When it comes to protecting prime, productive agricultural land from urban development, Ontario's Greenbelt is the solution. Packing an economic punch of more than $9 billion dollars annually for the province's economy, the Greenbelt is home to more than 5,500 farms, producing healthy local food from peaches and pears to beef, pork and poultry.
In the Greenbelt, approximately seven per cent of farms are dedicated to egg and poultry production and are mostly found in the Hamilton, Niagara, and Durham regions. But the chickens on display at the Royal Winter Fair not only lay eggs, they are also stunning creatures.
I have had a love of (read: obsession) of all things chicken for as long as I can remember. [pictured below: self-portrait with chicken). It was with this longstanding yen for fowl in mind that I gladly accepted the assignment to write about my visit to the Royal Poultry Show at the Royal Winter Fair 2012.
Walking into the ring of excellence in the heart of the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place, was akin to walking into a cocktail party; everyone chattering away, dressed to the nines in their finest garb. Only the chattering was clucking and crowing, and the finery was feathers and fluff.
It’s easy to understand why this tradition of displaying hundreds, or even thousands of birds, has such a long and storied history. The arena is crowded with row upon row of cages full of raucous, feathery objects of wonderment. School kids and adults alike walking up and down the aisles between cages, peering through the bars in amazement, pointing, snapping photos and exchanging expressions of surprise and pleasure at the beautiful fowl. Art students are poised over sketchbooks, charged with capturing the beautiful and unusual patterning and form of these magnificent birds. The attraction of the birds is hard to deny; palpable in the enthusiasm exhibited by fair-goers young and old.
Pigeons, ducks, geese, turkeys, even guinea fowl, fill these cages. But the real stars of the show are the over 500 specimens of chicken; 3 dozen different breeds showing in best form, primed for the shrewd and discerning eyes of the judges.
They’re working from a set of standards defined over a hundred years ago; amended every decade by the American Poultry Association, but largely consistent a century and a half later. The Standard of Perfection was started in 1873 in response to a growing need for common measures by which to judge the dozens of breeds of chicken put forth by poultry enthusiasts. Today, there are over 60 breeds of chicken recognized by the Standard. Guidelines for recognizing beauty, vigor and productivity continue to direct the judges’ decisions: everything from feather patterns, form, fluff and girth, to comb shape, tail angle, and foot ornaments, are scrutinized and marked against the Standards’ rigorous grading requirements.
Diagrams from: The American Poultry Association, The American Standard of Perfection 1938-1940
Who will won this years’ Royal Poultry show? Was it the tiny, plucky Sebright with his stunning feather patterns and cocky, upright stance? Or the impossibly round, soft and serene Plymouth Rock Hen? Maybe the elegant, ruffled, tufts of beautifully marked headdress feathers on the Appenzeller Spitzhauben pullet won the judges favour. Or the endearing, proud and poised English Game cockerel, with his puffed out chest and marvelous tail feathers.
With all these breeds of chicken around me, it feels like I’m at a world’s fair of sorts, with all the strange and fascinating traditions and values of animal rearing from around the globe on display. Chickens are in their own fascinating way, a marvel and a mystery; reflecting a range of human concerns from travel and diaspora, to pageantry and practicality in one humble creature. The Royal Poultry Show 2012 was a great reminder of all the wonderful things made possible by the Greenbelt.
--Karen May, Project Assistant