Author Topic: Conditioning article - by Ari Katz - PRFC  (Read 4063 times)


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Conditioning article - by Ari Katz - PRFC
« on: August 24, 2019, 05:56:29 PM »
This article was published in the Plymouth Rock newsletter and is allowed here by permission by Ari Katz.
Hopefully some may find it useful and it might spur discussions for this topic also.  Sorry, pics did not convert over in this version. ( And I also found an article that Ari did for Martha Stewart earlier this season. )         

A Beginner’s Guide on Conditioning Plymouth Rocks for the Show Season
Ari Katz for the Plymouth Rock Fanciers Association
Summer 2019
Fellow breeders and exhibitors, this time of year it is important to start looking through the birds you hatched in the late winter/early spring to start determining who looks promising and who you want to show. With that being said, I figured I would share some of my practices that have worked well for conditioning birds. Feel free to reach out to me for any specifics or further ideas, questions, etc. I am always open to suggestions and ideas.
June: I like going into June with all of my incubators sterilized, turned off, and put into storage for the summer and fall. I typically hatch about 100-150/year, although every year I tell myself I only want to hatch around 75 – but that is a struggle. I like to have two main hatches: Hatch One (typically hatched in February) and Hatch Two (typically hatched between mid-March and the first week in April). Hatch One serves as my first round of show birds, getting me through the earlier shows (Bath, the October Ohio and Pennsylvania shows, Columbus, and Virginia) whereas Hatch Two serves as my second round of show birds, getting shown from Knoxville to Congress (if I can maintain their condition that long).
In June, I begin looking through Hatch One. Unlike some of my fellow breeders, Brian Lewis comes to mind immediately, I do not separate males and females. Instead, I house them all together where they are given free-range throughout the day in a five-acre field. Although I do not start separating my birds until end of July/beginning of August, I like to start looking at what I have in June.
Middle of July I begin culling extra males. As I said, I do not separate sexes, so it is important that I do not leave males and females together for too long, otherwise females from both hatches will not be viable show birds. After I have auctioned off all cull males, I begin separating Hatch One females. I place females of like breeds and varieties in two pen designs (shown below), depending on what space is available. I house anywhere from two-four females in these pens where I can begin getting them used to being handled. It bothers me when Rocks, or any breed of a docile nature, are shown and are wild or difficult to catch for examination in the show hall, so I like to make sure mine are easy to grab and will not peck while being handled.
Conditioning birds is fairly easy if they are given the right feed and taken care of properly. I am constantly getting calls asking how I remove stains from white birds, the truth is: I don’t. Once white birds have been stained, they typically remain that way until they molt, or you pluck the stained feathers – so always clean white show birds’ pens frequently and be sure to put enough shavings to last until your next cleaning date. If you are like me and house multiple birds together, accidents will inevitably happen, and when they do, I just pluck the feather(s) affected – hopefully these accidents happen 4-8 weeks prior to a show.
This is my washroom. I keep Hatch One birds in here until December and Hatch Two birds until end of February. Typically, I only like to house males in this room until the weather prohibits females from being outside, and thus, the room is then used for both males and females. All birds are given sprouted oats as treats that improve feather quality. Birds in here are also get let out three-four times a week, depending on the weather outside. In my opinion, letting your birds out on grass makes a difference in their overall quality. If you can safely let your show birds out to scratch around in some grass and get some sun on their feathers, I recommend it. I either use Keiper Coop’s ‘Goose Cage’ or a Petco brand X-Pen made for dogs to let my birds out.  This is another one of my conditioning pens, although shown here as a breeding pen, this is where I house groups the groups of pullets until the weather prohibits them from being outside.
End of August/Early September the last remaining culls are taken to auction. Now all that remains are about seven or eight Hatch One birds and five or six Hatch Two birds. Now the fun begins. By this time, my Hatch One birds are in condition and ready for their first show. The first show I like to go or send birds to is Bath, NY, the second weekend in September. I wash my birds one week prior to being shown with a Dawn, Tide, and OxiClean Stain Remover concoction, rinse them off, and let them air-dry. After 16 hours, the birds are dry and ready to eat. I feed them a mixture of oats, wheat, cracked corn, and shelled sunflowers from a local feedstore. Any scratch grain will do but avoid feeding your regular feed as it may result in a messy pen and a messy bird. I also clip toenails and beaks at home to avoid any last-minute bleeding or messes in the show hall. One of my biggest mistakes was cutting a White Wyandotte’s toenail two hours before getting judged. I was not paying attention and cut it too short, which resulted in her getting bloody and limping for the weekend – needless to say she did not get looked at.
November: Beginning of November I pull my five or six Hatch Two birds and place them in my remaining available conditioning pens. I repeat the same process with these birds as I did with my Hatch Ones, although these birds go directly into the washroom. As for my Hatch One birds, they have about two or three shows remaining. I will wash them once, the last weekend in October or the first weekend of November and try to keep them clean until the last weekend in November, which is usually the last show for my Hatch One birds. If you need to wash a bird a few days before a show, try to give some flaxseed or other another oily seed to replenish the bird’s feather oil.
December: Although I do not go to many December shows which results in my birds getting December “off,” they still are in conditioning pens and getting handled. Any Hatch One birds that might get shown in the latter half of the show season, get any broken feathers plucked and begin getting reconditioned. Hatch Two birds are treated normally and inspected regularly to catch any broken feathers, “dirty feathers,” or oddly shaped or bent feathers. As a rule of thumb, I pluck all unwanted feathers no later than six weeks before a show. Sometimes they grow in sooner than this, but I like to be safe rather than sorry.
January: The birds know it’s time for them to do their thing one last time. One of my favorite shows is Northeastern Poultry Congress, which falls the second week in January. For those of you who have not been, I urge you to go at least once – even if you do not show any birds. I wash my birds the first weekend in January and feed them scratch grain, as usual. By this time, my Hatch Two birds are looking better than my Hatch Ones, but I usually show a few anyway. Although Maryland’s weather is incredibly capricious, generally, it is bitterly cold in January. The birds are not let out on grass which means they are not getting to scratch around. To supplement this, I keep them under lights for ten hours a day and give them dried mealworms, which can be purchased in a two-pound bags at Home Depot for $7, and week-old sprouted oats – both of which improve feather quality. Two days before I leave for Springfield, Massachusetts, I inspect all the birds to make sure they look healthy and good enough for the show hall. While my show birds are in a heated room two weeks prior to the show, I have occasionally had frostbite issues along with upper respiratory issues. If you are unable to keep your birds in a heated room, I suggest putting bag balm on your birds’ combs to prevent frostbite. Bag balm also can prevent upper respiratory issues.
The Friday I get to a two-day show, I pull my birds out of their carriers and put them in their show cages with an extra handful of shavings I bring from home. I do not bother cleaning my birds as I know they will get dirty overnight. If judging is set to begin at 9:00 A.M. on Saturday, I get to the show hall at 7:30 A.M. and begin the cleanup process. I start by cleaning their legs with baby wipes or a damp cloth followed by putting VetRx on both legs, their comb, and waddles. After I finish cleaning the birds, I put two handfuls of shavings in their show cages and replace their water from the previous day. I bring water from home, to prevent any internal upset, that has been mixed with Vitamin B and C. I will throw some grain to the birds prior to judging, but just enough to prevent them from being lethargic. Once judging has finished, the birds are fed their normal amount and are content. Sunday, we pack-up, go home, and do it all over again.
I hope some of this information was useful or possibly gave one or two of you an idea on how you might want to improve your conditioning process. I am always happy to answer questions or listen to feedback. Afterall, it is only a hobby!
« Last Edit: August 24, 2019, 09:12:31 PM by Don »
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Lindsay Helton

