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Feathered Friends

Feathered Friends
May 27, 2003 |

It was really by accident that James Robert Parnell and his sister Anna Grace became interested in showing bantam chickens. But it’s a hobby that brings them a lot of satisfaction, and they’re learning more about animals and responsibility, according to their parents, Jimmy and Robin Parnell.”I didn’t even know you could show a chicken until we went to (Marcell Wagoner’s) look at a peacock we thought we might want to buy,” Robin said. “We didn’t buy the peacock that day, but sometime later (after the Parnells began showing) Mr. Wagoner gave the kids two pair of Black Cochins. He said he thought it was important to get more young people interested in showing them.”The Parnells live in the Stanton community in rural Chilton County. Their family is best known for producing beef cattle and timber. They were Alabama’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in 1999, and Jimmy serves as a director on the state board of the Alabama Farmers Federation. But, in addition to tending to a couple of bottle calves, some orphan goats and a few dogs, the Parnell children, James Robert and Anna Grace, now practice and enjoy the art of raising and showing bantam chickens.There are two types of show chickens–bantams, which are the smaller variety, and standards, which are the larger birds. There are numerous breeds of chickens in each size range. Robin said she likes the bantams because they are smaller, and the children can handle them easier.”They really like being washed and blow dried,” James Robert said, and Robin added “I was surprised to learn that, too, but it’s like the chickens go into a trance when you wash them with warm water, and they really like the dryer.”But for showing, the work is done several days ahead of time to allow the bird’s coat to replenish itself with natural oils.
“There are oils and things you can put on them, but nothing looks as good as their natural oils,” Robin said.A toothbrush is used to remove any speck of dirt or debris from between the bird’s toes and under his claws. A comb is used to stroke the feathers to a high luster.How do you show a chicken? The Parnells said they get that question a lot.”You don’t lead them around like a calf,” James Robert said. “You get them ready and put them in a cage for the judge to come and look at. He (the judge) takes them out of the cage and goes over every inch of them. He looks under their wings, between their toes, at their comb, their wattle–everywhere.”After their first junior show about a year ago, the Parnells knew they needed to learn more about their new hobby. They bought books, joined a couple of associations that promote poultry shows, and they were hooked.”We’re not professionals by any means,” Robin said. “There are people who travel all over the country showing their chickens, and there are others who are well- known judges for the competitions. It’s really an entirely different world that most people don’t know about. The amount of time, energy and money that some people put into it is just fascinating to me. For us, it’s something good for the kids to do. It teaches them responsibility and appreciation for animals.”Sometimes responsibility can be a tough lesson, as was the case last year when the Parnell kids were busy with other activities and didn’t spend enough time preparing their chickens for a show.”They didn’t wash their chickens until a day or two before the show, and you could really tell it,” Robin said. “They didn’t bring home a single ribbon that time.””It’s more fun to win,” James Robert said.As for the show chickens, Jimmy says he’s strictly a spectator. “If they like it, it’s fine with me,” he said. “Any time you can get kids involved with animals it’s a good thing.”Visit the American Bantam Association or the American Poultry Association, Inc. for more information.

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