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OTTAWA — Past the show arena, past the lemonade stand and pig barn, the 4-H poultry and rabbit barn was bustling Friday morning.
4-H members and parents began assembling for poultry judging in a corner of the barn adjacent to stalls harboring geese, cows, turkeys, chickens and rabbits at the La Salle County 4-H Fair.
Egg entries were submitted. A member opened her carton of green eggs for Cal Duffield, who reluctantly told her she was disqualified — only 11 eggs. The hen had been molting, perhaps reducing production.
Duffield of Ransom stacked egg cartons and entry slips. There were 22 cartons of brown eggs, 13 green and seven white, he said.
He’s not a judge, he said.
“I’m the superintendent that helps everything go good,” Duffield said. “I try to keep it smooth.”
A dozen folding chairs filled up quickly in front of the judges’ table, beneath three fluorescent lights hanging from the rafters. Sitting in front was Claire Stillwell, 11, of Tonica, member of the Bailey Creek Kids Club. She had two chickens in the running, a Rhode Island red and cinnamon. Stillwell thumbed through “American Standard of Perfection” by the American Poultry Association, the bible of poultry rearing and judging.
“I’m looking at a book about what your chickens are supposed to look like,” Stillwell said.
Stacks of cages, like poultry condominiums, ran in long rows. Savana Ecker, 14, her little sister, Siara and their mother, Karin of Marseilles examined a hen, with mom snapping photos.
“They’ve been keeping chickens at home for four years but this is their first time in the fair,” Karin Ecker said.
They live on the edge of town, which limits their animal husbandry.
“We can’t do all the things we want to do like cows and goats,” Karin Ecker said.
Savana is with South Prairie Pioneers Club and brought seven chickens to the fair. One rooster, a Rhode Island red, had a cage to himself. She also brought three young ISA hens, two young Orpington hens, and one silver laced Wyandotte hen.
“They eat like pigs,” Savana said. “I like the eggs. My German shepherd can herd them into their coop. It’s really fun to watch.”
The Eckers acquired their birds as chicks from Farm and Fleet and Rural King stores. They have to keep their wings clipped and safe from hawks and raccoons, they said.
“And cats,” Siara said.
Karin Ecker asked Siara to show how she holds a chicken. Siara reached into the Orpington cage and removed one of the jet-black birds, holding it by the legs upside-down.
Siara will soon be old enough to join 4-H as a Cloverbud.
“Next year I’ll show my bunny,” Siara said.
Judging was underway. Two loudspeakers amplified the judge’s voice above the crowing roosters, cackling geese and gobbling turkeys. Mooing cows from stalls next door rounded out the chorus.
Egg judging was finished. Tricia Haynes of Tonica snapped photos of her 10-year-old son, Cole, a Bailey Creek Kids member who won two ribbons for his brown eggs. He also had turkeys, ducks, chickens and rabbits at the fair.
His mother grew up on a farm in Marseilles and was a 4-H kid. Today, Tricia Haynes is a leader in her son’s club and an English teacher at Illinois Valley Community College. 4-H and the annual fair has “a lot of positives,” she said.
“More than anything it teaches the leadership skills and to work collaboratively,” she said.