Rural Grey Eagle–Ask Myra Arvig a question about chickens and chances are she will know the answer.

That knowledge has led this 15-year-old daughter of Sara and Scott to become a four-time state 4-H champion, earning this honor again at the Minnesota State Fair. Myra, an Upsala High School sophomore, is the oldest sister to Silas, 13; Claire, 12; Lynn, 9; and Scott, Jr., 14 months who live in rural Grey Eagle. 

Myra figures she was about one and living in Fargo with her parents when they got their first chicken.

“It was a chick that apparently one of my mom’s friends found outside of a science room when in college. Who knows how it got there, but we kept it in our basement,” said Myra.

They named the chick Cheep Cheep, eventually giving it to her grandparents, Steve and Cheryl Wiechman of St. Rosa, when they moved but they kept chickens for eggs. 

Even as a child Myra liked the chickens, but the thought of showing chickens never crossed her mind. In fact, when she was six all she wanted was her own horse, but her parents weren’t too keen on that idea, so her mom came up with an alternative.

“She asked me if I wanted to show chickens. I thought, ‘sure, why not,’” said Myra. “With my mom’s help I picked out what breed I wanted (Cochin bantams) and tried my hand at raising them.”

After one year Myra was hooked and now she’s been showing chickens for eight years. 

“But, I am not the only one in my family that likes this. Claire shows chickens, ducks and pigeons with me and Lynn shows ducks. Silas is content with leasing a dairy cow every year from our grandpa,” said Myra.

Poultry pastime 

Myra figures they have around 50 chickens, 40 pigeons, 11 turkeys, 15 ducks and six doves around their hobby farm. 

Raising poultry involves daily chores, which, depending on the time of the year, can take a little or a lot of time. 

“In the spring, when we get our chicks, there’s chaos because we have to set up brooders, set up feeders, water dishes and heat bulbs for the new chicks,” said Myra.

There is a reason she doesn’t mind the work.

“The chicks are so adorable and small when they first come but they grow fast,” she said. 

Chores involve giving the chickens food and water, sweeping aisles and bedding pens. 

“We try to clean out our pens every couple weeks in the summer,” she said.

Occasionally birds need to have their nails or beaks trimmed or need to be treated for lice. “In the winter chores are pretty easy, because we sell or eat all of our extra birds so we are down to a smaller winter flock,” said Myra.

There are many things Myra likes about working with chickens.

“First of all, if you work with them every day they get really tame and will follow you around the yard. It’s also cool to see them go from an egg to a chick to a full grown chicken,” said Myra. “Then there is the aspect that it’s something my sisters and I do together, and I have gotten to know a lot of great people from showing poultry.”

4-H fair competition

Myra entered Salmon Faverolle bantam chickens, pigeons and turkeys in Stearns County Fair 4-H competition this year, advancing to the state fair. 

She learned the fundamentals about chickens from her mom and from reading, but someone who’s really helped her with her poultry project is Whitney Heinen. 

“She has helped me so much with all of my birds. She gave me my first pair of pigeons. I am so grateful to both of my parents and to Whitney,” said Myra.

She prepared for state by reading the American Standard of Perfection book, which lists all of the histories and ideal descriptions of all of the poultry breeds. 

This year’s poultry show started at 2 p.m. on Aug. 23 and went until around 6 p.m. 

“Three judges judge at a time so it goes pretty quickly,” she said.

At State, an exhibitor competes in their bird’s class. For example, breeding turkey class, market chicken class, etc., she explained. 

“When you show your bird, they compare your birds to the descriptions in the Standard of Perfection. The birds that are closest to the Standard will do the best,” Myra explained.

Her birds received a purple ribbon this year. 

“That isn’t first or second. I would compare a purple ribbon to third place,” she said. 

The interview is another component of the poultry show, but it does not involve your bird or showmanship.

“You meet with a judge and get asked questions, usually questions about your flock at home, or maybe a health or biosecurity question. If you place in the top 20 percent in this interview you win a prize, usually a gift certificate of some sort, and if you get in the top two percent for this division you win a cool folding chair,” said Myra. 

While birds are being judged in their class, the judge also decides if you are knowledgeable enough to go to showmanship, Myra explained. If you impressed the judge, he will give you a call back card for showmanship.

“Showmanship is a class where the judge isn’t looking at the quality of the bird but is purely judging you and your knowledge of poultry,” said Myra.

Showmanship is her favorite 4-H category and where she excels, calling it “super fun.” 

This judging started at 7 p.m. and got done around 8:30 p.m. The judges are usually American Poultry Association certified judges, most who volunteer to judge at the state fair. 

A judge interviewed each exhibitor and watched for their ability to handle their bird, and they quizzed each competitor on their knowledge. 

“This year I got asked a lot of body part questions, such as where are the oil gland, earlobe, and ear. Also, I got asked to name the parts of the wing, and if I could name any chicken comb types,” said Myra. “The judge also makes sure you know how to take your chicken out of its cage (always headfirst).”

There are three age divisions in showmanship competition, with an average of 15 youth in each. First through 10th places receive medals. 

Myra has advanced to state the past four years, earning showmanship champion in her age division every year. Last year she won first overall pigeon and the year before that she received second overall pigeon. She has won a chair in the interview category three times. 

“And I have to brag about my sister Claire, who went to State for the first time this year and made the top 20 percent for the interview,” said Myra, adding, “State was so much fun with her!”

Myra is happy to share with fairgoers information about poultry. 

“People are surprised at just how tame chickens can be. I think a lot of people maybe have the impression that poultry are pretty crazy animals, but they change their minds when they see chickens sleeping in our hands and perched on our shoulders,” she said.

Poultry is the perfect pastime for the Arvig family.