As a former competitor, Helen Young knows the steps necessary to make a chicken look good to a fair judge. The chicken must have a bath. The spurs should be cut off. The toenails trimmed. The beak blunted and polished.
"You use baby oil to polish the beak," said Young, superintendent of the small animal department for the Northern Gila County Fair. The oil is also used to shine the poultry's wattle and comb. "You want your bird to look as good as it can."
Young has been raising and showing poultry all her married life, but she blames her parents for her interest.
"I learned to walk at seven months," she said. "We lived next to a logging road and my mother was worried I'd wander into the road when I was outside with her. My father had built her a new chicken coop, but before she put the chickens in it, she put me in it to keep me safe."
The small animal department at the fair includes, not only 20 different kinds of poultry, but rabbits, guinea pigs, game birds, pigeons and caged birds. There is also a category for rabbits raised for their meat, but only 4-H and FFA members are allowed to participate.
Young was a novice superintendent for the small animal contests in 2005, after years as a participant, bringing her own poultry to the fair to be judged.
"It's always fun on the county level," she said. "You don't have to have a bird that costs thousands of dollars to participate."
The 2006 Northern Gila County Fair's small animal division will have special exhibits, if the arrangements can be made.
"I've invited someone with game birds (fighting chickens) to exhibit," she said. "He was really disappointed he didn't get to have his birds judged last year. Someone in charge of the division in the past had banned them, but I checked with the state and it is all right to have game birds at the fair, so long as they don't fight."
Last year, the entries included about 30 rabbits, 10 chickens, two guinea pigs and two turkeys, plus a cage of white doves.
Young would also like to have peacocks exhibited, but because they require special cages, she doesn't know if it will be possible.
"This year we will have our own tent," Young said. "Last year, we had to share with the auction animals. It will be so much better, with room for displays and more space to move and look around."
Assisting Young will be Austin White, a former area resident who recently returned to teach at Payson High School.
"He is a real expert in poultry," Young said.
Young is also coordinating the "Show Off Your Dog Day" on Sunday. The show will be a combination of obedience and agility called a "rally."
The rally is open to all owners and dogs of any age. The agility exercise description will be available at registration, which is 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, at the Tonto Apache Gym. The show begins at 2 p.m.
Northern Gila County Fair When: Sept. 8, 9 and 10 Where: Payson Event Center and Tonto Apache Recreation Center Call: Payson Parks and Recreation Department at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7
Obedience work will include turns, down stays, sit stays, different speed of walk and leave its. Complete details of the rally are on page 62 of the fair book.
Fair books are at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Payson Parks and Recreation Department office and the public libraries of both Payson and Pine. The books include entry forms, but the registration tags must be picked up at one of the libraries.
-- To reach Teresa McQuerrey call 474-5251 ext. 113 or e-mail email@example.com.