ROCK SPRING, Ga. — Agnes Pelosa was apprehensive Thursday night as she sized up the competition at the Walker County Agricultural Center.
"Their chickens are a lot bigger than ours," she said, eyeing three hens in a metal wire cage. "I'm really curious how their chickens are so much more grown up."
Pelosa and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Gayla Ammons, hoped their three hens would rule the roost and bring home a blue ribbon. They were among 10 contestants in the Walker County 4-H Chicken Show and Sale.
The annual event begins in May, when 4-H kids spend $15 to buy 10 2-day-old chicks from the Walker County Extension Office.
Starting from this level playing field, the kids try to plump up the yellow fuzz balls into the best hens for the judging and auction.
"We started doing this, because you don't have to have a lot of land," county Extension Agent Norman Edwards said of the decade-old contest. "If they live in a subdivision, or whatever, they can have them out in the back yard."
Ten kids entered Thursday's contest. They each brought a cage containing three young hens, or pullets, of similar size and color.
The key consideration was the birds' abdominal capacity.
To pick the winners, Brenda Jackson, an agricultural extension agent for Murray and Whitfield counties, removed the 30 hens, one after another, from their 10 cages and laid her fingers on their feathered bellies to gauge their egg-laying potential.
"You want a soft abdomen," she explained.
A crowd of about 50 watched, including the 4-H kids, their parents and relatives -- and those waiting to bid.
Pelosa and her granddaughter tend a flock of 20 chickens on two acres in LaFayette, Ga. Pelosa used to live in Florida, where people kept parrots and cockatoos as pets. Chickens are friendlier, she said.
"They like to hand-feed, and greet the car in the driveway," Pelosa said.
Home-laid eggs cost about the same as the high-end, store-bought eggs she favors, Pelosa said, "But they're more fun."
When the judging was done, Gayla Ammons won the $20 second prize in the novice class. She also earned $30 that Rex Knight, of LaFayette, bid for her three egg-layers.
"They're going to a niece of mine over in Alabama," Knight said.
Other novice division winners were Rylie Chanlee, first; Ben McDaniel, third; and Grace Ridley, fourth. The expert division winners were Luke Manning, first; Wayne Manning, second; Matt Matleson, third; with honorable mentions going to Dalton Green, Bradly Green and Chase Honse.
All the birds sold for bids ranging from $30 to $75 per three-hen cage.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.