plymouth washed






It is basically a competition pitting man or woman against other exhibitors and it reveals so many aspects of people’s personalities that even they did not know existed. For example, the quiet little man you always assumed was a really nice person, polite, dignified, always fair in his comments…put him in a competitive state at a poultry show and you will find he has metamorphosed into Genghis Khan personified. He becomes rude, loud, vociferous, with a keen sense of having been done out of his rightful medal. Happens all the time. Competition in humans reveals the deepest darkest primitive instincts of when our ancestors were cavemen ..and women! It becomes a game to the death, kill or be killed! And of course the judge is always in the middle. Now we have learned to somewhat modify the kill or be killed aspect, in that I do not remember seeing blood on the floor at any show…but close!

When we breed a certain bird, we feel we have the best bird on that floor, and the judge had better agree with us or else!

So, how does one handle showing, in a way that is enjoyable and in a way that would not embarrass our progeny?

Firstly, you make sure you understand that showing is not the be all and end all of life. It has its place in poultry as in everything else, but basically you show because you enjoy your birds, you want to improve the breeds you have and the only way to do that is to put yourself out there with the rest and the best.

Secondly, you must realise that judging is a personal point of view although the judges adhere to the standards as given in the SA book of standards. There are many interpretations of each point in a bird, and the whole is never a perfect specimen. Judging entails finding the best bird on the day, not the best bird that SHOULD be there but the best bird on that floor on that day. The judges cannot be held responsible for a low standard of showing, showmanship, or quality of exhibit. If a judge considers the standard to be really bad he is at liberty to disqualify the whole class…and then duck and run for the hills!

Thirdly, you make sure your birds are exhibited in a way that makes them look their best. Often a mediocre bird that is well prepared will take the championship from a better specimen that is filthy and not well prepared, or full of parasites. When this happens everyone complains, and believe me when I say there is not a better whiner than a poultry exhibitor with a grievance. Who is to blame? The exhibitor who showed a filthy infested bird, not the judge who had to examine it.

Why? Because if one enters a beauty pageant in filthy clothes, with unwashed hair, unshaved armpits and unshaved legs, one does not expect to win, so don’t do it with the birds.

I remember having a very interesting conversation if one could charitably call it so, with a seasoned campaigner in the poultry world. he told me that the day he washed a bird for a competition would be the day he stopped showing. he was very surprised to hear from me that he would be missed!

Yes it takes a major effort to clean, prepare, and show a bird to its full potential. If you don’t want to do it, stay at home. Don’t whine about the fact you have too many birds and cannot possibly wash them all especially since you work a full time job…I don’t remember ever seeing a gun held to any one’s head to force them to have so many breeds! Keep a few less, prepare more, spend more time refining your showing skills. You will be amazed how much more relaxed you are and how much fun it can be!

Prepare the birds and this is how:

1. Select select  select. Select the exhibits you are certain are your best at least 8 weeks before a major show. Make sure there are no split wings, crossed beaks, odd eyes, odd toes, wrong coloured feathers etc which would mean immediate elimination. Separate these birds from the others. Feed them well. Ensure good feed quality, with plenty of oils for the feathers. Feed extra vitamins too. Make sure these birds cannot injure themselves by fighting, or lose feathers or break feathers. Keep them safe from predators, from heat and cold, from pets and children. Always select more than you have entered. Handle each bird gently EVERY DAY to ensure it is tame. Use a dowel rod to gently prod the birds in the cages as a judge might do. Make sure the birds are not wild when handled.

A week before your show, go through the birds again. Select the ones you wish to exhibit and have a back up, in case!

Make a list of order of washing, the dark birds first the white birds last. Wash and dry the birds, make sure there are no feathers left on the shanks of clean legged varieties, or in between the toes. Clean the legs well, especially in white or yellow  legged birds, where you need to pick all the dirt between the scales on the legs. Use a little oil on the legs, baby oil works well, but only a little please! If the birds have been penned in a clean separate pen, the legs should be fairly clean already. Use  a scrubbing brush in the bath to ensure clean legs.

