Thursday, January 10, 2013

Showing your birds? Help protect them!

I love keeping chickens (and peafowl, ducks, etc) and I love the challenge and excitement that come with showing them.  We have been fortunate to have participated in The Ohio National poultry show for the last three years.  We taken our bantam Russian Orloff's and have done very well.  It has become something we look forward to doing at the end of each season.  Shortly after this show, which is held in November, we take a break for the holidays and then eagerly awaiting spring again.

For the most part it has been a very positive experience but there have been some things we've seen and heard about that have us concerned.

I can't speak to how all shows are handled but I can say what they do at this particular show.  Here is a run down of the show weekend.
Check in is Friday starting at 9am up until 10pm.  You see folks coming and going all day long, vendor tables are being setup, sale birds being put in cages and random greetings of fellow enthusiasts.    Only exhibitor's (and their family) may enter on Friday.  You enter the hall and go to the sign up table to check in.  They ask your name (never requesting any identification from you or a visual on your bird), check your name off on the list, give you a booklet listing out the names of everyone exhibiting, a button to allow entry to the show over the weekend and then they point you to a large group of papers listed on a wall nearby.  In the three years we have been showing, this is the only contact we have with the show staff the entire weekend.  The papers indicate where each bird goes on the floor (row and cage) and a handy diagram of the floor so you know where to go.

Thousands of cages!

This is a big show with rows being labeled by letter and cages being stacked three high on either side.  There is a center aisle down each row.  You then go find your cages and get your birds settled in.  You provide your own food and water but they do put small plastic cups in each cage for you to fill.  None of the cages have any kind of locking mechanism and the rules state, "If the coop is locked or the bird is not accessible to the judge, the bird will not be judged." I have never noticed one lock on any cages in any of the years we have went, although I have seen a few zip ties here and there.   

You can also setup any sale pens you have pre-purchased.  Sale pens are in the same hall but a different area than the show birds.  Lots of sales happen Friday evening, we often don't arrive until 6:30-7pm and are mobbed upon arrival.  ;)

Sale area.  This was mid morning on a Saturday.

Around 9:30 the show staff starts reminding everyone they are closing up at 10PM.  At 10pm personnel begin throwing people out and the hall is then locked up for the evening.

They open the hall up at 7am but judging doesn't start until around 9am.  One by one they will block each half of a row from all traffic so the judge can easily go from one cage to the next, looking at each bird and noting their comments.  After they have judged a row they block off the next and open that row back up.  This takes a while, there are thousand of birds being shown.  If I recall judging usually lasts until 4 or 5 pm (it might have been earlier) but the hall remains open until 6pm, when they again go around to move people out.  Again, the hall is locked until morning.
Mid Day on Saturday, judging is happing somewhere amongst these cages.

Throughout the day but especially in the morning are when many sales happen.  There are a lot of people that come to the show simply to look at all the birds, but from the vendor tables and check out the sale pens.  By late Saturday most of the cages are empty.

The hall opens at 7AM again.  Champions are awarded mid-morning, I think it was around 10 or so.  After that they formally dismiss everyone.  The process for taking your birds is simple, you walk up to your cage and take your bird.  You can put it in a transport cage if you want but lots and lots of people are there carrying birds around so no one really pays any mind to an uncaged bird.  You then pack your birds up and head home.  Most of the sale pens are cleared out before they award the Champions and by noon the place looks like a chicken ghost town. lol
Note, there is absolutely NO check out of birds, validation/identification or proof of ownership you need to provide to leave with your (or any) bird.  
Getting ready to pack up to head home.  

Can you see the red flags in the process here?  Did it help I highlighted them? ;)

I'll discuss those red flags a little further, flags that had always been there but were brought to light more recently.

It started the Monday after the show with reports on Facebook from a few people that their birds were missing.  Some came through on our farm page wall so I shared them with the Ohio National Facebook page, their replies were less then helpful. :/ As days went on, more reports of missing birds came in.  Some were located but others remained missing.  How sad it is that someone brings a bird to a show and comes home empty handed!?!

