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Turkey exhibitors line up
LINE UP: Turkey exhibitors line up to allow the judge to assess their birds at the Union County Fair in Marysville, Ohio.

Flipping turkeys

Lessons learned from a turkey show — poultry kids are tough.

A large white turkey went walking by. My daughter and I did a double take. Behind this meat bird was a young man in a white shirt. The pair was headed to the show ring. We grabbed a seat on the bleachers and took in our first turkey show.

It should be no surprise that on a visit to my daughter in Ohio we ended up at the county fair. We walked in and out of horse, swine and sheep barns, making our way to the poultry and rabbit barn. Inside were rabbits and chickens in cages, but we were not prepared for a full-blown meat turkey show.

Exhibitors guided their birds to the center show ring. Some turkeys walked right in front of their owner. Others had to be carried, still none ran away. The video below shows the calmness of these birds and exhibitors.

Next, the judge addressed the group. The turkeys were required to stand. If the bird was sitting, the exhibitor would gently coax it up.

judging process allows for handling of the birds
MEATY BIRD: Part of the judging process allows for handling of the birds. Youth must flip their own bird. The judge checks for meat content and firmness on the turkey breast and leg — what consumers eat.

Then the process of flipping birds began. The young exhibitor would grab the legs above the bend and with a smooth motion, turn it upside-down where the head is facing the show ring floor. The judge would feel the breasts of the turkey, as well as the legs — after all, that is what we eat.

youth flipping turkeys
ATTENTIVE SHOWMAN: Notice the youth showgirl in the plaid shirt. In turkey shows, while the judge is examining the bird before them, the exhibitor is watching. They flip the bird as soon as the judge takes his or her hand off the bird before them.

What I learned from my brief show:

Turkey kids are tough. Flipping these giant birds did not look easy. Wings flapped. Legs kicked. Still, these 4-H and FFA members kept a hold of their birds.

Wear long sleeves. Every exhibitor had on long sleeves. And after one time of them turning over the bird, I knew why. Those long toes and wings could really cut up an exhibitor’s arms, if the bird was too aggressive.

Always be ready. It was amazing to watch. As the judge was checking one bird, the next exhibitor was in the ready. They were bent over, hands firmly attached to the legs, looking at the bird before them, ready to flip.

Practice is a must. This was not the first time these turkeys had been walked or flipped. It takes spending time with an animal to get it to walk calmly. Equally impressive were those birds who did not flap or resist being flipped.

Ag education still needed. If you listen closely to the above video clip, you can hear a group of young kids right next to me. They were almost as excited as I was to see the turkey show. However, they thought the birds were chickens. I kept waiting for their parents to correct them, but I’m not sure they knew the difference.

We still have our work cut out on educating parents and children about where their food comes from, but I think county fairs are a great place to start. These types of shows allow consumers to see just what animal produces their cold-cut sandwich or holiday meal — a meaty turkey. And they see exactly where it comes from when a 4-H or FFA exhibitor flips a turkey.

I know I will be looking at that Thanksgiving turkey a little different this year. Perhaps those Ohio fairgoers will too.

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