Chooks something to crow about

Kim CousinsCountryman

When Graham McLevie was a little boy growing up in Dalwallinu, he could often be found with the chooks on his family farm.

It's an interest that has followed Graham through life.

Today he is president of the Midland Junction Poultry Society and will be at Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day with information, a display and a sale of up to 50 breeds.

Graham generally runs about 80 chooks on two hectares and has three breeds - white leghorns (bantam and standard), Indian game (bantam and standard) and partridge wandottes bantams, named after a North American tribe.

During show time he cuts the number back to a more manageable 45.

"I select the better class birds for showing," he said. "Like any animal the more you put in the better the results."

Graham sources his birds from across the State and country, with the leghorns and some of the wandottes from Victoria and the Indian games from Queensland and local stock.

"I import stock or eggs," he said. "Once you get a specific line, like sheep, you stay with the bloodline.

"You don't mix it up or you could get faults and jeopardise your chances of winning."

Before being shown, the birds go through a pampering process to get them looking their best.

"In preparation for the show I wash the light coloured birds, it also tames them down," Graham said. "It may sound silly but you use a hair dryer to dry their feathers and get them in top condition.

"I use a wool mix soap and a bluing water, which brings the white out. You've got to be careful not to overdo it though, I've seen blue birds.

"I also wash and lightly oil their legs and comb to bring out the colour. My birds are marked so I wipe their feathers with a silk cloth, it brings out the lacing and sheen of their feathers.

"It's the same as showing dogs, horses or sheep. They've got to be clean and tidy and sparkle."

But it's not all about glamour. Breeding and selecting are important aspects when raising chooks, as is feeding.

"You've got to feed them right," Graham said. "They've got to have a balanced diet and you've got to house them correctly.

"You can't let them run in the open, especially the soft feathered birds. Sun bleaching, health and pest issues such as ticks and lice can cause problems."

Although most breeds come in a variety of colours, Graham runs only one colour of each.

"The more colours and breeds you have the more it costs," he said.

Depending on the breed, the chooks are divided into the categories of hard feather fowls, soft feather fowls and game fowls.

The chooks are also judged on their type and colour, with British standards being followed.

The show scene offers a full social calendar, with 14 club shows across the State each year as well as agricultural shows and specific breed club shows.

In August this year the Midland Junction Poultry Society will be celebrating 100 years with a chook show at Claremont Showground. It's a hark back to the old days when poultry shows would draw a huge crowd.

"It might surprise people but 90 years ago they used to run special trains to Midland from Fremantle for poultry shows," Graham said.

"They were held in roller skating rinks and had entertainment in the evenings. Dignitaries all attended, it was quite a social function.

"Chook shows were also held in the centre of Perth until the 1920s. They then moved down to the Claremont Showground."

At Gidgegannup, Midland Junction Poultry Society will hold talks on raising and breeding poultry as well as the best breeds for small landholders. There will be birds available to buy and information on the club.

"It's an interesting hobby and also social," Graham said. "If you want to learn about genetics the way to do it is through breeding poultry, the results are much quicker."

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