Ben Aplin, from Sussex, may be only 13, but he is a great ambassador for young poultry keepers. He is now helping his mum to establish new competitions for young poultry fanciers. Sam Bowles reports
Ben Aplin became passionate about poultry keeping after his mum, Lou, started keeping chickens. They progressed from there to breeding birds and going to shows together.
Then Ben started winning prizes – and eventually won Best Juvenile at the National Poultry Show to add to a burgeoning trophy cabinet.
Lou soon realised that there was not enough encouragement for junior fanciers within poultry breeding and showing circles. “If we don’t encourage young people and reward their efforts at shows, they will lose interest and we will no longer have an active ongoing show scene,” she said.
“There needs to be individual recognition, with their own Championship Row, special workshops to help them improve their breeding lines and help with preparing hens for shows,” said Lou. “I decided to try to do something about it, so I wrote to The Poultry Club of Great Britain and Prince Charles, who is Patron, to see if there was something that could be done.
“I had a lovely reply from the Prince’s office, and my letter to the Poultry Club was published in the Spring Newsletter; this led to me being asked to help organise the junior and juvenile awards at the National Show in November.”
With all of this in mind, Lou has devised a new competition for juniors at three poultry clubs, Kent, Arun Valley and The Ashdown Forest, starting this autumn. “The children will have to do a poster, talk about their birds, handle them and pen them themselves. In return, winners will get their own Championship Row, special rosettes, sashes and bags of feed, paid for by sponsors.
“We have a company, Garvo Feeds, helping with this. Points will also be given, which will be carried over to the next show, with a final Champion of Champions announced. This will give them something to work forward to and give them the recognition they deserve. Hopefully this exciting new format will encourage more children to show their birds and get involved in the hobby.”
Celia Edmonds, Show Secretary for The Ashdown Forest Poultry Club, agrees: “As a show secretary I am always hoping that more children would enter. I love to see them preparing their birds with such care. Proper acknowledgement will mean so much to them and encourage them to be motivated to continue, especially when there are so many other attractions in their lives. We need them more than they need us. I wholeheartedly support Lou Aplin and what she is trying to achieve and hope that in the future this will become standard across the country.”
HOW IT STARTED
Chickens are a way of life in the Aplin household. They’re everywhere. If it’s not the real thing in the garden, then just look around the house – everything is chicken related!
Lou and Ben are dedicated to their birds and they are treated like royalty. It all really started with Lou who, having kept chickens on and off for 30 years, decided to take it up again. “My husband said he wanted a new bike, an expensive one, so I countered that I was getting chickens. He was hardly in a position to refuse!”
Lou started with some hybrids. “I called them Garden Terrorists as they had wreaked havoc in my garden by the time I got to nine of them. So I found them a new home and changed to pure breed Barnevelders and Buff and Speckled Sussex.”
Even then, Lou decided that the damage from large fowl was far too extensive, so she changed breeds again and moved to Pekins and Japanese, true breed bantams. “I was lucky enough to pick up three Pekin trios from an amazing breeder in Devon, who could trace breeding lines back to the 1960s,” said Lou. “I also bought a pair of unproven Cuckoo Pekins and got lucky, as I have hatched out a number of lovely birds from them.” Tiny little Japanese birds also joined the collection and Lou started to show the hens she had bred with great success.
Meanwhile, Ben was also getting the bug. He joined his mum in going to shows and taking a strong interest in the breeding lines that Lou was establishing. About three years ago, Ben started with some Old English Game, Grey Japanese and Black and Mottled Pekins. “I was looking for an OEG cockerel for my breeding programme and Breeder Adam Howden kindly gave me a trio for my birthday as he wanted to encourage me,” he said. “Adam is my mentor and helps me so much.
“I really enjoy the poultry shows. There is so much to see and I really enjoy looking at the various breeds. I have met so many people and have had lots of advice from people like Steve Fuller and Kieran Berrett who belong to the local Poultry Club.”
Amongst his many successes, Ben has been Best Junior Handler at a show at Ardingly in Sussex and, more recently, Best Juvenile at The National Poultry Club Show at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire. His passion for his birds is very evident and his rosette and trophy collection is impressive for someone who is only 13.
The Aplins are clearly making their mark on the poultry scene, and are doing it with enthusiasm and drive.