TIFTON -- Tift County 4-Hers swept area poultry judging competition Thursday in Tifton, and now the top senior 4-Hers will travel to Athens May 7 to compete at the state level.

"Tift County had a great contest, excelled at senior level and at the junior level," said Brian Tankersley, county extension coordinator. Tankersley also serves as one of the coaches of the poultry judging teams.

Tift County's senior team won first place among area counties and two junior teams placed first and second in the younger category. Nine of the top 10 junior poultry judges were in the top 10 while five of the 10 top seniors were from Tift County. Tankersley said that all of the Tift County students placed in the top third of all judges.

Tift County 4-H has had a history of success in poultry judging, particularly in recent years. The team won the state title in 2002 and 2003 and finished second in 2004. In 2003, Tift County took home the national title and finished fifth nationally in 2002.

"Tift County, they always win," said Laura Griffith, an 4-H extension agent from Mitchell County who also coordinated the poultry judging event Thursday. Griffith's Mitchell County team finished second in the senior competition and will also attend state competition in May. The top two teams from four area competitions in the state will challenge for the state title. The top two state teams will compete in the national contest later this year.

Four senior 4-Hers (in grades nine through 12) from Tift County -- Laura Leidner, Samantha Tankersley, Elliot Sumner and Sally Smith -- also qualified for state competition as individuals. The top three individuals from the junior teams, which covers the junior high grades, were Josie Smith from Team A, T.J. Chesnut from Team B and Derek Loepker from Team A.

Other senior 4-Hers participating were Austin Suggs, Rachel West, Heather Feagin and Karla Hargett. Other members of junior Team A were Natalie Branch, Lia Richardson, Ethan McBrayer, Michasia Harris, Austin Dunn, Ben Young, Caroline Smith, Ashley Jackson and Grant Crane.

Other members of junior Team B were Rachel Harrison, Sarah Harrison, Kyle Jacobson, Tiffany Suggs, Michael Corbin, Amber Driskell, Kari Chambers and Chrys Kirby. Brian Tankersley, George Lee, Daniel Tankersley and Andrea Milton served as coaches for the Tift County teams.

"We had 28 students from Tift County to participate," said Brian Tankersley. "Each of them did an excellent job."

The teams were judged on several categories of judging chickens and eggs. The 4-Hers judged two different classes of live chickens. In one they gave an oral explanation of their judgments. The chickens were judged on egg production and judges looked for indicators of past egg production and quantity of eggs being currently laid.

Another competition had the judges rating ready-to-cook poultry. They examined the meat for quality, checking for broken or disjointed bones, cuts and tears. They also identified chicken parts in a separate category.

The students also judged eggs for their exterior quality rating them either as A, B or dirty. They also judged broken-out eggs as either A, B or inedible. They used candles to see into the inside of eggs to rate them as either AA, A, B or inedible, judging by the eggs' air cell and yolk shadow.

"As (an egg) ages it becomes an A then a B," said Griffith. "The quality gradually deteriorates."

Judges were also graded on a written test of their poultry-judging skill.

Griffith said that the contest taught students much more than poultry science. She said they learn how to evaluate things, which improves their decision-making skills, and how to make measurements. The process also teaches them how to improve their public speaking skills and allows them to learn about working with a team and that the exercise builds self confidence.

"It's a good program for kids who aren't necessarily livestock kids," said Griffith.

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