Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
Fair fowl smells sweet
Baby shampoo and tooth brushes great for making chickens sparkle
By Shelley Grieshop
Isaac Marchal, 15, and his brother, Nathan, 9, bathe one of the family's hens ou. . .
How do you give a chicken a bath?
Well, you can't just throw it in a Maytag washer and hang it on the line, that's for sure. Especially if you intend to have it judged at the fair.
The answer is best left to the experts.
"You start with some baby shampoo," says 15-year-old Isaac Marchal, as he slowly dips the backside of his Barred Plymouth Rock Bantam in a suds-filled sink at the Mercer County fairgrounds.
The water is cool and the spotted hen seems relieved she's not being blanched. As a matter of fact, she closes her eyes periodically as if lying in a Jacuzzi at a poultry paradise resort.
"Sometimes they try to fly away but after they get wet they don't get too far," Isaac says.
He and his brothers, Jake, 18, Aaron, 13, and Nathan, 9, are well-versed on this subject; they raise chickens and turkeys on their Cranberry Prairie farm. As members of the Lassies and Lads 4-H Club, the eldest three show poultry at the fair. This year, Jake was crowned "Poultry Prince," although the royalty status appears to mean little to his younger siblings.
Isaac and Nathan work as a team outside the poultry barn where crowing roosters fail to notice it's almost noon. Isaac uses the palm of his hand to rub soap bubbles across the bird's delicate feathers as his little brother wiggles an old toothbrush between its toes.
The chicken's legs and feet get the dirtiest from standing in its own you-know-what, the boys say.
"I scoop the poop out of the cages," brags Nathan, who is amazingly proud of his contribution, nasty as it sounds.
Isaac reminds his little bro that he's not the only one assigned doo-doo duty. That conversation leads into a "No you don't, yes I do" match that is quickly terminated when mom, Lucy, strolls up.
After shampooing is complete, the boys explain how important it is to rinse, rinse, rinse their feathered projects. A follow-up wash with a vinegar and water solution and more rinsing is the key to completely removing the soap, they say.
Next the bird enjoys a gentle towel rub before spending a few minutes drying in the sun. A special oil is sometimes applied to the beak and feet to give a shiny appearance, the boys say.
Chickens and other poultry also get pedicures, which involve a trim of their toe nails and spurs, a nail located on the back of the leg. Unfortunately, chickens aren't choosey where they step so baby wipes are kept handy to spruce up their feet just prior to showtime, the boys say.
The whole bathing process is best performed at least a day before fair judging to allow the natural oils to return to the bird's feathers, the Marchals say.
When the fair is over, some of the family's birds will go on auction; others may be bred or sold later.
The Bantam, looking quite chic and smelling like a newborn baby, is going home.
At the fair:
Today (Nursing Home Day)
6 p.m. - My Scrapbook Paradise, craft project for kids, entertainment tent
7 p.m. - Harness racing, grandstand
7 p.m. - Guitar Hero contest, beer garden
Wednesday (Kid's Day/DARE Day)
8 a.m. - Gates open
9:30 a.m. - Kiddie Pedal Tractor Pull weigh-in
10 a.m. - Kiddie Pedal Tractor Pull, blacktop in front of grandstand
Noon - Mr. Potato Head contest entries (4 age groups)
12:30 p.m. - Treasure hunt (4 age groups)
1 p.m. - Rides and games open
1 p.m. - Mr. Potato Head judging, ag. dept.
1:30 p.m. - Color contest, entertainment tent
3 and 7 p.m. - Thaddeus Rex, entertainment tent
4 p.m. - Gaylord Scott Entertainment DJ/karaoke, beer garden
4:30 p.m. - Dance class, entertainment tent
5:30 p.m. - Diaper Derby, entertainment tent
6 p.m. - Junior Fair Olympics, Adrian DeBrosse Arena
7 p.m. - High school marching band show, grandstand