For starters, let me point out that there are people who actually show their chickens, much like there are people who show their dogs. (Except one doesn't have to put a chicken on a leash and trot around the ring for the judge.) In fact, a poultry show is pretty much the ultimate animal beauty contest - all that bird has to do is look good; they don't even give extra points if they lay eggs. However, unlike the usual dog shows or horse shows, almost anyone can have nice exibition poultry. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, the plumber down the street, even a ten year old kid can have fun, learn from the other exhibitors, and do some winning. There are no "handlers", and the breeder/owner of the Grand Champion Best Bird in Show is generally going to be happy to sit around and answer questions from even the most rank novice. If you attend many Poultry Shows, you'll find that Poultry People are just kinder and gentler folks.
About the only thing one needs to "do" to a chicken going into a show is to have it healthy and clean. For our birds, the healthy part was easy. You work on that months before the show with good feed and the right size pens so the bird doesn't end up with broken, frazzled feathers. It's the "clean" part that makes for the story. I suppose one could simply dash out to the old poultry yard and catch a few hens, stuff them into a crate, and enter them "as is". Unless one wishes to actually win, in which case your bird will require some attention to it's personal hygene, namely, some elementary grooming and a bath. Bathing a chicken is a somewhat time consuming process, but well worth the effort once you see how nice your bird looks when it's all over. Keeping in mind that a chicken is not a natural born swimmer, it makes sense that they would have developed an aversion to water rivalled only by the common housecat. That old saying "Mad as a wet hen" is both descriptive, and accurate. But don't worry, once you get them throughly soaked, a chicken tends to simply stand there, resigned to it's fate. It's getting them wet the first time that can be tricky.
The night before you actually run any water, you sneak out to the hen house with a flashlight, and quietly put your best birds into seperate cages. This is a simple, yet often overlooked step that can save you many unnecessary steps (and unlady-like swear words} while you are madly chasing your birds around the next day. It's also a good idea to put the birds in their cages somewhere inside your home. I know, the idea of chickens actually inside your home probably sounds a little too "countrified" for most people, but there is just something about a plump showbird in a cage that is irristable to predators, and there is nothing like finding your best birds beheaded by some bloodthirsty opossum the day before the show to really put a damper on the whole affair. At any rate, don't bother setting your alarm clock, if you're showing any male birds, you won't be needing it. As the morning dawns rosy pink with the promise of a new day, and you are roused out of bed by the crowing in the laundry room, you'll need to gather your actual poultry bathing supplies.
Dog toe nail clippers
an emery board, or nail file
several (at least three) buckets of warm water
mild detergent, or shampoo
a small table or sturdy chair
an old toothbrush
a soft rag
several old towels
a blow dryer; optional, but handy
a nail buffer
a helper; again optional, but highly recommended
a clean cage with plenty of clean dry bedding
You'll want to add a bit of detergent, or shampoo to one of the buckets, and work up some nice suds. The second bucket is your rinse water, and the third, containing just a drop or two of the bluing, is for the final rinse. To begin, tuck the bird under one arm, and using the toothbrush and peroxide, gently scrub the legs and feet in the direction that the scales grow. (down toward the feet, and out toward the toenails) The peroxide isn't meant to bleach the legs, only to help soften any stubborn dirt. This is also a good time to take care of trimming and filing any long toenails...a poultry pedicure, of sorts. To trim the nails, remove just the tip so you don't cut into the quick, and end up with a limping, bloody footed bird.
Now the real fun begins, since the idea here is to immerse the chicken as gently as possible into the water almost up to it's wattles, without causing it to struggle so you don't break any feathers. The best way is to wrap your hands around the bird from the back, holding down the wings, and gently lower it in feet first. Keeping one hand on the bird, you'll gently swish the soapy water up under the wings, around the tail, and up the neck. Don't scrub the feathers, or rub them the wrong way. Particularly dirty feathers can be gently worked through in the direction they grow using a dab of your soap on your fingers. Using your soft rag, wipe the comb, face, beak and wattles, being careful to keep any soap out of the bird's eyes.
Once the bird is sufficiently soaped, you'll want to gently lift it out of the soapy water and into the rinse bucket. This is where that helper can really come in handy; while the bird is in bucket #2, they can refill bucket #1 with warm clean water...it usually takes several rinsings to get the soap out. Carefully swish the bird back and forth to allow the clean water to reach all the feathers. Use the rag to wipe any soap residue from the bird's head. Once you have the soap rinsed out (Hours, sometimes days later - just kidding), it's time for the final rinse with just a drop or two of the laundry bluing. This is what makes the white birds gleam, and gives all the others a clean, clothesline fresh scent.
Now, wrap the bird loosely in the towels to absorb as much excess water as possible, and let sit in the warm sunshine. Like I said, the bird will in all likelihood simply stand or sit there with an expression on it's face of sheer contempt and loathing. If not, say, if your bird seems likely to wander away looking for a home where sane people don't bathe their poultry, you can place it in a large cage with plenty of deep, clean bedding while you either empty the buckets and pick up the area, or start on the next bird. At this point, you could use the blow dryer set on low to lightly fluff the feathers as the bird stands, but it's really better to let the bird dry on it's own, and take care of arranging it's feathers itself.
The final spit and polish is applied just before the bird is cooped for the show. You'll want to use baby wipes or a soft damp cloth to make sure the legs and feet are clean. Then lightly buff those toenails and beak, and gently rub the comb and wattles with mineral oil to give them a nice shine and bring out the deep red color that will hopefully catch the judge's eye.