When Shari McCollough was a little girl, she entered a chicken-chasing contest at the county fair.
Winners got to keep the chickens they caught or trade them for a fistful of tickets to fair rides. Many youngsters grabbed the tickets, but not little Shari.
She took the chicken home.
That white hen with black speckles became a beloved pet that helped launch McCollough's passion for barnyard fowl. She and her five children now breed, raise, and exhibit chickens at poultry shows throughout Indiana.
"We started out very simple, just with a couple of birds, and never had the intention of starting into the exhibition part of it. It bloomed into something much bigger than that because of my obsession with chickens," McCollough, of Crawfordsville, IN, says with a laugh.
Her birds — mostly Silkies and Cochins — have won many awards, even though the McColloughs have been showing them for only a few years.
Poultry shows are to McCollough what Indianapolis Colts games are to a football fan: perfect bliss.
"I absolutely 100 percent thoroughly enjoy every second of it, because you're surrounded by hundreds of people that love birds as much as you do," she says. "You just feel at home because you could sit and talk for hours about chickens."
Her children love the shows because they hang out with friends and get to compete.
"They prepare all their own birds. They wash them. They cut their toenails. They trim their beaks. They make sure the bird is ready the day of the show," McCollough says. "If their bird wins, they've earned it."
In 2006, a Bantam Black Cochin hen shown by her son Kyle was the top winner of all the birds entered in the junior division of the Hoosier Poultry Association Show. He got $25, a large plaque, and a huge sense of pride, McCollough says.