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
"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 andwith 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
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 learnedand improved uponsome 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
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 arethat'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