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When roaming the Pennsylvania Farm Show, visitors get to see exhibits of animals, products, and more brought by Pennsylvania participants. What they don’t see is the work behind these exhibits and the preparation that goes into them.
LebTown talked to Dana and Daulton Lape, a Lebanon-based father-son duo who competed in the poultry category of the Farm Show, about what goes into preparing for the competition.
All photos by LebTown photographer Will Trostel.
Dana and Daulton entered 14 birds total, both ducks and chicken, into the competition.
Competition preparation began long before Dana and Daulton drove out to Harrisburg.
To raise birds, poultry exhibitors first breed the birds from a carefully selected bloodline. It takes a skilled eye to breed good birds, and many exhibitors talk to breeders about the best parents for potential competitors. Daulton mentioned that this process can take years to master and breed award-winning birds.
“When I started, my dad got me into it,” said Daulton. “It’s been about 23 years now that I’ve been raising birds and I’ve won a couple shows’ best of shows. It takes years until you get real quality stuff.”
Then, after the birds have aged out of chicks, exhibitors select the ones they believe can succeed in competition. This means paying attention to things like the comb color and general appearance for chickens, and the feather color and appearance for all birds.
Then, exhibitors focus on ensuring that these birds maintain quality feathers, are healthy, and stay clean.
“People that raise chickens to show are a lot different than people that just raise chickens,” said Dana. “People that show them spend a lot of money on their birds, so they really want them to be healthy and they really take care of their feather quality.”
Closer to the show, Dana and Daulton bathed their chickens—not ducks, as they bathe themselves— trimmed their beaks and toenails, and finally put a mix of vaseline and alcohol onto their combs. This, Dana said, creates the fresh red look of the combs of chickens being shown.
Before being judged, many competitors place white shavings on top of the competition’s default shavings to better show off their birds’ color. The morning of judging, which in this case was Saturday, Jan. 4, exhibitors temporarily remove the birds’ food so that they don’t eat while being judged. The food is returned immediately after judging.
One roadblock for the Farm Show competition in particular was the time of year. Dana mentioned that they entered fewer birds than they would in most shows, both because fewer of their birds are in good condition over the winter and because of temperature concerns.
When birds are taken to the indoor Farm Show, due to heating in the complex, they are exposed to a warmer temperature than they are used. When they return home to cooler weather, Dana and Daulton quarantine them from other birds. They initially keep them in a warm environment, then gradually get them used to cooler weather before they rejoin the other birds.
Most poultry shows, such as Lebanon Valley Poultry Fanciers—of which Dana is President—take place outside of winter.
“My family always calls it halftime during the winter: it gives us something to do in the winter,” said Dana regarding the midwinter Farm Show.
Dana has competed in the Pennsylvania Farm Show poultry competition for years. He mentioned that as recently as 2012, around 2,500 birds were entered into the category, compared to around 500 this year. In that way, he says, local poultry competitions are more competitive due to a larger number of entries.
“When I was in high school years ago, this whole hall was full of poultry,” Dana said regarding the hall that poultry now shares with the rabbit category.
Dana also mentioned that when the Farm Show is in full swing, the poultry section is one of the most full sections of the show. “Many visitors are interested in looking at the poultry.”
“There’s one thing about poultry shows,” said Dana, “people seem to really flock to them because you drive down the road and see the cows and the pigs and the sheep out in the fields, but you never see the poultry because they’re usually in the back of the barns in pens.”
Dana is more than a participant in poultry competitions: he is on the committee for the Lebanon Area Fair and this is his second year on the committee for the PA Farm Show poultry fair. He also largely plans layout for Poultry Fanciers.
“I always look at it as if the farm show is put together, a lot of times, by people that work at their own hometown fairs,” said Dana. “You learn more from putting on your hometown fair, and you sort of bring that education and that knowledge to the farm show.”
The Lapes are no strangers to poultry competitions. Aside from Dana being the President of Poultry Fanciers, he and Daulton have also traveled to a variety of competitions both in and out of state.
“We go from Lebanon to out of state; Ohio, Delmarva – that’s in Delaware and Maryland – New Jersey. We go all over the place,” said Daulton.
Dana started raising poultry when he was in high school. At the time, he was in Cedar Crest’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) club.
Once he had sons Daulton and older brother Dylan Lape, they were raised into the hobby. Both Dana and Daulton estimated that Daulton and his brother started raising birds at around two years old.
“As soon as they were old enough to walk around and handle the chickens, they had their own,” said Dana. “We’ve been showing ever since.”
In addition to his own kids, Dana encourages the hobby among other youth. Even after his children aged out of the Lebanon County 4-H Poultry Club, Dana remained the club leader.
Read More: Lebanon County 4-H Club looking for new members and mentors in 2020
“The kids that I had in my 4-H club that show poultry, I don’t forget them, they become friends of mine,” said Dana. “I sort of keep track of them, and I notice kids that have the hobby of raising animals, whatever kind they are, they succeed in life and do very well.”
Dana mentioned that he hopes to continue partaking in poultry competitions well into his old age.
“It’s a lot of fun having them back home,” said Dana. “Some people don’t like the crowing, I sort of think that it’s something different. You open your door and you hear a chicken crow, it’s a lot better than hearing a boat rev up or a motorcycle rev up.
“It makes you think, ‘hey, you’re out in the country.'”
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