Tony Perryman remembers as a kid in the 1960s walking through the old train engine to enter the Missouri State Fair. His family toured the fairgrounds looking at exhibits. At noontime, they retreated to the shade of a tree, where they pulled out a blanket and sat down to enjoy egg salad sandwiches and drink Kool-Aid. It was the one time Perryman visited the fair prior to working there in 1974. Since then — well, he hasn't missed one.
For 43 years, Perryman managed operations in the Poultry Barn on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. He served as assistant superintendent in 1974, but was named poultry superintendent the next year. The Webster County native says poultry exhibitors keep him returning the fair. "It truly is like coming home for me," he says. "It is a time to catch up with families and see what each other have been up to."
Proud of poultry
Perryman grew up on a farm. "We showed Shorthorn cattle at the Webster County fair, Douglas County Fair and the Ozark Empire Fair," he says, "But I never showed chickens as a kid."
Still, that did not discourage his passion for the poultry industry. "Someone has to like working with chickens," he says, and "that someone is me." Perryman obtained a degree in poultry science at the University of Missouri, a program no longer offered, and began working in the industry. Today, he works for the Missouri Department of Agriculture Poultry Health Program as an animal health officer. But for two weeks in August, he helps with the Missouri State Fair as the Poultry Barn superintendent.
The Poultry Show begins Aug. 8, two days before the official opening of the Missouri State Fair. The fair runs Aug. 10-20. Perryman oversees the poultry competition with chickens and turkeys, as well as the waterfowl show of ducks and geese.
Perryman says it is one of the best buildings on the fairgrounds to see diversity.
VARIETY ON DISPLAY: There are 60 breeds of poultry shown at the Missouri State Fair.
Offering a variety
There are 60 different poultry breeds at the Missouri State Fair. Of those 60 breeds, there are at least 120 different varieties. "They come in different colors and sizes," he says. For instance, a Leghorn can be black, dark brown, light brown, red, silver or white. In terms of size, there are large fowl and bantams.
When Perryman first started as superintendent, the barn was about three-quarters full of large fowl and only one-quarter with smaller poultry. Today, that has reversed, as bantams fill 75% of the cages.
He says economics and ease of handling prompted the shift. "A bigger chicken eats more and is harder to handle," Perryman explains. Many poultry exhibitors start at a young age with bantams. "By the time they are older and can handle a larger bird, they have fallen in love with the smaller ones," he says.
Not only have the types of birds changed, but also the number of birds allowed in the competition.
Differences in the show
When the poultry show began, each farmer brought up to 300 chickens to the Missouri State Fair competition. "We had a large number of birds, but fewer exhibitors," Perryman recalls. Today, with smaller poultry flocks, producers bring far fewer birds, many less than 30 each. Cage space is limited, so entries are taken until the cages are full.
In in the early years of the fair there was not a 4-H and FFA show; there was only an open show. Now there are two different shows, allowing for youth and adults to exhibit their birds separately.
Perryman says that the show is open to large and small poultry producers. "We want everyone to feel welcome," he adds.
Last year, there were nearly 2,300 poultry entries for the Missouri State Fair. This year, judging starts at 9 a.m. Aug. 8, with the Live Market competition; then at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, the chicken, bantams, turkey and waterfowl judging begins. The competitions will conclude Aug. 11 if the judge needs more time.
Perryman considers his second home as the Missouri State Fair Poultry Barn. Each year he welcomes visitors to his humble abode to see just what the place looks like full of birds. "It really is one of the most colorful and diverse barns on the fairgrounds."