The Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA was once again the host site for New England’s largest poultry show known as the Northeastern Poultry Congress. The 44th annual event, which took place Jan. 14 and 15, had a total of 260 exhibitors and 2,516 fowl on display that included various breeds of large fowl, bantams, ducks, turkeys and guineas.
Judges selected a single combed, clean leg New Hampshire cockerel as the Grand Champion of this year’s show. For bird owner Robert Poole of Sanbornton, NH the win comes on the heels of capturing the title of Reserve Grand Champion at the Ohio National Poultry Show back in November with the cockerel’s sibling. Poole says his grand champion bird also made it to championship row at the Dixie Classic Poultry Show in Knoxville, TN back in December.
“He’s one of the younger ones that I own,” Poole said. “I’ve kind of been waiting on him. I hadn’t shown him since Knoxville in December. This is the only bird that I’ve owned that’s ever repeated as an overall winner.”
Poole’s bird was judged by comparison to others based on American Bantam Association (ABA) standards. According to Stephen Blash, an experienced judge of two years, this is no easy task.
“It’s hard because you’re only going to make one person happy,” Blash said. “The novice would say that they all look the same. The differences that you are looking for in a bird is a challenge. The multicolored birds are the hardest because there is over 120 different breeds that you have to know the different colors for.”
Whether winning the top prize or not, long time poultry exhibitors like Tony Bezok of Lyndhurst, VA, say they will continue to come out year after year to compete and network with other bird fanciers.
“I’ve been showing since I was 10 and I’m 62 now,” Bezok said. “I like the competition. I like to see what the next guy brings to the show.”
When Bezok is not serving as an ABA licensed judge he is raising and exhibiting his own Black Old English Bantam hens. The long time exhibitor says that his birds have a unique characteristic and usually place well at poultry shows.
“I have an apparent green sheen on my hens through breeding which others do not,” Bezok said. “I have nicknamed them the Green Emerald Bloodline.”
The hard work of caring for his birds paid off for Bezok this year as one of his Black Old English hens won recognition as Reserve Champion Bantam. Bezok credits his success to years of practice and following the ABA standard of perfection.
“I breed to the ABA standard of perfection,” Bezok said. “Many people don’t. They seem to have their own idea as to what their bird should look like. It’s basic care and breeding but you don’t always get what you want. I taught myself a lot of tricks such as conditioning, which is a year-round job. Some people want to prep their birds one week or even a couple days before the show.”
One of the unique aspects of the Northeast Poultry Congress is that it has both an open exhibitor and junior exhibitor competition. More experienced junior exhibitors are allowed to enter their birds into open competition with adult exhibitors. This is exactly what two young sisters, Heather and Laura Candea from Warwick, NY, did. They ended up coming away with the second highest honor of the show as their Rhode Island Red Cockerel won Reserve Super Grand Champion.
For less experienced junior exhibitors there were plenty of other areas to participate in such as the showmanship competition, junior judging contest, skill-a-thon contest and poultry agility contest. Eleven-year-old Allison Kotowski of Belchertown, MA took part in the agility contest. Although she couldn’t coax her Black Old English hen fast enough through the course to win she had a lot of fun trying and seeing all the other birds at the show.
“The hardest thing is trying to actually make your bird do what you want them to do,” Allison said. “I like seeing all the different birds because I am looking for any new breeds that I can get.”
Allison’s mother, Michelle, says she would be happy to get more birds for her daughter because she feels that caring for birds teaches responsibility.
“Allison began caring for birds when she was just one,” Kotowski said. “It’s up to her to feed, groom and take care of the birds.”
Junior show superintendent, Joel Henning, says he makes the five and half hour trip from Buffalo, NY in order to help with the young exhibitors. According to Henning the long trip is all worth it.
“My favorite part of all this is seeing the excitement and the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Henning said. “I started when I was 13 and I remember how excited I was then.”
Henning says that the large building space and accommodating event staff play a big part in making the poultry show as successful as it is.
“The fairgrounds allow us to setup a week prior so that we can take our time and put it together how we want,” Henning said.
Volunteer Poultry Congress staff take full advantage of the additional prep time, filling the 129,400 square foot space with plenty of activities for exhibitors and visitors to take part in. One of those activities is the sale of quality show birds.
“There were well over a thousand birds for sale this year,” sales area supervisor Wes Sheldon said. “This is one of the few places that you can have a large sale area in a show and get some quality birds from known breeders. There are also a couple vendors here that sell commercial quality birds.”
One of those quality breeders is Matt Martin of Ashville, MA. Martin says he brought about 100 different large fowl and bantam birds to the show and by the end of the first day he had sold all but three. Martin says his success comes from the fact that he has been raising chickens since he was nine years old. Among his favorite birds to raise are his award winning Plymouth Rock chickens.
“You can’t do it overnight,” Martin said. “You have to really know about genetics and how to cross a male and female bird. I’ve been raising Plymouth Rocks since I was a kid. They are one of the oldest breeds that there is. As a matter of fact, the Pilgrims brought them here. That’s how they got their name.”
Sharing the same area with the sale birds were the boisterous waterfowl. Among the exhibitors here was Tricia Chase of Kingston, NH. Chase says she brought about 25 Indian Runner ducks both to exhibit them and promote this particular duck line.
“All the breeds go through cycles,” Chase said. “I’m trying to bring out a lot of good quality birds and expand their numbers. The first year that I came here there were about 10 Indian Runner ducks. The following year it was about 20. We are at 40 this year. It’s been doubling every year.”
Just like the Indian Runner ducks the Northeastern Poultry Congress itself has nearly doubled in exhibit size within the last 10 years. In 2007 there were 1,728 exhibits. Fast forward to 2017 with its 2,516 exhibits and that’s an increase of 788.
For more information on the Northeastern Poultry Congress as well as results and pictures from this year’s event visit www.poultrycongress.com .