A few times a year, Sehome High School junior Maggie McCracken treats her chickens to a spa day.
The birds get their nails done, and their face, combs and wattles moisturized. Their feathers get a rinse and shampoo in the sink – admittedly not their favorite part of the spa – and they’re styled with a blow dryer.
See, 16-year-old McCracken competes in poultry showmanship, and though she’s modest about it, she’s pretty darn good at it.
The first time she competed, showing a Welsummer (think the rooster on Kellogg’s corn flakes packaging, she says), she took first place for youth showmanship at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden. Her parents Greg and Eileen McCracken say that win set the hook that would lead her to compete at the state and national level.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Five years later, she’s got county, state and national trophies for first place, and more than a dozen chickens, two turkeys, two quail and a handful of pigeons that she races through the Thunderbirds 4-H club.
For those wondering, her turkeys – “the girl is named Phil and the boy is Sally” – will enjoy dinner on Thanksgiving just like everyone else at the McCracken home.
Showmanship is both about how the bird looks, and about what McCracken knows about the breeds. She may be asked to explain the bird’s anatomy, or about health and diseases.
I try to incorporate a lot of information …the judge usually isn’t expecting.
Maggie McCracken, on poultry showmanship
Though she was shy at first about the public speaking element of showmanship, McCracken says that now, “they actually have to start cutting me off just to save time.”
“After time your knowledge builds up,” she says. “I try to incorporate a lot of information that’s not in there the judge usually isn’t expecting.”
For example, lots of people know Welsummers, but not as many know that one of the people who introduced that breed to the U.S. lives near Seattle, or which show the bird was first officially accepted as a breed at, but McCracken does.
For her chickens with yellow legs, she knows that they use yellow dyes to color their eggs, so she supplements their diets with carrots or marigolds to keep their legs from looking pale.
In addition to being a poultry champ at the Lynden fair the last three years, McCracken also took first in showmanship for her age at the Washington State Fair both last year and this year, and was named the 2015 “Poultry Person of the Year.”
“It was my first time showing at the state fair so I wasn’t expecting much,” McCracken says. “I got a pretty cool vest for it and I was expected to wear the vest at the state fair this year. It’s sort of like the joke, if you win, you get to wear a dorky vest all the time.”
The big black vest has a chicken on the front, and an egg-pattern lining.
Most recently, she won first place in showmanship for her age group at the National Poultry Show in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 12 and 13, where she met people from all over the country. She showed her bantam silver laced Sebright hen.
Not many people in Whatcom County show poultry at the state or national level, she says, and most her showing friends are from Oregon and other states.
There’s sort of a need for a lot of people especially in the ag or meat industry. Not a lot of people are interested in birds.
Maggie McCracken, a Sehome High School junior who plans to study poultry science
As for her friends here?
“My friends think I’m bird obsessed, but pretty much they’re supportive of all this,” she says.
Surprisingly, aside from the actual shows, keeping up with her birds only takes McCracken a few minutes a day.
The birds aren’t just an after-school activity for McCracken either.
She hopes to study poultry science in college (she’s keeping Penn State and University of Arkansas on her radar), and maybe become a licensed poultry judge “on the side.”
“There’s sort of a need for a lot of people especially in the ag or meat industry,” McCracken says. “Not a lot of people are interested in birds.”