How to Manage Bird’s Stress During Fair and Judging Time

July 16, 2020

Judging of poultry at a county fair 4-H and FFA show

Poultry shows and fairs are a wonderful way to show off your chickens and enjoy them.  However, all of the noise and commotion that is involved with a show or fair can be stressful to your chickens.  Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to keep your chickens happy and stress-free, no matter where you are.

Signs of a Stressed Bird

            It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a stressed chicken.  A calm chicken is quiet and may try to lay down or even sleep.  Sleep is often the last thing on a stressed chicken’s mind!  A stressed chicken is usually a loud chicken.  They’ll squawk and carry on and definitely bring attention to themselves (and not in a good way).  If they don’t calm down, they can cause themselves to develop heat stress.  They may pant, which, although panting is quieter, it means your chicken has a higher level of stress than a noisy one. A stressed chicken is also less likely to let a judge handle them, which could affect your score at a show or fair.

Preventing Stress

            One of the best ways to manage stress in your chicken is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  A major cause of stress in chickens is due to a change in their environment.  If your chickens are never exposed to spending time in a small crate like the one they’ll be in at a show, then you can’t blame them for getting stressed out.  Practice going to shows with your chickens by allowing them to spend time in a small cage or crate.  It’s also a good idea to practice transporting them, especially if you’ll be traveling long distances for shows or fairs.  Getting them used to being transported and being in the cage ahead of time will help reduce the amount of shock and stress the experience the day of a show or fair.

            You also want to practice handling them, since this can be another reason for your chickens to stress.  They’ll be handled, poked and prodded by a judge.  Practice handling them the same way that a judge would.  If you can, enlist a friend to help you.  Having a friend occasionally handle your chicken will expose them to strangers, which will make it much less stressful when a judge handles them.

            On the way to the show or fair, keep your bird as calm as possible.  If your chicken is part of a mated pair, take the pair together so that your show bird doesn’t get anxious without its partner.  Keep the radio volume low or off.  Chickens are often stressed by loud, unfamiliar noises, like the radio.  Also, keep the temperature in your vehicle cool.  Aim for 65 degrees in the shipping crate.  Try not to place the crate in the sun.  Even if you have the air conditioning cranked up, sunlight can over heat your chickens, causing them to develop heat stress before you ever get to the show or fair.

What to Do if Your Bird Gets Stressed

            Hopefully, if you’ve prepared and practiced with your bird, stress won’t occur.  But, it’s always a good idea to be prepared if your bird does get stressed at a show or a fair.  Many fairs and shows occur in open arenas or tents and can be pretty warm.  Make sure that your chicken has access to plenty of clean water and food.  You may want to bring a few bottles of ice water to provide your birds if it will be really hot.  The cold water will help to keep them cool and prevent heat stress.   Vitamins and probiotics can help to keep your chicken calm.  Most probiotics and vitamins can be added straight to their drinking water.

            You can also bring along some calming herbs with you the day of the show.  Lavender and chamomile are just as relaxing to your chickens as they are to us.  You can either hang some fresh herbs from the top of their cage, or add some fresh or dried herbs to their feed.  In a pinch, essential oils can be added to the feed to get the same effect. 

            In extreme cases of stress, you may find that you need to destress your chicken quickly.  One of the best ways to do this is to put your bird in the dark.  Sometimes the environment around your chicken is just too chaotic.  You can place a large towel over your bird’s crate to calm them down.  If your chicken is used you handling them, you may want to try getting it out of the crate to calm it down.  Just be sure that you don’t drop your stressed chicken on the ground, you may have a hard time catching it!

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More about Shelby DeVore

Shelby is an agricultural enthusiast that shares her love of all things farming with her husband and two children on their small farm in West Tennessee. She is a former agriculture education teacher and is also the author of the blog Farminence, where she enjoys sharing her love of gardening, raising livestock and more simple living. You can see more of Shelby's articles at:

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