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Re: Conditioning article - by Ari Katz - PRFC
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2019, 03:30:27 PM »
I also put the incubators up around June/July because the temps get so hot here. This has been a particularly hot summer for Tn. We have had several weeks in a row of temps in the mid 90s and the heat index well over 100. This week we are finally getting some much welcomed relief.

I hatched most of my birds in small batches during January and February this season. I was working with a smaller group of birds than normal and needed to rebuild. I couldn't risk losing any breeders. That should give several of the cockerels time to finish off for the fall shows. Many of the pullets have started laying and I am trying to refrain from setting up any breeding pens so as to save them for the fall shows. LOL So many wasted eggs.  :(

I have found that I actually like hatching chicks in small batches of 10-15 instead of 2-3 large batches. I know it is easier to assess them when they are all the same age, but I am able to keep the birds more organized and in better condition in small batches. It is also less overwhelming. I think I will stick with that method from this point forward even though it takes more time and work.

I separate the pullets and cockerels out around 12 weeks of age, as soon as the cockerels start messing with each other. I keep the cockerels housed in pens away from all pullets and it reduces the amount of fighting/sparring. Cockerels with any potential are put into a 4ft x 3ft individual conditioning pen around 4 months of age. I need to make some new bachelor pens after this year because the ones I am using are not tall enough for them to be able to hop up on a roost to exercise. I have noticed it seems to affect wing carriage somewhat. My poor husband will have a new project during the off season.  :) He is typically kind enough to comply. Happy wife, happy life.

There is a local guy that gets a lot of my culls in June. Thankful for that because it gets them off the feed bill all at once. Expensive feed bills are stressful.

I will have to look into the sprouted oats for feather quality. I have never used those. I do give out a stash of BOSS along with their regular feed. I like the idea of using flaxseed to help replenish oils. I may give that a try this year as well. I need to take steps to firm up their poop a little more so there is less of a mess to clean up at shows.

I clip toenails a few days before shows but I do not trim beaks as of yet. I am too scared that I will mess something up. I need someone with experience clipping beaks to visit and show me how.   

I give birds water the night before a show but typically not on the morning of, unless it is a very tiny amount. Otherwise they look like they have been bobbing for apples. Not a great look for when the judges come around. 
« Last Edit: August 26, 2019, 05:30:14 PM by Lindsay Helton »
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