Happy December,

     My husband Joe and I are just back from the crossroads of America poultry show, where I exhibited twenty two of my white crested black Polish bantams.  There were over 10,000 poultry exhibited, from 30 states.  I've been raising chickens for 12 years.  I began with feed store chicks that I wanted to grow up tame enough for me to use as models for a children's book I was illustrating called HEDGIE'S SURPRISE.  I modified the looks of my silverlaced Wyandotte hens when painting them to create a character for my story. They became tame enough to stand on my art table.  Painting them was far more difficult than I imagined!  After I went to my first poultry shows, I acquired Silkies and soon afterwards a trio of white crested black Polish bantams.   One of the Polish cockrels has a role in GINGERBREAD FRIENDS and later a buff Cochin pullet became the model for the team pulling the Easter bunny's coach in THE EASTER EGG.
     I'm just finishing up on my turtle book for the fall of 2012, and I'm planning a poultry Cinderella book for 2013.  I jump-started my imagination with a trip to the crossroads show.  Here are my reflections:
     I've never been to a poultry show where on cooping in, someone hasn't asked if they could help me. Mix that spirit in with the thousands of hours setting up breeding pens, hatching baby chicks, selecting and growing youngsters, and washing and preparing that every exhibitor logs, and then add the sheer beauty and majesty of hundreds of breed varieties of poultry at the top of their form and vigor and you have a start to what a poultry show is about. And, an electric current runs beneath it all, making a spectacular display into a stomach churning mega event.The birds are judged. Each and every chicken, duck, goose and turkey will be graded, it's wings spread, it's confirmation assessed, it's breeds characteristics weighed and it's vigor acknowledged. A poultry show is part celebration, part drama, part exhilaration and part whoop it up fun.
     The Crossroads show, being a joint ABA and APA national virtually guarantees that the best breeders in the country will bring their best birds (with the exception of the judges' birds which they cannot show if they are judging) . It insures that as you walk through the aisles of the show halls, you are seeing the top of the quality pyramid, the best examples of each breed and variety. You will see breeds and varieties that are so rare that you stop and wonder, "What is that?"  It makes a show of this magnitude, genetically speaking, an historic occasion.
     At every show I have a ritual that never fails to please me as I think back on the show after it's over. I clear my mind and walk through the aisles  with no agenda, just looking at every bird with focus. It's strange how one bird will loom large. At that moment, he or she just shines. Once it was a effervescent white leghorn cockerel, another time an elegant grey Japanese cockerel, another time a standard white Cochin pullet so commanding that it drew me in like I was a fish in a line. At the last Crossroads in 2007 the special bird was a lemon blue old English cockerel. He had an unearthly beauty - each feather sculpted, the combination of breast, saddle, hackles and sickles explosively gorgeous. This year it was one of my competitors birds in the white crested Polish bantam class, a cockerel that was so eye capturing and fine that his elegant image still comes back to me when I 'm running or trying to fall asleep. What is this spark or charisma that radiates from certain birds?  It goes beyond the instinctive behavior that birds show in courtship displays. There is a communication between bird and human that jumps the normal paths, and why it makes a big show like the crossroads seem like a treasure hunt.
     I had an experience at a show when a flighty duck of mine got loose and flew crazily into the windows, thankfully missing the huge wide open door to the show hall. It flew to ground and zigged between rows in a panic. I had just about given up on ever bringing that guy home when one of our judges appeared, magically picking it up . He brought it to me as if it were "business as usual". There was something transmitted in the judge?s hands that made me curious. How could he have first commanded my duck to give up , and then calmed him? I don't think this ability of a great poultryman can be described, but I think it can be emulated, just like if you see a graceful runner, you feel by just observing, a little can rub off on you. I like to take a little time at a big show like this to watch and try to put into my muscle memory the way great judges and breeders handle the birds. There does seem to be moments where it seems like you can emotionally communicate with poultry by touch.
     A visit to The Crossroads isn?t complete for me without a visit to the turkeys.  Maybe it's because I can't have turkeys myself, but I love to hear them call, and especially admire their fanned tails as they ?bestow their magnificence?. Wild turkeys are very prevalent in new England where we live, and it never gets old surprising a hen with poults or a flock of jakes in the woods. To see all the stunning domestic varieties close up is a marvel, especially considering the selective breeding it took to create them.
     Tearing oneself away from ones own birds and their emanate success or failure is difficult, but I usually know one or two juniors who have bought birds from me, and being a spectator at the junior show is fascinating. I see their progress as well as the "future of the fancy". I remember being a kid and yearning for the chance to own a creature that I could nurture and believe in. It's poignant to see the junior exhibitors realizing how steep the learning curve is. I feel even more poignant when I know I'm still trying to crack the code myself! I remember the production red chickens my sister and I bought for 35 cents from the local dairy farm, and how we trained them to ride on the handlebars of our bikes. We thought they were the most beautiful chickens in the world. There is always a little heartbreak on that road to show super grand champion.
     As I walk away from a big show like the crossroads, I carry with me two strong emotions. The first is pride for my birds. They weren't elevated to championship row this time, but they looked healthy and beautiful.  The second is gratitude for the traditions in the fancy, for respecting the master breeders and exhibitors who breed the stock we show sometimes for generations, and the judges that try so hard to amass their knowledge and hone their eye to evaluate our poultry so we can raise the bar another year.
     Bye for now, your friend,

                                  Jan Brett