Not Chicken to Compete:
TSRI Employee Rises to Top of Pecking-Order in Poultry Shows, Avoids Running Afoul of Judges

By Mika Ono

Many employees of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) go to county fairs in the summer to ride the Ferris wheel, eat too much cotton candy and, oh yes, see some farm animals. Jodi Everitt, TSRI technician, goes to compete. She wins ribbons with her horses and mules. But her real forte is chickens.

At last year's Del Mar Fair, one of her chickens, shown by her son, was awarded the highest possible honor: supreme grand champion. "At that fair, the judges spread the awards around," says Everitt. "We got the top prize, but not all the prizes. However, at the Ramona Fair, I felt kind of bad for the other contestants. Our birds swept the competition. There were many other fine entrants, but the judges seemed to choose ours for every honor."

For those unfamiliar with the art and science of poultry competition, birds and their owners are judged on a variety of criteria. Chickens are ranked out of 25 points on criteria that include body type, weight, condition, and color. The person showing the bird is also evaluated, based on how he or she holds a bird, walks it, and is able to demonstrate a broad knowledge of poultry.

Like many other types of contests, judging is somewhat subjective. At the Los Angeles County Fair, Everitt's chickens picked up six firsts, two seconds and a reserve champion designation, but fell short of grand champion status. "Judges have different ideas from one show to another," Everitt notes. "In fact, one bird that won prizes in Del Mar was deemed unfit in L.A. You just never can tell!"

Which Came First?

Everitt got into poultry competition almost by accident about seven years ago, as an activity she thought would be fun for her son in 4-H (a youth group with strong agricultural roots).

"The first year we brought backyard chickens to the show and got disqualified right away," she remembers. "Back then, I had no idea you needed special breeds to compete."

Determined not to be eliminated from competition again, Everitt researched her subject and—with the help of such publications as the monthly Poultry Press and the reference work American Standard of Perfection, 1998 (Mendon, Massachusetts: American Poultry Association)—planned her line of attack. The next year she purchased a carefully selected set of chicks from show breeds which included Bantam White Leghorn, Bantam Booted Bearded Mille Fleur, and Bantam Birchen Cochin. That year, Everitt's chickens started to show well.

Since then, Everitt has refined her strategies for competing successfully. In addition to routine care such as administering worming medication, shots, vitamins, and electrolytes, she has learned—and improved upon—some tricks of the trade. Her pre-show preparation now includes a unique five-bucket wash. The chickens are first doused in a pail containing a dog shampoo to kill any mites or lice. Second, they are dunked in a pail containing Ivory dish soap (which Everitt prefers to commercially available poultry shampoo). Third, they are rinsed with water. Fourth, they are splashed with water mixed with a laundry whitener (she likes Mrs. Stuarts Bluing). Lastly, the chickens are soaked in water cut with a tablespoon of vinegar, which removes the last traces of soap and gives the bird's feathers a healthy sheen.

The chickens themselves don't seem to mind this process, especially as Everitt towels them dry when they are done so they don't topple over from the weight of their wet feathers. "I do hope for a sunny day," Everitt admits, "so I don't have to blow dry the birds, too. If it's sunny, they can finish air-drying outside without catching a chill."

As a final touch, Everitt puts mineral oil or vaseline on the chicken's legs, waddles and combs to bring out the natural color. "If you put on too much, the chicken doesn't look natural, the oil collects in globs on the feathers and the judges deduct points (and they'll say, 'too much oil!')," she notes. "Knowing when to stop is part of the art of this competition."

Everitt herself appreciates the beauty of the birds. Her personal favorite is the Large Silver Bantam Phoenix, a breed added to her collection four years ago. The male of this species grows a tail up to ten feet long. Everitt's husband, however, prefers the Large Rhode Island Reds they began raising last year, which sport dark red body feathers and an emerald green tail. So far, the judges seem to side with Everitt's husband: the supreme grand champion chicken at the Del Mar Fair was one of their Rhode Island Reds.

Throwing City Life to the Birds

Although Everitt, who is part Native American, was raised in a suburban setting in Florida, she developed a passion for farm life early on. "I've felt at home on farms from as far back as I can remember," she says. "My grandfather had a farm in Zanesville, Ohio that I used to love visiting as a child."

Now, when not traveling across the state to compete in county fairs, Everitt and her family reside on a two-acre property nestled among burgeoning housing developments. The seven horses, three mules and 100 show chickens do stand out in the neighborhood, but the neighbors aren't complaining. Instead, the farm seems to attract many from the community who are fascinated with the animals and specialized machinery.

"Farm life is busy, but the people I meet are awesome," says Everitt. "Helping a child touch a chicken for the first time and hearing him talk about how great its feathers are—that's what makes it all worthwhile."



Only special breeds are competitive in poultry shows, learned Jodi Everitt, a TSRI employee whose unusual hobby is showing chickens.