COVID-19 lays the foundation for future ‘chicken Olympics’ National Poultry Show champions

A perfect balance of power, athleticism, and beauty is a lot to ask of a chicken, but champion breeders Chris White and Alan Bailey have come closer than most to producing flawless fowl.

For four years they have prepared for the National Poultry Show, also known as the “chicken Olympics”, and were left “shattered” when the four-yearly event was cancelled due to COVID-19.

But the veteran breeders hope the surge in popularity of pet chickens will lay the foundation for a new generation of competitors.

‘Born with feathers’

For more than 20 years, the National Poultry Show has been the place where fanciers can lay claim to being Australia’s best breeder.

About 5,000 birds are brought in from across the country to compete.

Veteran competitor Chris White works all year round to prepare.

Chicken breeder Chris White stands with one of his old english game fowls.
Veteran competitor Chris White is happy to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation of fanciers.(ABC Radio Sydney: Matt Bamford)

Raising chickens has been his lifelong passion.

“Everyone reckons I was born with feathers, and I haven’t changed,” he said.

He was deep into his final preparations for the 2020 show when it was cancelled due to COVID-19.

“It was extremely disappointing for many people. Nothing matches the national show,” he said.

But Mr White said he was heartened to see more people using their time at home to start raising chickens.

“It’s a giant network and the more people who join — that is good for everyone.”

Alan Bailey holds one of his prized black fowls.
Fanciers spend years preparing for the ‘chicken olympics’.(ABC Radio Sydney: Matt Bamford)

He said the hobby is a perfect relief from the pace of modern life.

“I can come home from the hardest of days and the stress of the day is gone. It’s fantastic,” he said.

Cessnock farmer Alan Bailey was hoping to win back-to-back honours with his grand champion from the 2019 Sydney Royal Easter Show.

“I was shattered when I found out it was cancelled,” he said.

Alan Bailey stands with one of his prized game fowls.
Alan Bailey was hoping to win back-to-back honours with his prized game fowls.(ABC Radio Sydney: Matt Bamford)

The decorated fancier learned his craft from a coal miner who would record every piece of meat and vegetable fed to his chooks.

He said there are endless opportunities to get involved.

“When you can, head along to your local agricultural show and have a look. There’s plenty of people who are keen to share their knowledge,” he said.

“It’s also one of the only hobbies where you can eat your mistakes.”

Next generation

Boy holding hen inside chicken run
Raising chickens has been a reprieve from COVID-19 for many families.(ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)

The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW has been watching the uptick in chicken enthusiasts with interest.

RAS president Glen Best said it was a silver lining in an otherwise gloomy year.

A poultry judge examines a silkie chicken at the Royal Canberra National Poultry Show.
Thousands of birds of all shapes and sizes compete in the National Poultry Show.(ABC News: Kathleen Dyett)

“Most people start with just a few laying hens and then they get bitten by the bug.

“It’s a hobby that has great physical and mental benefits, and can be a break from the busy society that we all live in these days.”

He said he would not be surprised if coronavirus was the catalyst for a new wave of top tier competitors.

“We certainly need youngsters to come through and replace the older generations,” Mr Best said.

A dog rounds up a chicken.
Raising chickens is fun for the whole family, according to the Royal Agricultural Society.(ABC Radio Sydney: Matt Bamford)

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