Birds have always been a part of Grant Schmitz’s life. As a member of the Albany Southsiders 4-H Club, he has shown a variety of different birds at the Stearns County Fair, Minnesota State Fair, bird shows and other county fairs (as open class). This year marks his 13th and last year to show as a 4-H member.

“I’m sad this is my last year, but it’s been a fun experience,” said Schmitz, a 2020 Albany High School graduate and the son of Thomas and Darcy Schmitz. 

The family always had a menagerie of geese, ducks, standard chickens and bantam chickens that Grant and his older brother, Austin, exhibited at fairs and shows. Their interest in showing poultry likely came from their father, Tom, who raised and showed birds when he was in 4-H and now is the superintendent for the poultry division at the Stearns County Fair.

“Back then, the club I was in was called Albany Climbers. It’s now Albany Southsiders,” Tom said. “I grew up on a dairy farm and showed poultry, rabbits and dairy.”

Tom is grateful he was able to share his passion for poultry with his two sons, who also enjoy it.

“I just like showing and learning about birds,” Grant said. “I have bird feeders in the backyard to attract the wild birds, and I have a pet parakeet. It’s fun to watch them.”

The family currently has 204 birds consisting of ducks, geese, laying chickens, standard chickens and bantams; 27 of them will be exhibited at the fair.

“We’ll keep about 40 birds over the winter,” Tom said.

The rest will be sold or butchered.  

As each breed has standards they are judged by, the Schmitz family gets their birds from all over the country from reputable breeders dedicated to maintaining breeds and their standards. 

At the Stearns County Fair, all birds exhibited must be hatched before May 1 and must be the current year’s hatched brood. Therefore, the Schmitzes start receiving their chicks as early as January. The time it takes for each bird to mature varies based on breed and species, so careful planning and time management is important, to ensure birds are mature by the time show season comes around.

“Chickens take the longest to grow,” Tom said. “Geese, for some reason, grow really fast.”

Biosecurity is critical when raising poultry. Walls, floors, feeders and waterers are cleaned and sanitized and litter is changed out frequently. Coops are predator-proofed as best as can be and checked regularly for any signs of predator activity.

Tom and Grant rattle off just a few of the breeds of birds they have (or had at one time) – White Leghorns, Golden Comets, Jersey Giant, Australorp, Delaware, Andalusian, Blue Swedish Ducks, Pastel Call Ducks, Buff Ducks, Jumbo Pekin, Pilgrim Geese and White Embden.

Poultry is the only livestock Grant shows. He showed rabbits one year but quickly learned it was not his forte.

“I’ve always had poultry. I’ve never gotten into anything else (livestock wise),” he said.

Even though Grant likes birds, he is particular in which ones he wants to show and others he prefers not to, like turkeys, meat birds or pigeons. Every year, he refines his flock, either by gaining more knowledge about the species or adding more birds.

This year, he will be showing breeding trios (one male, two female) in the chicken-standard, chicken-bantam, duck, duck-bantam and geese pens; chickens-egg production pens for both white and brown egg layers (two pullets in each category); and the market pen category (two males or two females) for geese and ducks.

He will also be showing vegetables, flowers and a model airplane.

Grant has been showing at the state fair every year since sixth grade. At events, he is able to meet people from all over the United States and gain insight into the poultry world. 

At shows and fairs, judges scrutinize birds on their conformation, color, size, age and if they are suitable for the use they were bred for (i.e. egg laying). Judges judge birds based on standards set forth by the American Poultry Association’s “American Standard of Perfection.” 

Before a show, Grant cleans his birds, gently washing them and scrubbing their toes, and he changes into show attire which consist of black pants and a white, long-sleeved shirt.

“They want you to wear long sleeves in case the bird acts up, it doesn’t scratch your arms,” Grant said.

But most of the chicken breeds the Schmitzes have are docile in temperament and easy to handle so concern for getting scratched is low. 4-H members who show poultry also learn the best way to handle the birds so the birds remain calm.

Schmitz looks forward to showing again this year, but it is bittersweet, as he knows it will be his last year. He will miss the shows and meeting new people, but knows, with the current friendships and connections he does have, he can continue his passion in poultry.

“I will probably continue to raise birds,” he said. “I’m always interested in learning more about them. You can always find out new things.”