Schools battle it out over chickens

Schools battle it out over chickens

Schools battle it out at Sydney Royal Show Commercial Meat Chicken Pairs competition

Just before Easter this year, I was delighted to be able to serve as a steward in the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW’s annual commercial meat chicken pairs competition at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Sponsored by Steggles, this competition pits schools against each other to see how well they can grow meat chickens and how close to commercial industry standards they can get in their own facilities.

Steggles generously provides the day old meat chicks for all schools who sign up for this competition – all schools start with the same breed and number of day old commercial meat chicks, from the same hatch. Its then up to them to source feed and provide their chicks with the care, housing, feed and water and conditions necessary to grow out to six weeks of age, at which point they are ready to go to Homebush to compete!

The RAS of NSW Royal Easter Show Poultry Pavilion. Congratulations and thanks to the RAS of NSW and its Poultry Section members for organising and hosting this terrific competition, Steggles for sponsoring it, and Giglio Fresh Chicken for processing the birds.

Schools can enter either or both of their best pair of male or female meat chickens.  Entries are judged on criteria such as how healthy and ‘bright’ the chickens are, how well grown, how ‘meaty’ they are, the strength and health of their chickens’ legs and the absence of any signs or conditions that would suggest that the environment they have been grown in at their school has been sub-optimal (for example, if their feathers are dirty, or the birds have any signs of contact dermatitis on their feet or legs that would suggest that their bedding was dirty or damp). Uniformity of the two chickens in the pair is also important. And of course there are some fundamentals to be met – like a pair of females needs to be two, not one bird, and they need to be both females!

Judging was a tense affair…not just for the judges, but for those school students and their teachers who anxiously watched proceedings from the sidelines.

This year, our two very experienced commercial industry judges were Jorge Ruiz and John Howard (Livestock Operations Manager and Broiler Manager, respectively, for Baiada Poultry, whose brands include Steggles). Jorge and John can be seen below, clearly very happy with their choice of the champion female pair…which also for the first time in the history of the competition went on to become the champion overall pair…thrashing those males! Congratulations to The Kings School for preparing such a terrific and well balanced entry!

Judges Jorge Ruiz (L) and John Howard (R) from Baiada Poultry with the Champion pair of chickens

Schools also get to prepare and be judged on a written project, describing how they undertook their project, how they monitored the growth and health of their chickens throughout the period they cared for them, and what they learned from the exercise. Congratulations to James Ruse Agricultural High School for their comprehensive and informative winning entry.

At the completion of the live chicken judging, there is an opportunity for schools to meet with the judges and find out more about commercial chicken meat production practices, how the entries were judged and how they can improve next year. It was great to hear the students who came along talk about how excited they were about being part of this competition….and amazed by how those birds grew! In fact, one of the great things about this competition is to see the enthusiasm of the students for it – I understand that when the students who won the written project section of the competition last year were asked what they intended to do with their $1,000 prize winnings, they immediately responded that they wanted to reinvest it in improved housing and other facilities for growing their chickens in the future.

Teachers from participating schools were also enthusiastic about the competition, commenting that it provides a great learning experience for their students – they are learning about good animal husbandry and care, and at the same time about what it means to be engaged in a really significant food producing industry – and it can all be done within a school term.

More details on the competition can be found at: Steggles Schools’ Meat Bird Pairs Competition 2015

While some schools’ entries didn’t make it to the Show (in many cases due to the challenge of getting their grown birds the long distance back to Sydney; in other cases, because they felt their entries were uncompetitive…. perhaps even because they ate them!) I commend all schools who participated for getting involved and giving this competition a crack. Of the 94 schools that entered and received day old chicks, 80 got their entries to the showground for the big event.

Well, that, of course, is not the end of the story! As you might guess, meat chickens are grown….for their meat. So it is fitting that the competition ends with the entries being judged after they have been processed and dressed. The final stage of the competition therefore took place at Giglio Fresh Chicken’s processing plant at Bonnyrigg in Sydney’s western suburbs, where the entries were processed and judged as dressed carcases. Without their feathers on, the males bounced back into contention, the overall champion pair of carcases being taken out by the pair of males entered by Muswellbrook High School, pipping the champion female pair entered by Bossley Park High School. Muswellbrook High School went on to become the overall Champion School, which is awarded to the school that has competed to the highest standard in all three elements (live bird rearing, written project and carcase competitions) – very impressive, considering this was the first time that this school had entered the competition.

And what does the industry get out of this? Well, we hope that, one day, some of the students that participated in this competition will choose to take up a career in what I’m sure they now understand to be a dynamic and growing, albeit at time challenging, industry, whether that be as chicken growers, livestock servicemen, planners, hatchery managers, poultry veterinarians or nutritionists, microbiologists, quality assurance personnel, or any of a myriad of other career opportunities that exist across the industry. (click here to read more on career opportunities).

Congratulations to all…we hope to see you again in the future!

By |2018-05-31T13:43:28+10:00May 5th, 2015|Production, Schools|0 Comments