Clean the face and the ears with a cotton bud. Use mild antiseptic like 3CP , a teaspoon in a glass of warm water to clean eyes and ears. Do not oil the comb as it will come off in white birds on the head. With a dark bird a little oil is permissible. Stay away from very pungeant oils, or heavily perfumed oils as this marks your birds in the cages and you must never use anything that will mark your birds. For example on white birds, a little powdered starch on the feathers brings out the sheen and the white in the feathering, but baby powder is perfumed and will mark your bird.

While the bird is drying make sure he is in a clean cage with wood shavings. Clean the cage as soon as the bird has made droppings.

When I wash my birds, I make sure I replace the oils in the body that may have come out in washing by giving each bird a vitamin E tablet.

Before placing the bird in its travel cage make sure it has not soiled itself, if it has clean again, but do not place a wet bird in a travel box. If you have a spray bottle, fill it with methylated spirits and use this to clean off any mess. It dries quickly and leaves no smell or colour.

More importantly, keep the birds calm. Do not stress them more than necessary, keep noise to a minimum, do not throw them into their boxes. Load and unload gently, take time to do this. If you expect a bird to show properly, then don’t treat it roughly. Once a bird is placed in its show pen LEAVE IT ALONE. Don’t pull it out to re wash, re pimp, or re anything. All this should be done at home, as there are enough stress factors at a show without the birds being pushed and pulled in all directions. Remember the environment is noisy, and they are not used to all the noise. Allow the bird to acclimate naturally. Make sure it has feed and clean water, then leave it alone and make sure no one else tampers with it by tie tagging your cages.


Have 3 basins available, the size of the birds you have. In one you place warm water and detergent soap. I use SURF. In the second and third clean warm water. Have a scrubbing brush handy and a sponge in each basin.

Have some towels available nearby so that you can wrap the bird up as soon as it is clean.

You must have a drying room, one that is free from draughts and warm, preferably with a heater.

I use a fan heater balanced on top of a show cage. The cage must be clean with fresh clean shavings, water and feed.

Hold the bird as you would a baby, with one hand under the body holding the wing on the opposite side. gently lower into the bath. Use the sponge to wash thoroughly under the vent, beneath the wings, under the keel. When washing a young bird for the first time, take time to lower it gently into the warm water, let it stand a while before washing to allow it to become accustomed to this unusual form of entertainment!

Try not to spend more time than necessary once you start washing, be quick be thorough be gentle. Most birds quite enjoy the whole experience, and love the warm water under their tush!

As soon as the bird is clean, wrap it up in the towel and take to the drying room. When the bird is wrapped securely in his towel you can inspect the legs, feet, and do a thorough job of cleaning eyes, ears, legs. remove the fluff between the toes or on the shanks if necessary in clean legged varieties. Inspect thoroughly with glasses on please! Look under the feet too, for evidence of bumble foot, or scabs under the sole. If there are small scabs, usually caused by walking on rough ground or hard surfaces,you can gently remove with sand paper and cream the foot thoroughly with zinc and castor oil cream. Bumble foot should not feature at this stage as it is a disqualification so you should have picked this up before washing! Sometimes, things are overlooked, which is why I suggest a spare bird, in case!

Do not allow the bird to become chilled. if you hold it close to you, wrapped in its towel, your body heat should be sufficient to warm it before going into the drying cage.

Leave the fan heater on low for at least half an hour, or until you feel the bird is coping without it.

Don’t overheat the bird. Leave it in the drying room overnight. Never wash a bird after 2pm as it will then go to bed wet, bad idea. Wash in the morning so that the bird is dry by night time.

I have never lost a bird due to washing but care must be taken to work quickly and not chill the bird. Any further preparation such as cutting long nails, removing fluff from toes etc can be done at the drying stage in the warmed room.

When your bird is on the show floor and looks stunning you then realise it has all been worth every effort, the back ache, the worry, the late hours, the driving.

Lastly be a graceful winner, and above all, a graceful loser. Not every one wins. Don’t go home and slaughter all your birds or leave in a huff because you did not win. Quietly go about your business, remain steadfast in your quest to find the perfect bird which by the way is in YOUR head not the judge’s.

Do not let any one deter you from that elusive perfect bird.

May you find it!

There are other ways to prepare birds, this is only my suggestion.



  1. Pingback: JUDGING YOUR OWN BIRDS | Chicken Wired

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