Children gain lifelong friends at the poultry show   

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 

Bantam banter: Ruger VanWie, left, and Bryan Doolin, right, joke good-naturedly to pass the time while waiting to show their chickens in the 4-H poultry show at the Altamont Fair. 

ALTAMONT — For Holly VanWie of Clarksville, who is about to be a senior at Bethlehem Central High School, the week of the Altamont Fair is her favorite week of the year. “No one else does agriculture in my school,” she said at the 4-H poultry show on Tuesday, the opening day of the 2019 Altamont Fair.

“When I come here, I’m surrounded by people who do agriculture, and it’s so much better for me,” said Holly. 

She has been showing cows since she was 4 and has been showing chickens for the past five years.

“I have so many best friends from doing this,” she said. “Your trophies, they’ll get dusty, and the ribbons will get thrown away, but your fair friends are there forever.” 

As the novice competition was underway in the ring in the cow barn at the fair, a group of boys stood together, holding their chickens and joking good-naturedly to pass the time. They are not actually rivals, since they have different levels of experience and are in different categories, but they teased each other as if they were. 

Bryan Doolin, who is going into his senior year at Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s secondary school, said he enjoys showing chickens and  has “always been fascinated by things that fly.” He held his Quail Belgian Bearded D’Anver Bantam, Gem. 

His brother, Stephan, also headed into 12th grade, was there with Jasmine, the Columbian Wyandotte he had entered in the showmanship category. The family has a small farm with goats, chickens, and pigs, the boys said.

Bryan said that the family sometimes processes its chickens, but not its show chickens. 

Their friend, Ruger VanWie, Holly’s younger brother, was holding Ray, a Silver Sebright Bantam whose white feathers were intricately marbled with black. 

Bryan Doolin reminded Ruger that he was in the senior showmanship category, and Ruger in the junior category, while Ruger quipped that he, more importantly, was taller. 

By the show’s end, one of the chickens entered by Stephan Doolin, a brown leghorn hen, had won best in show. 

Meanwhile, Holly Bremer, who is going into fifth grade at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, was happy to have completed her first show, displaying her black Icelandic chicken, Buttercup. 

The family has chickens, ducks, and sheep, said her mother, Erin Bremer. 

Holly Bremer detailed some of the work she does with the chickens.

“I let them out. We have to open the windows in the chicken coop, which I usually do, and we feed them usually once or twice a day. They have this little pond they drink out of, and we sometimes give them fresh water.” 

Her little brother and sister, Holly said, are often the ones to open the door and take out the eggs.


The judge 

“It’s such a good hobby,” said judge Jamie Matts, who began showing chickens when he was 14 and has been raising and selling Cochin chickens for about 30 years. “It keeps me off the couch, keeps me healthy.” 

Matts, 48, of Harpursville, likes to see the kids in the competition taking pride in animal husbandry, just as he did when he was younger. 

Holly VanWie, he said, “was so proud of herself, really knew her stuff.” 

VanWie won the overall master showmanship award at the show, Matts said, noting that this award is given for the child’s knowledge about the bird. 

The other award, for the bird itself, is given based on how closely the bird matches the breed standard, just as in a dog show, Matts said. Each bird is compared to a standard of perfection, and given points for characteristics such as eye color or how they hold their wings. 

“I tell the kid to start at one end of the bird and tell me everything,” Matts said. “The more they tell me, the less I have to ask.” 

He wants the children to tell him about the bird’s beak, eyes, feathers, tail, and feet, in addition to talking about how they care for it. 

He will also ask them questions, he said, such as: “If you looked into the coop and saw that the water bowl was half-full, what would you do?” He hopes to hear that they would, he said, dump it out and put in new, since this is healthier for the bird than simply filling it up. Or he’ll ask how many days it takes an egg to hatch. 

The showmanship part of the competition, he said, gives children good experience with public speaking, “eye to eye, speaking to a stranger,” he said. 

Each child gets a ribbon for participating. He also has a sheet he gives out, that tells children “what they need to improve for next year,” he said. 

A showmanship award is given out in each category, of novice, junior, and senior, and one person gets the overall showmanship award, as Holly VanWie did this year. 

Birds get first, second, and third prizes in each category, and one bird — Stephan Doolin’s in 2019 — is awarded best in show. 

Several years ago, in 2015, the poultry barn stood empty for one year, when fowl were banned from fairs in New York State, from fears about avian flu. They were back in 2016. Of the ban, Matts said, “People look forward to seeing the chickens. It hurt. It hurt the hobby.” State officials were being a bit overcautious, he said, adding, “But better safe than sorry.” 

Matts has watched many of the children go from being Cloverbuds, the youngest participants in 4-H, he said, to “aging out” of the organization. 

A couple of kids he had judged for many years, from Pennsylvania, went on to take first and second prizes in the national competition, he said. Both of them went on to poultry school, he said, and one has gotten a doctorate.

He usually judges about 10 fairs in a summer, he said, in addition to his day job as a dental hygienist. 

“It’s great to see the children grow with their chickens,” Matts said. 

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.