Nobody Visits the Second Place Ducks
The Indian Runner’s quack is a maniacal laugh. That’s what I thought from a distance, and I followed the cackle to a lean and slender bird who was judged first place in his category. We squeezed by and through gaggles of onlookers angling to get a peek at prize winning poultry. By all accounts, these were the best ducks, geese, leghorns, and roosters in all of Auckland, and they were not to be missed. Certainly not by a little boy with an imaginary duck for a friend.
The Kumeu Show is an annual event offering “strong competition for Alpacas, Cattle, Dairy Goats, Equestrian, Highland Dancing, Indoor Exhibits, Poultry, Sheep, Shearing & Timber Sports (Wood Chopping.)” Noodle, an animal lover — and what kid isn’t, was thrilled by the best-of sheds, where the prize-winning animals stood on display for all of us to admire. To be honest, I couldn’t tell what made a prize-winning alpaca worthy of a prize, versus the more mundane alpacas in the nearby petting zoo. But I can tell you that they don’t like three year olds who stick their hands into their enclosures. They back off fast. Fortunately, alpacas are timid creatures.
Curious, I conducted some good old fashioned Internet research, inquiring to a ubiquitous and popular search engine “what is an alpaca’s disposition?” The first result led me to a site that touted itself as a place to “enjoy learning about the amazing, magical alpaca!” That’s the kind of enthusiasm I was looking for. Among the responses to the frequently asked questions (including whether people in the US eat alpaca, to which, you’ll be pleased to learn, the answer is “no”) is the following regarding their disposition: “Children especially love these huggable little creatures, and the feeling is mutual, for alpacas seem to exhibit a special warmth in their reactions to human crias.” (Cria is the name for a baby alpaca, here used as a synonym for a person roughly Noodle’s size.) I’m not sure that there was mutual love or recognition of huggability between Noodle and the alpacas. They backed off quickly, and to everyone’s embarrassment, he thought they were camels.
It was immediately obvious what made the prize winning leghorn a prize winner. Its comb was impressively bolt upright, compared to the floppy headgear of second and third places. It was perhaps this creature who brought so many admirers to the poultry shed.
We shuffle pushed our way through the crowd, avoiding one elbow bump only to bump another, stopping where others stopped only because there was nowhere else to turn. It was the kind of crowd in which you couldn’t reverse to escape, stuck in a steady, syrupy flow of sugar-highed children and zombie-paced parents.
I noticed that only half of the poultry shed was gridlocked. The other half, which had just as many birds nosing and pecking around in their cages, was empty of spectators. Curious, we looked. These birds were for sale. Indian Runners: $20. A trio of leghorns: $80. Baby chicks: $7. I felt badly for these critters, cooped up as they were, hoping for a home, though probably destined for the dinner table. It was the equivalent of a dog shelter, minus the culinary outcome.
At risk of waxing melodramatic, I’ll say this: the fact that nobody visited the second place ducks or chickens affected me. They might not be the longest and leanest of Indian Runners, and they might not have the stiffest and brightest of leghorn combs, but dammit they’re ducks! They’re chickens! Don’t they deserve a little attention, even though in the eyes of some two-bit poultry judges they weren’t the best of the best foul? In the competitive poultry judging world, the line between celebrated and for-sale is a thin one.*
I’m happy to report that Noodle enjoyed the baby chicks just as much as, or perhaps even more than, any other animals on display. They seemed to enjoy him as well, with a gentle peck here and a gentle peck there, clucking their approval and laughing along as he felt their nibbles. And I’ll remind him of this if he ever voices a complaint about getting second place.
* In a display case nearby, on offer, were “judging sticks.” Who knew that poultry judging required special equipment? I couldn’t help but wonder, “who are these people?”