My face was only inches from the vent of a chicken. I realized I was breathing through my mouth and tightly closed my lips. You see, everything that comes out of a chicken comes out of its vent. I certainly don’t mind seeing an egg suddenly appear up close – I like eggs. But, most of the time, it isn’t an egg. So, it was difficult to keep my attention on the judge as I kept glancing at the vent for a warning sign that the dreaded was about to happen. My eldest daughter was beside me skillfully handling her meat chicken with a confident smile and with her eyes fixed on the judge. My poor friend was on the other side of her. I felt a twinge of guilt that we had left out some details (namely that chicken poop may be squirted on her face) when she agreed to help my daughter show a pen of three chickens at the county poultry show. As the judge came our way, the three of us had moved our chickens from their resting position like a football under our arm. We were now holding the chickens upside-down by their legs with their breasts exposed and readied for the judge’s hands – hands which are trained to judge the quality of the chicken by the size and dimensions and tapering of its breasts. He even has a college degree to prove it. We all obey his instructions as he moves us around the arena ordering each pen of chickens and the children holding them from last to best. Six weeks ago these chickens were a day old and now they are nearly 10 pounds. The arena is packed with children competing for a belt buckle and a higher rank in the upcoming livestock auction where local companies bid on all the livestock shown at the competition. Our children save whatever they win at livestock shows for college savings. So, our final location in the arena can mean the difference between being able to fund the cost of a semester’s worth of books and funding an entire semester of classes. I scan the arena wondering who knows the secrets to growing the meatiest chicken breast this year. Every person who has ever shown chickens has opinions on what gets you in the top ten of any poultry show. Last year, it was whispered in our ear to mix chicken feed with melted lard as we neared the show. I chuckle softly remembering how embarrassing it was to fill a cart full of tubs of lard at the local grocery store. We took every last tub from the bottom shelf of the baking aisle that day. We figured that it wasn’t a high-selling item and we were doing a service to others in our community forcing them to make healthier eating choices for a while if there wasn’t any lard left in town to cook with (it’s likely there aren’t truckloads of lard replenishing their supply on a daily basis). Well, the lard may have worked – a 10th place ribbon hangs in our barn from last year’s show. A previous champion mentioned to us that red sprinkles in their feed encourage chickens to eat. Chickens are attracted to red, I learned. So, this year, we covered our feed in red sprinkles. I had decided to do a big online order of red sugar sprinkles. That way, I didn’t have to explain to a store clerk why my basket was filled with a few dozen red sprinkles. The judge finally seemed satisfied with how he ordered us and reached for the microphone. The audience quieted to listen to his reasoning which was basically “these breasts are bigger than those.” The ribbons were handed out. Our children’s chickens’ breasts were seventh. Our children were happy to have improved in the standings this year. We still have yet to learn the secret to earning the buckle though. Our children already started talking about next year so I know I’ll be spending more time near the vent of a chicken in the future. Thankfully, the friend who helped is still my friend. And as a thank you, some prized chicken breasts will soon be delivered to her freezer.