Amy McNeilage April 07, 2012
Cleaning up for (and at) the show ... Peter Smith washes one of his chickens, a White Pekin pullet. Photo: Peter Rae
PETER SMITH washed, brushed and blow-dried 40 chooks in the week leading up to the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
To prepare his chickens for show, Mr Smith first soaks them in wool wash before rinsing them off. With white breeds, he uses laundry blue on their feathers, then dries them with a big towel, taking care not to damage feathers before finishing the job with a hair dryer.
Once their plumage is pristine, he scrubs their feet and beaks with a toothbrush.
''You've just about got to be retired to do it properly,'' the experienced poultry exhibitor joked. Now 76, he won his first Sydney Royal ribbon in 1952 with a Sussex cockerel. He took out the same category earlier this week with one of the 70 birds he has on show this year.
Mr Smith is not a chicken farmer. The retired accountant breeds, exhibits and judges poultry as a hobby. He brought his finest studs to Sydney for this year's show and has hundreds more on his acreage in Tamworth.
''My wife says it's no longer a hobby - it's a bloody obsession,'' Mr Smith said.
The first-generation exhibitor started his poultry career as a teenager living on the outskirts of Mudgee.
''A couple of fellas up the road had them and an interest developed,'' he said. ''Once I won a few [ribbons], I was just hooked, I guess.''
He has since taken out the grand champion prize five times at the Sydney Royal. The perpetual trophy is now named after him. Mr Smith has also been a councillor of the Royal Agriculture Society of NSW since 1982 and in 2000 was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his services to the society and to the show movement.
''My wife says 'what more do you want to achieve?' " he said. ''And I say 'I want to breed something better this year than I had last year.' "
The successful poultry fancier prides himself on each and every one of his chickens but does not name them.
''When they do that to me, I've got a name for them,'' he joked, pointing to the pecking scars on his hands.
Despite his winnings - he is yet to tally this year's ribbons - Mr Smith says autumn is a bad season to show poultry because they are moulting.
''I just can't get them to change Easter,'' he said sarcastically. ''There seems to be some kind of a tradition around here.''