The Steggles Commercial Meat Chicken Pairs Competition at the Royal Agricultural Society’s Sydney Royal Easter Show just keeps going from strength to strength!
Each year, schools from around NSW get the chance to test their understanding of how meat chickens are grown, and just how much needs to be done and how well they need to be looked after in order to grow out to a size that they could be processed for human consumption.
The schools’ competition process was as follows:
- All schools got exactly the same chickens; all chickens are from the same hatch.
- All of the chicks were provided by Baiada Poultry, who markets chicken under the brands Steggles and Lilydale.
- After six weeks in their care, schools got to select 2 female chickens and 2 male chickens to send to the Show for judging.
- The chickens were judged by experts from Baiada Poultry on the opening day of the Show.
This year, 96 schools from around NSW took up the challenge….and challenging it was! The weeks leading up to the Show this year were particularly hot, which made keeping the chickens at the ideal temperatures and environmental conditions for optimal health particularly tricky – indeed, the judges were able to see in this year’s entries the impact of those conditions, with many entries not able to sustain adequate growth and bird vigour.
In selecting their winners, the judges take into account factors such as how well the birds have grown, how ’meaty’ they are, their overall health and vigour, whether they have any leg or feet issues that are indicative of sub-optimal housing or litter conditions, and also how similar in appearance the birds in each pair are. All of these factors are important, not only commercially, but from a bird welfare perspective, so they are some of the same criteria used by the commercial industry to monitor how well flocks are performing in the field and how well they are cared for by commercial growers.
One unique aspect of this competition is that, not only are the pairs of chickens judged live, but they are also later processed and judged as carcases.
The standout pair of the competition for the judges this year was the male pair entered by Elderslie High School, Narellan – not only was this pair the clear winners in the live judging, but also went on to win the Best Meat Bird Pair in the carcase competition. Elderslie High School also exhibited the Best Commercial Meat Bird female pair, but it was the very even female pair prepared by Muswellbrook High School, Muswellbrook, that really impressed the judges when the feathers were off, clearly taking out the award of best female pair in the carcase section.
Feedback from schools has been that this competition presents a great opportunity for students to get to learn a bit about the industry, and also to gain an appreciation of how much thought, preparation, care and attention to detail in many areas (such as the right feed, the right environment, the right amount of ventilation, the right temperature, the right litter and optimal management of it), is required to successfully grow out commercial meat chickens.
All schools should be congratulated on ‘having a go’; we hope to see you back next year.
Thanks must go to dedicated judges from Baiada (Jorge Ruiz and John Howard) who did an incredible job sorting out the winners. Also, to the RAS of NSW for its support for the competition, and Giglio’s Fresh Chicken for processing the birds.
A particularly big thanks to Steggles for its ongoing support and sponsorship of this major annual event, which just keeps growing in popularity and reach.
The Show may just come around once a year, but there is a range of educational materials for school children available year round from the ACMF. These include an educational DVD, which can be ordered from the ACMF’s website (http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=206) and an information book called “The Story of Chicken” which is available to schools on request at http://www.chicken.org.au/page.php?id=239.