Then today happened.  Today I received a postcard in the mail...

there was a little sticker on the front directing me to a youtube video:

wow, just breaks my heart.  truly.

I've been thinking about Julia all day, how much she must miss her boys, how much she obviously cares for them and how WRONG it is that this happened to her.  I knew I had to do something to help.

I have no idea where her boys are and I don't breed silkies but I knew I could use our FB page to try to get the word out.  If you are on FB, please go share our post!


that's not enough.  We need to make sure this doesn't happen again.  How can anyone feel comfortable bringing their birds to a show environment if they are being taken right out of the cages, potentially stolen, right there at the show.  I checked the Ohio National's web site list of rules again and noticed one I hadn't seen before, "The Association will take every precaution against loss or mishap, but will not be held responsible should any occur." Hmm, let's see 'every precaution'?  Remember my run down, does that SOUND like 'every precaution'? heck does that sound like ANY precaution?
So, what can we do about this?!

  • Check in Process:
    • Any adult exhibiting should be required to show photo ID and check in with their bird(s)
      • Because this is a junior show as well, I can understand many of them would not have an ID but in those cases an adult with them should be required to show the needed identification.  
    • Birds can be marked with a numbered leg band at this time, provided by the show itself.  This would provide a consistent, standard, unique identifier for each bird.  It would be low cost, easily removed, harmless to the bird and a way to identify EVERY bird being shown.  And, how handy, several sponsors of this show SELL these leg bands.  hmm, seems like they could work that out pretty easily.  
  • Caging/Penning In process
    • The design of the cages would lend itself to a lock or other mechanism to secure the cage but this could prove problematic for judging unless the show itself purchased locks.  Ideally they would have a master key for the judges and then individual keys for each lock that can be given to exhibitors.  The cost for these locks could be included in registration fees and/or a deposit could be taken and then returned upon return of the lock at the end of the show.  This would ensure the safety of the bird but also allow the judge access to the bird.  Incidentally, the judges are not alone when they walk around, they each have at least one helper that clears people from the rows before they block them off, you hear the judge talk with them as well.  From the watching I've done of the judges (I admit, I find it fascinating to watch them) I think this could be incorporated into the process, again with assistance that they already have.  It would be made more simple by the show issuing the lock thereby having a master key to unlock all locks.  It wouldn't be a case of the judge having to fish through thousands of keys for the right one, it would be one key they would have to work all the locks.  
  • Check Out 
    • This is the process I think has the most opportunity for improvement as to date there IS no process.  To start with, if they can implement a simple banding upon check in it would be easy to verify birds upon exit.  The show staff would need to check leg bands of each bird against the master check in list of leg band numbers.  No match, no leaving.  
    • They should also require you check out the same way they require a check in; you check in with X number of birds, you check out with that many.  
    • I also feel they need amend their rule that states, "Any birds left at the show will be disposed of at show management's discretion." I feel they should first off designate a difference between birds in the show area and birds in the sale area.  They could then say any birds left in the SALE area will be disposed of at their discretion.  I think they should at least make an effort to contact anyone with birds in show cages after noon on Sunday.  

I realize all of this would require a little more time on the part of the the show personnel but then again aren't these just 'precautions'?! After all, they themselves said they would take 'every precaution against loss or mishap'.
These checks would not eliminate ALL instances of missing birds but I think it would really deter future instances.

So, what do you think?  What rules or processes/procedures do you think should be put in place?  Whether you show birds or not I'd love to hear from you!


  1. Contrary to what I'm going to say, I really do agree with you. In addition, there seems to be no way to remove infested or sick birds from the hall, even after the judges make a note of them - an immense problem in every show, no matter the size. I Frontline my birds after each show, just in case.

    That said, there would be a riot of immense proportions if people had to stand and wait to be released from a show as large as the Ohio National, especially those who have a long drive home, like me. I would think they would need at least 100 people manning every exit to get people out of there in a reasonable amount of time. Also, how could the checker be sure that the bird is not stolen if the person carrying the bird says they just bought it from the sale area? They could have stolen it and removed the band. Would those thousands of sale birds have bands as well?

