By Matt Reese
California, Montana, Texas, Connecticut — vehicle license plates in the parking lot at the Ohio Expo Center were nearly as diverse as the poultry competing at Ohio National poultry show the second weekend of November. It was wall-to-wall feathers and a cacophony of bird calls in the Voinovich and O’Neill buildings at the nation’s largest poultry show.
“This is the Quarter Horse Congress of chicken shows. If you want to come to a good chicken show, then come to the Ohio National. There are almost 11,000 birds here and over 900 exhibitors from all over the country and Canada,” said Tim Johnson from Wood County, president of the Ohio Poultry Breeders Association (OPBA). “There are hundreds of breeds and varieties of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys — if it’s got feathers and two legs, we’ve got it. And if you’re going to show something here, you’ve got to show something that’s good.”
The Ohio National got its start in 1956 soon after the founding of the OPBA. Members of that club then sponsored the Ohio National to improve poultry breeds through competition from the top breeders around the country. The first Ohio National was held in Marion and later shows moved to Springfield and Circleville before settling in at Columbus in 1962. Since then, the second weekend in November has been circled on calendars for poultry breeders around the country and internationally to compete against the best.
The event is a must attend for Jeff Wolfe and his family.
“I raise Buff Brahmas which are a feather-footed chicken and we have Modern and Old English which is the smaller of the bantams,” Wolfe said. “My granddaughter has a Black Langshan large fowl, which is the second largest chicken there is. The roosters will stand to the top of their comb or top of their tail better than 2 feet.”
Wolfe enjoys competing against family members and the tough competition from high quality birds around the country.
“These are fancy breeding birds — you’re able to see any color, any size of bird there this year. I think that the biggest thing that we hear all the time is that most people never knew there were this many different chickens. At the Ohio National you’ll see just about anything — different colors, different sizes and different combs on their head. People just don’t believe there are that many chicken varieties out there,” said Wolfe, a director for the OPBA. “And this is the largest youth show for breeding poultry there is in the United States. There is a showmanship competition for various age groups. And, this year’s show is so large we actually are starting judging Friday morning. In our normal years, we only judge on Saturday, but with this number of birds it needed to be two days of judging.”
Preparing for the event is no small feat for the OPBA members who coordinate the Ohio National.
“The buildings are full this year. The OPBA directors do the planning part, but we have so many volunteers that help us make this happen. There is no way we could have done this without experienced volunteers. We know exactly how many rows of cages we can get in the Voinovich as a starting point, but with the logistics to add the extra couple thousand birds, we squeezed some more rows in it to make it happen. The volunteers just jump in and we’ve got several volunteers who have been doing this for many years and they know exactly what to do,” Wolfe said. “We have everything stored in big wooden boxes we bring in by forklift and then we start unloading them. With the volunteers, we were about eight hours setting up on Saturday and I know there was another group of people that came in on Sunday to finish the setup. The other logistical issue is trying to get a coop card for each one of those birds — for every one of the more than 10,700 birds that is entered, we hand write a card to put on that cage so the person knows where to put their bird.”
With carefully cared for and groomed birds in place, hauled to Columbus from every corner of the nation, they are meticulously evaluated by respected judges to see which birds rise to the top at the renowned Ohio National. For the judging, the aisles are roped off and exhibitors are not permitted in the area as the judges evaluate the birds.
“If you want to compete in the show like this you have to take the utmost care of your birds. It almost has to be like a pet. You have to keep their cages and water clean. You have to make sure they have the right amount of feed and the right feed — it’s just not something that you can throw feed at once a week. You’re out there once, twice, maybe three times a day checking on those birds to make sure they’re in great shape when they come to the Ohio National,” Wolfe said. “At the show, each bird is judged against other birds in their breed and then those breed winners go into another category against the different varieties. Once they’re all judged down to the champions of that category, the champions and the reserve champions go up against each other and the judges will pick the grand champion for the whole show out of out of those 13 or 14 grand or champions and reserve champions. They will go down through and pick that one bird that comes to the top. To get on champion row at the Ohio National, that is saying something for your breeding program. It is a pretty prestigious position to be in in our poultry world and it’s a pretty good feeling to get there.”