On Nov. 19, the local sheriff’s department escorted four Tift County teenagers into Tifton, Ga. It might sound like a parent’s nightmare, but the escort actually made parents proud. The reason for the eventful arrival: poultry.
The Tift County 4-H Poultry Judging Team was named the national champion at the National 4-H Poultry & Egg Conference in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 18. The high school seniors were greeted with sirens and police cars on their homecoming.
“It was pretty cool. People pulled off on the side of the road. It was an honor to have that much attention,” said Sarah Harrison, one of the team’s members.
Harrison received the highest individual score in the national contest, and her twin sister, Rachel, came close behind in second place. Other members of the team included T.J. Chestnut, who placed seventh, and Michael Corbin, who ranked in the top 25.
Not a first
Coached by Brian Tankersley, Andrea Milton, and George Lee, this was Tift County 4-H’s sixth national championship in poultry judging. Tift County teams won the national championship in 1988, 1991, 1992, 2003 and 2005, too. The team placed second in 2008. Georgia teams have won at least eight times in the history of the competition.
“They have really fallen in love with poultry judging here, they do well with it,” Tankersley said.
He attributes the county’s continued success to experience. Between the members, this year’s winning team carried 25 years of experience to the national competition. Offering multiple teams allows Tift County youth to begin participating in poultry judging as early as sixth grade and continue their involvement all the way through their senior year of high school.
Sarah Harrison began her poultry judging experience when she was in the sixth grade. “I was very active in many different 4-H activities, but poultry judging just happened to be something that I enjoyed and also was really good at,” she said.
Practice, practice and more practice
Starting the poultry team in 1987 with little experience in poultry, Tankersley has gained his knowledge by working with specialists and attending 4-H trainings. He says that their teams begin practicing for the local and state competitions in March with two practices each week through May.
Practices include simulated contests with eggs donated by United Egg in Blackshear, Ga. If a team qualifies for the national competition, then they take a break from May to September, when they begin six weeks of heavy practice before the national competition in November. Competition is keen, as teams come from all over the country including California, New York and Florida. This year’s competition included teams from 19 states.
Not just about chickens
Awards are not the only benefit of poultry judging. The event is designed to sharpen communication, leadership and decision-making skills. It spurs an interest in science, agriculture and nutrition. Alumni from Tift County’s poultry judging teams include two doctors, multiple veterinarians, many teachers and a few engineers.
Poultry judging competitions consist of three categories: production hens, market poultry and market eggs. All team members judge each division, and the three highest scores for each category are used to rank the team. This year the Tift County team won all three divisions.
Will Walker, who won the National Egg Preparation Contest, and Scott Walters, who placed seventh in chicken barbeque, also represented Georgia at the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference. Walker and Walters are from Turner County and were accompanied by Lynn Davis, the 4-H agent in that county.
To learn more about 4-H in your county, contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.