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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Not your average spring chicken

May 31, 2018 05:57AM ● By Pat Martin

Have you ever washed a chicken?

I don’t mean the packaged kind from the grocery store that you bought for dinner. I mean a live bird with feathers and all.

While most people don’t wash their pet chickens, it’s an important part of Karen Derrick’s ritual to ensure her championship bantams are ready to show at competitions throughout the U.S.

Derrick, of Palisade, was raised around animals. She started collecting unique feathered creatures early on, such as chickens with top knots or feathers on their feet, and ones that laid colored eggs. At one time, finches from around the world and racing homing pigeons were added to her collection of feathered friends, along with turkeys, ducks, guineas, pheasants and quail.

“At the state and county fairs, I was always drawn to the poultry barn,” Derrick said. “After showing dairy goats in the 1970s, I decided to [show] bantams, a miniaturized version of large fowl.”

She raised and showed black wyandotte, cochins and silkies, then discovered modern game bantams at a show in Phoenix. These birds, which are now bred strictly for show, are descendants of pit games, which were bred in England in the early 1800s for cock fights. When cock fighting was outlawed, breeders exhibited their birds in poultry shows. The fighting gene was eliminated over time, and Derrick said the birds are very docile.

Modern games are the only birds Derrick raises that must be trained to assume a certain pose for the judge. She trains her birds using a small stick and a treat, as they eventually learn to follow hand signals.

Derrick also raises Belgian Bearded d’Anvers, a miniature breed that is often identified by its quail color, “beard” and “earmuffs” from its lightly-colored feathers.

Derrick travels thousands of miles each year showing her blue ribbon bantams.

“Winnings barely cover my expenses, so it’s mostly just a hobby,” she said.

But she still has quite the reputation among other feather fanciers, and her chickens are in great demand by other breeders. She has won numerous championships in shows of all sizes—some which featured as many as 10,000 birds.

Judging a poultry show is quite different from a horse show, Derrick said. For example, Shetland ponies don’t have to compete against large breeds like Quarter Horses, and poultry show judges assess breed type, color and variety, and feather quality and condition, then pick the Best of Variety, Best of Breed and Best of Class from the bantams entered. Once the Champion Bantam is chosen, it competes against the Champion Large Fowl for the ultimate prize—Best of Show.

“It’s humiliating to get beat out by a duck!” Derrick laughed.

In 2015, Rocky Mountain Feather Fanciers dedicated their annual fall show to Derrick for her dedication to poultry showmanship and support of the club.

“Raising and showing poultry has been a fun experience,” she said.

See different breeds of chickens, washed and primped, during the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival on June 1-2 in Fruita. For more information, visit

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