West sophomore keeps careful watch over chickens for Victoria Livestock Show
Feb. 22, 2014 at 6:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 21, 2014 at 8:22 p.m.
If You Go
• Noon Thursday Market broiler show
What is the keel bone?
On a bird, a keel is part of a bird's anatomy that extends from the sternum and runs axially along the midline of the sternum and extends outward, perpendicular to the plane of the ribs. This part of the bird's body provides an anchor to which a bird's wing muscles attach, thereby providing adequate leverage for flight.
Jessica Loredo, 16, crouched down in the red glow of the heater lamps inside the chicken house. Country music poured from a small stereo anchored in the top left corner of the small, warm room.
The Victoria West High School sophomore and Westwood 4-H Club member checked on her chickens every hour during the six-week project for the Victoria Livestock Show.
"The radio keeps them from sleeping," Jessica said. "I want to make sure they are awake, eating and drinking all the time."
Jessica's work began a week before she received her pen of broilers.
She washed the walls and the floor of the chicken house with bleach to kill germs that might harm her chicks, and she laid down a black tarp to prevent cold air from seeping through the cracks.
The house has air conditioning and heating so Jessica can control the temperature, which is important for the development of her chickens.
The temperature begins at 90 degrees, tapers off to 75 degrees at three weeks and ends at 60 degrees the sixth week.
In mid-January, the show's county leader picked up 50 days-old chicks for each of the more than 20 broiler exhibitors. All the chickens came from Texas A&M University.
Jessica, with help from family members when she was in school, monitored the chickens every hour.
They stirred the bed of shavings that covered the floor, checked the room temperature and made sure the chickens had plenty of food and water.
"The more you tend to them, the better off you are," she said. "If you don't, they might be OK, but you won't end up with a grand pen."
Jessica culled a dozen at a time based on size until she ended up with a pen of 10. The smallest ones went first.
Three of the four chickens Jessica selects for the show will be judged. One is an alternate.
Jessica will hold her chickens upside down by their feet while the judge rubs their keel bones.
"The judge looks for a wide chest and a long keel bone," Jessica said. "The meat should go all the way up the keel bone and not taper off."
Jessica began raising chickens when she was in the third grade.
"It's a good experience that teaches responsibility," Jessica said. "They die, or you get a bad sale slot if you don't keep up with their care."
Her placement in the seven shows so far has ranged from grand champion to reserve grand champion twice to the last sale slot in the auction. Her earnings have ranged from $1,000 to $6,000 each year. The majority of the money has gone into her college fund.
Jessica hopes to attend the University of Texas at Austin and later the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston to become a nurse practitioner.