Every year I judge between 6 and 10 4-H poultry shows for various counties in eastern Iowa. It is always a fun experience to interact with the youth and pass on what information that I can about specific breeds and tips on raising and showing. It is always good to help perpetuate an interest in poultry. Many fairs have a 2 year rotation on judges but some don’t and one fair I have judged for close to 30 years now and am on my second generation of poultry raisers. The exhibitors soon learn I have a great memory and learn I will remember what I told them about how to improve their project the previous year when we meet again the the next year. In all of this many of the best experiences are the heritage breeds but there is a growing poultry show component every year of a broiler contest where the exhibitors all get their chicks the same day from the same hatchery, wing banded for security. So, everyone gets the same strain from the same place at the same time and it comes down to feed and care that makes the difference. They are usually entered as pens of 3 and most exhibitors get between 10 and 20 chicks as day olds to raise, care for and choose the best to show. Usually the first timers don’t choose all three of the same sex or work on the finer points. However, once they get it figured out it comes down to feeds, feeding habits and daily care. It is amazing to see how with the modern broiler chickens ( which is no secret they are not favorites of mine) how the size and health can vary. There are those who use the highest protein feed on no restriction and get huge birds that sprawl all over the place with obese bodies and no leg strength There are others that raise them with more controlled rations and those are somewhat better. Some try to raise them on whole grains and that can be a disaster. I felt so bad for a young exhibitor one year where there were about 15 entires and her pen of three had a total weigh of 9 pounds and the largest pen in the contest had a total weight of 22 pounds. Hers looked like dwarfs. Situation was her birds were forced to move around and only got limited feed. They had the strongest legs of any there and the best shaped bodies but no size or meat. The largest were huge carcasses but no leg strength and had breast blisters from laying around all of the time. I always make it a point of asking the exhibitors what they use for feed and how often. One needs to know that when raising these fast growing breeds one must be careful to use the recommended feed and if you experiment be prepared for issues. Modern broiler chickens need a specific diet to do their best. Trying to experiment with feed on these birds with narrow genetics can be disastrous. It is best to stick with the recommended prepared feed.
Yet another feed nightmare can occur with hybrid sex link layer varieties. I have raised several different strains of these and and have helped many others with issues when it comes to altering the feed on these strains. When given the recommended prepared feed they tend to thrive and lay an unbelievable amount of eggs but their adaptability to changed and special home made feed mixes is not there. First situation that usually develops with changing the feed to a mixture that does not have all of the trace amount of nutrients and the birds are not able to free range to find their nutritional needs is you see either egg eating or cannibalism. I have seen this many times when I have experimented with various feed mixtures and used these birds. While a heritage breed will nearly always adapt and move on these very narrow genetical high performing birds are almost like a race car and need a special fuel ( feed) to make them operate at peak performance. Use extreme care when altering the feed in these birds. While they can be exceptional performers when all things are right, if not given a proper diet they will develop many different issues, the worst being cannibalism. Most prepared bagged layer feeds will work well for these but even then in some cases the protein and micronutrient content is not perfect for them so you have to shop around to get the right mix for the particular strain you have.