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Murray's chicken meat pen awarded 4-H honors at fair

Three chickens raised by Fallbrook 4-H member Kyle Murray received 4-H champion meat pen distinction and supreme reserve champion designation at the San Diego County Fair.

"I just do the same thing I do every year," said Murray, who entered a chicken meat pen at the fair for the third year.

Approximately two weeks prior to the livestock registration date, which this year was June 27, Murray begins measuring his chickens and evaluates them for texture. In addition to body proportions, the judges also prefer meat pens whose chickens are close to each other in weight, so a week before the birds are entered Murray weighs the chickens to determine which ones will be the best options for his meat pen.

All three of Murray's chickens were males, or cockerels. They weighed 5.4, 5.5, and 5.7 pounds. The three chickens which comprise the chicken meat pen must weigh between three and six pounds and can be no older than eight weeks as of the livestock registration date. Murray's chickens were all hatched on May 18.

One difference between Murray's two previous county fairs and the 2016 fair was that he increased the number of chickens he raised to increase his chances of three chickens with suitable body proportions and comparable weight.

"This year I doubled my order, so I got 24," said Murray.

Murray acquired his chickens from Ideal Poultry, which is in the east Texas town of Cameron. They were shipped to Fallbrook 4-H poultry leader Jody Mason, and Murray picked up the Cornish cross chickens in late May.

Murray's meat pen first went through the competition for 4-H and Grange members and was awarded grand champion honors. Evan Maher of Valley Center 4-H raised the 4-H reserve champion chicken meat pen.

The 4-H or Grange grand champion, the 4-H or Grange reserve champion, the FFA grand champion, and the FFA reserve champion meat pens then compete for supreme grand champion and supreme reserve champion honors. Nicole Donais of Ramona High School's FFA chapter received supreme grand champion recognition while Murray took home the supreme reserve champion award.

This year the fair auction took place July 2. An organization called Bucks for Clucks, whose goal is to support Fallbrook 4-H and FFA members who raise and show poultry, purchased Murray's chicken meat pen for $700.

"It's very difficult to find a buyer," Murray said of selling chickens. "They don't have a lot of meat like a pig."

(Murray, who won his 4-H champion and supreme reserve champion honors at the age of 17, is the oldest of three children. His brother and his sister both showed swine at the county fair.)

Murray also raised three turkeys and showed one at the county fair. His entry was a broad breasted white turkey which was hatched in February and weighed 26 pounds on June 27. Murray named the hen Caitlin.

Turkeys must be between 17 and 22 weeks when registered and must weigh between 16 and 29 pounds.

"It was borderline on the deadline for the hatch date," said Murray.

Murray ordered his turkeys from Cackle Hatchery, which is in the central Missouri town of Lebanon. Orders became harder to fill this year because of a bird flu which swept through the Midwest.

"It took out a bunch of chicks," said Murray.

Caitlin did not place and was purchased through a barn sale for $80.

Murray placed fourth in the turkey showmanship competition with Caitlin. He opted against chicken showmanship.

"They were stressing out," said Murray. "I didn't want one to die on me."

Murray, who was a Fallbrook High School junior during 2015-16, won the 4-H champion and supreme reserve champion honors in his third year in Fallbrook 4-H. Murray showed chickens only at the 2014 county fair and showed chickens and a turkey in 2015 as well as this year.

"I've become known as the chicken man," said Murray.

Murray's chicken meat pen placed third among 4-H entries in 2014. "That wasn't close enough to go to the auction block," he said.

Last year Murray's chickens did not place, but his turkey was the 4-H reserve champion tom.


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