Mason Cole is a 9 year old, 4th grader at Pineywoods Academy, and is raising broilers for his second year for competition in the Angelina County Fair. He is the son of Joe and Tara Cole. He has two younger brothers, Paxton and Sutton.
Mason and his dad picked up 50 one-day-old chicks last Tuesday as 31 students across the county began feeding and caring for the broiler competition at the upcoming county fair.
A “broiler” is a chicken bred specifically to grow muscle efficiently and to be eaten. Their genetics are very different from the egg-producing breeds we have in the backyard egg-laying flock. Raising broiler chickens is an excellent youth project for beginners to livestock exhibiting. Chickens are considerably easier to handle, require less space, and are less expensive than other species.
When Mason was asked why he chose to raise broilers for the county fair, he had plenty to say. “Chickens have been part of my life since I was born! My dad had them when he was a kid. Chickens always fill me up with happiness. Just hearing them all squawking just makes me happy.”
The Cole’s started an egg-selling business about four years ago. They started selling them at $3 per dozen and $4 for an 18-pack. “I stopped when we started losing chickens,” says Mason, “We have a cow dog named Hank and he started killing them… But we did have some hens named White Shadow and Polo are some that he didn’t get.”
While some hens were lost, Mason assures me, “Now we are using Rhode Island Reds and they lay nice light brown eggs.”
Chickens are an excellent youth project for several reasons. They can be raised in a backyard shed or a garage as they do not need a large amount of land. Broilers can often be raised in urban areas where larger animals would be impractical. In fact, it is recommended that broilers be raised in a good shelter to maximize growth and prevent attacks by predators. Mason will raise his chickens in a special barn he built from proceeds from last years chickens.
Broilers are a short-term livestock project lasting only six weeks. The quick time frame of only 6 weeks is very typical of true market conditions. On a commercial scale, it typically takes only 6-7 weeks to raise a broiler to market weight.
The broiler show certainly provides everyone with an equal starting point on their way to the competition. All chicks that students receive for a show are provided by a single hatchery. These chicks are the same breed and hatched on the same day. The birds are wing-banded and randomly assigned to each student. This removes all bias in the selection of chicks and their assignment to the participants.
A broiler chicken eats less than two pounds of feed for every pound of body weight gained. Therefore, a six-pound broiler requires only 12 pounds of feed to complete its 6 week grow-out cycle.
At the county fair, only the best 3 broilers are shown in competition by a student. Thus, the remainder of the birds never make it to the showgrounds.
Mason states as a matter of fact, “I decided to show chickens because lots of folks like to eat chicken. My dad emphasized that we were raising these 50 chickens as a business… for food.”
His father Joe says, “I want him to follow his dreams. He has a passion for these birds. Ever since we started off, he just loved the process of caring for the chickens and collecting the eggs. When it came time and of age to show at the County Fair, it was a natural choice.”
He says they had a learning curve in the first year. “We enjoy seeing how much he enjoys raising them. Part of the process is learning to overcome setbacks. More than anything I want him to be passionate, always remember why you were starting this and to keep that passion going.”
Joe continues, “The life skills he is gaining from this project will help him set goals now and in the future. This project is a foundation of something much bigger than just fun. Mason gets so much out of this. Something I always wanted for my kids is them learning is more than just showing chickens. It is doing what they love, things they will carry on for the rest of their lives. Speaking to the judge is crucial to learning how to communicate with adults and those in authority.”
Joe states that Mason impressed him so much last year. After Mason won the show, he then shook the hands of his competitors and genuinely wished them the best of luck for next year.
This year’s broiler show at the Angelina County Fair will be on Tuesday, March 22 starting at 6 pm in the main arena at the George H. Henderson Expo. The entire County Fair is from Monday, March 21 thru Saturday, March 26 concluding with the sale on Saturday evening. The auction will be Saturday evening in the main arena starting at 4 pm.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
The members of Texas A&M AgriLife will provide equal opportunities in programs and activities, education, and employment to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity and will strive to achieve full and equal employment opportunity throughout Texas A&M AgriLife.