First-time Turkey Showman Wins Grand Champion

In honor of National Turkey Lovers’ Month, we wanted to highlight one of our turkey showman. This is Hattie Jo’s story.

Every year, feathers fly in a large white tent by Gate 2 at the NC State Fair. Youth between the ages of five and 18 flock together to show turkeys that they have raised over the summer. While the Youth Market Turkey Show is similar to other livestock shows in that youth learn responsibility, hard work, and other life skills, the turkey show also stands apart from the other shows in unique ways.

Hattie Jo Powell, 14, can attest to the differences between showing various species at the NC State Fair. She’s been showing for 11 years and normally shows goats and pigs at the fair but decided to try her hand at turkeys too. She discovered that, to her, turkeys are the hardest to show and require the most attention.

Hattie Jo showing one of her goats at the East Coast Extravaganza show.

“They can’t get too cold or too hot or they will die. Showing turkeys is harder than livestock because you have to be able to tote and hold them. They can be really heavy and flap their wings,” Hattie Jo said.

Goats and pigs (and other livestock) are more easily trained than turkeys. Some may even say that the extent of training a turkey only goes as far as taming them. Trainability aside, the art of showing a turkey is far different than the other species that are shown. To show a turkey, exhibitors hold the turkey by their legs and hold the turkey upside down with their back supported on the exhibitor’s knee. This allows the judge to inspect the turkey for cleanliness and the quality of their drumsticks, breasts, and wings.

Other species of livestock like goats and cattle are led around and never picked up in a show ring. For turkeys, that’s the name of the game. As Hattie Jo mentioned, holding turkeys isn’t always simple. These hen turkeys can weigh over 30 pounds (toms weighed close to 50 pounds when the show included them), and sometimes, they like to flap. When the powerful, large birds get to flapping, it can be a little tough to handle. However, the youth turkey show always has plenty of adults ready to assist the exhibitors. The flapping can also provide some nice wind flow on a warm day.

Another unique aspect of the turkey show compared to other species, is the process of the turkey project. With other species, each showman is responsible for locating an animal to purchase. These animals come from all over, and some are even purchased in other states. In contrast, the turkeys for the N.C. State Fair Turkey Show all come from one place—NCSU Prestage Department of Poultry Science.

The Youth Market Turkey Show allows up to 300 participants. Interested exhibitors register for the show in March. In June they are able to pick up one to three turkey poults per exhibitor from the N.C. State Animal and Poultry Teaching Unit. Although exhibitors are given up to three birds each, they may only show one at the time of the show. The remaining birds are kept by the exhibitor. This allows youth to pick the best bird possible for the show. Youth are also given five pounds of starter feed courtesy of the NCSU Feed Mill Education Unit.

With this set-up, the selection process is eliminated, putting a greater emphasis on how well youth raise their bird. Turkeys require a lot of attention. They need the right feed, and to be kept in the right environment. It is also really important to keep them clean as that is one thing the judges look for at the show.

For Hattie Jo, she made sure the turkeys had size appropriate feeders and waterers. She cleaned their pen continually to keep the birds pristine. She learned that turkeys eat a lot! She also learned to watch out, because sometimes, the turkeys got curious and liked to peck her.

When fair time comes around, youth bring their chosen turkey to Raleigh two days before the show to be weighed. Hens must weigh a minimum of 15 pounds to be eligible for the show.

After some friends of Hattie Jo’s decided to show turkeys, she decided to join in. Little did she know it would land her in the Sale of Champions!

Just like any livestock show, the turkeys are divided into classes. All first-place turkeys then compete for champion drive. The judges allot points for body weight and conformation of the breast, legs, thighs, wings and back. Overall finish, feathering, health, market defects and uniformity are scored as well.

Hattie Jo’s 34.6-pound turkey received first place in her class. As the judges reviewed all the first-place birds one more time, Hattie Jo really didn’t expect to win champion. It was, after all only her first-time ever showing turkeys. So, when the judges shook her hand for Grand Champion turkey, she was shocked! Her mom, Kristie couldn’t believe her eyes and started to cry!

Winning Grand and Reserve Champion Turkey is a big deal. It isn’t just the honor of having raised the best birds out of hundreds of others, but it also means you get to participate in the Sale of Champions.

“One of my dreams was to be able to be in the Sale of Champions, so it meant the world to me to win,” said Hattie Jo.

Walking out on a green carpet, with a yellow curtained background and lights shining on her, Hattie Jo sold her champion turkey for $7,500 (purchased by Talley Farms). It didn’t matter that this was her first time showing a turkey or that it was her first time walking out on that green carpet. For Hattie Jo, she had already done it in her mind.

“Hattie Jo sets goals and is successful at checking them off. She is dedicated to livestock showing and judging,” said Hattie Jo’s mom, Kristie.

Hattie Jo’s dedication and willingness to try something new landed her in the Sale of Champions. Turkeys were hard work and required a lot of her attention, but the effort (and even a few hen pecks) was all worth it in the end.

About Marisa Linton See

Marisa grew up showing and raising livestock in NC. She has shown animals at the N.C. State Fair for 15 years and is a past youth livestock scholarship recipient. She is an N.C. State University graduate, agricultural photographer and blogger.

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