How To Read Coop Cards

By Christine Heinrichs, California

Whether you plan to show your chickens or are attending a show to look at the chicken possibilities, learning to read the Cage Cards will help. They are written in a shorthand that requires some deciphering.

Chickens are judged according to the way they are classified by the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association. Consult the APA Standard of Perfection and the ABA Bantam Standard for all the details.

Bantam classes are different from large fowl: Modern Game; Old English Game; American Game; Single Comb Clean Leg (SCCL); Rose Comb Clean Leg (RCCL); All Other Comb Clean Leg (AOCCL); and Feather Legged (FLEG). The logic is to keep similar birds together.

Signs indicating where the various classes are caged are often placed on top of cages or in another easily seen location. The signs will help you identify which breeds are on display.

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Within the class are separate breeds. Chickens are judged against others of their breed. Breeds are grouped together but may be identified only on the cage cards.

Within the breed are varieties. These are usually different colors, but may also have different combs.

Sex seems obvious, but for chicken shows, young birds are judged separately from mature birds. Males under a year old are cockerels, females under a year old are pullets. Males over a year are cocks and females over a year are hens.

The chicken owner exhibiting the bird is identified only by a number. This helps keep judging fair and impartial.

The row of cages will be closed off while the judges are inspecting the birds. It’s not necessarily solemn, but it is serious. Judges spend years studying chickens and learning the refinements of body shape, feather condition and color, comb, wattles and earlobes, and all the other points that go into judging chickens. They need to be left alone to focus on each bird.

Poultry Card

Judges love chickens and are eager to help others learn about them. They will happily answer questions after they are finished judging.

The judge examines each bird in the variety, breed and class, and then ranks them. Number 1, 2 and 3 rank the top three birds of that sex, variety and breed. BV stands for Best of Variety. RV stands for Reserve of Variety, second place. BB stands for Best of Breed, meaning of all the chickens of that breed shown, all varieties, this chicken was the best. RB is Reserve of Breed, second place.

CH means champion and RCH Reserve Champion, second place. Champions will be awarded for each class. Up to this point, similar birds are judged against each other. The next level is judging all bantams and all large fowl, to choose champions for each group.

The champions of bantams and large fowl go to the front of the show, Champions Row. If waterfowl and turkeys are included in the show, their champions will be on Champions Row as well. From that lineup, the Grand Champion (GCH) and the Reserve Grand Champion (RGCH) of the entire show will be selected.

Every chicken owner who goes to the trouble of preparing birds to take to a show is proud to be there. They are all proud of their birds, as you may be some day. Compliment them and ask them about their birds. Shows are an excellent way to connect with other chicken owners.

Most shows have a sale section. Most of the birds will be show quality or close to show quality. Expect to pay more than you would for less carefully bred birds. But you may find some bargains.

From experience I can tell you that it is difficult to leave a show without a few new birds. I’ve tried limiting myself by vowing not to waver, and not bringing any empty cages with me to the show. However, chickens don’t mind traveling to a new home in plain cardboard boxes.

Christine Heinrichs writes from California and works closely with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Founded in 1977, the nonprofit works to protect more than 150 breeds of animals from extinction. For more information, visit

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