    To safeguard my birds as best I can, I use cable ties on their cages as soon as the judging is done, and I put ties on the cages of purchased birds as soon as I buy them. Yes, they can be cut, but most people aren't going to bother. I have also purchased small keyed padlocks at the dollar store - they come with a master key, but they can be a pain to get around some of these cage wires securely. I figure if the master breeders use cable ties for their very valuable birds, that's good enough for me.

    I think every responsible exhibitor would agree with you in theory - how could anyone disagree? But, in practice, it's a bit of a logistical nightmare. I would love to hear the opinions of some of the people who run these bigger shows on how they might address these concerns in the future.

    1. Thanks for commenting Mary, I want to get a discussion going and an eager to any/all opinions and ideas. I certainly don't think I have all the answers, these were just some initial thoughts/observations/suggestions. I'm hoping more will weigh in with ideas. :)
      You are right, it would be a large task to check everyone out especially considering the number of birds shown but shouldn't there be some sort of check out process? Just seems odd there isn't anything in place.
      We do zip tie our cages but again, those are very easy to snip off and I know from observation that most people have no idea who owns the birds in the cages around theirs. No one would think much about someone cutting off a zip tie. As far as what the master breeders do and what has been done...i'm not saying they are wrong, I mentioned I've seen zip ties, I actually think this is a quick, easy and low cost way to protect them. The question is just because this is how things have been done by others and in the past does that mean that's how they should continue to operate? It seems situations like this are growing more and more common which is sad.
      I do agree, logistical nightmare with this many birds but I think something does need to be done to ensure the safety of the birds and integrity of the competition.

    2. I agree, but every time I come up with a possible solution, it seems unattainable. For example, I know for a fact that my local club would never be able to afford a whole new array of more secure cages, if they even make them. Some of ours are over 20 years old, and they only buy the bare minimum they need to get by as the old ones break - sometimes THOSE are zip-tied just to keep them standing! Even with our less-than-one-thousand-entry show, there are six exits for the one building, and it's like rush hour in the subway at coop-out. People would literally freak out if we tried to stop them to check names and tags. I think, in light of this, I am going back to my small padlocks, although I may look for a slightly bigger size.

      I think that everyone wishes there was some sort of security process, but would those same people really want to wait at least thirty minutes for everyone's birds to be checked? I don't think so. I will bring this up to the people who run our show, and we all attend others. Will mention this thread at the Congress next weekend, also. If nothing else, it will make people be more aware of the exhibitors around them, and the people hanging out in their aisles.

  2. PS - it was really hard to read some of the highlighted sentences. Can they all be put in red?

    1. Should be fixed now, thanks for mentioning it. I didn't even catch that last night.

  3. I agree there needs to be something done. I was one of the people who had a birds taken. It was so upsetting when I got there and my bird was taken and a lot of my stuff like crates and feed as well. I was one of the lucky ones though and got her back. Someone from the Wyandotte Breeders of America took my bird because he thought she was left behind and didn't want her to be taken or "disposed" of. Now I am paranoid another bird will be taken by someone who isn't as kind hearted as the person who helped me. I only brought 10 birds and that was one of my BEST birds that I thought I had lost. I have seen the zip ties and want to use those on my cages as a deterrent but it will still make me worry.
    One way instead of metal bands people can use bar code bands. This can be easier by just having a scanner scan the bird in. It would be much quicker and can have the owners info on it when scanned. Kinda like a micro chip in a dog. All it would be is a laminated piece of paper that you have a adhesive side to. Simple and easy to cut off in the end. This can also help if there is a missing bird or a loose bird. You can show your ID when you leave then have your birds scanned with a portable scanner. All the files will be electronic and easier to keep track of and search. Yes, it will take some time to log everyone out but I would rather wait an extra hour or two then have a $100+ bird go missing that I cannot replace.