Be careful not to get any in the bird’s eyes. Many exhibitors like to go over the bird with a silk cloth at this point to smooth the plumage and bring out the natural sheen. Some breeders of Games use a silicone cloth to add gloss to plumage.
Do not feed the bird prior to judging. A full crop will distort the bird’s breast and the bird will tend not to be as alert if it has just had a meal. There will be plenty of time to feed after judging is concluded.
Many a bird prepared in the ways described above has beaten birds superior in type or color because condition is 10% of the total points in the Standard