Majella Coyle with a Brahma bantam rooster, which won the Bantam soft feather heavy class at last year’s Virginia Show. Photo: Damian McCarney.

Helping to crack the show case...

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush is certainly an old adage that rings true for Cavan woman, Majella Coyle.

She is a poultry breeder who has had great success on the domestic show scene over the last few years and she and her birds are currently gearing up for this year’s Virginia Show which is taking place on August 21 next.

What started out as an interest in birds has now become a hobby for Majella and one that has won her lots of rosettes and helped her to make friends with like-minded people across the island.

Majella first entered the poultry section at Virginia Show 14 years ago and in the intervening years, she has built a reputation for highly competitive birds on the agri show circuit.

“I didn’t realise the variety of birds that were out there until I started taking an interest in what I was seeing at the shows,” Majella told The Anglo-Celt. “When I saw the variety, I became very interested. I started going to shows; there are lots of poultry shows in Northern Ireland but the agricultural shows are the best because there’s more variety and lots of people to chat to.”

Meanwhile, as time went by and Majella became more knowledgeable, she started specialising in the Brahma breed.

The Brahma is an American breed whose origins are traced from birds imported from the Chinese port of Shanghai. Brahmas were first exported to England in 1852 when George Burnham sent nine ‘Gray Shanghaes’ to Queen Victoria as a gift. The Dark Brahma variety was developed by English breeders from this stock, and later re-exported to the United States.

“It’s a very docile bird and easy to handle,” says Majella before adding that because they are feathered birds, the rain doesn’t suit them. “I can’t keep them outside at the moment because of the weather. So, I’m keeping them inside, which isn’t ideal. I’ve had other birds and other breeds over the years including a Bantam Old English Game chicken. Normally game birds are regarded as ‘flighty’ but he was docile.”

Looking ahead to the Shows

Majella says there’s lots of preparations required to have her birds looking their best for show day. Some birds are more used to a spacious environment so as show time approaches, they are kept in smaller spaces to adapt to the cages in which they will be kept on show day.

“Three days before the show, they get washed and inspected for lice and vermin,” continues Majella. “No judge wants to pick up a dirty bird. The wash at that particular stage also allows for the time needed to get the natural oils back into their feathers. Then they are show ready and off we all go.”

Majella says that while there is plenty of competitiveness in the poultry sections at shows, the camaraderie is always to the fore.

“And, it’s great to get a rosette,” she laughs. “I have made great friends over the years and it’s amazing to see children with the birds - they love them and they love getting their photo taken with the birds.”

Majella believes that poultry and birds is an inexpensive hobby that suits young and old alike. She would love to see a junior handling section added to the poultry itinerary in future shows to nurture the interests of young people.

As for the Virginia Show, that’s the special one for Majella and her birds because it’s on “home turf”.

“It’s my local show; it’s on home turf and you want the birds to do well because of that,” she says. “It’s also a place to meet everyone you know, from breeders to friends and regular show goers.

She enjoys how the poultry competition at Virginia Show benefits from the audience drawn by competitions with a larger profile, such as The Bailey’s Cow.

“People come from all over the country for that,” she says.

As for the birds, Majella believes they have their own unique personalities and when they get used to their handler, they become friends for life.

“I have a Brahma rooster at the moment who gets bossed around by the other birds; pecking is a huge thing as well and that of course is part of the ‘pecking order’ in the animal and bird kingdom.

“If new birds are introduced into a flock, it gets noticed very quickly, particularly where females outweigh the males. Interestingly though, if there is a rooster in the mix, he is dominant and that brings a balance to the situation.

“I enjoy poultry; I take great pride when I breed a bird myself that is successful. There’s a great sense of pride and joy in that.

“I had a rooster once that knew exactly what show time meant. He would perform to a tee on the day and as soon as the rosette was placed on his cage, he would flop down and chill out until he got back home.

“He really made me smile.”