Pierce County Fair’s chicken drag races are for the birds

Trying to get chickens to do anything is ... well, it’s for the birds.

Unless you’re 9-year-old Rebekah Albright. Then you and your hen Bella have it all figured out.

The duo, with help from mom Tiffany, dominated the 18th annual Poultry Drag Races on Sunday afternoon at the Pierce County Fair in Graham.

And to think, Rebekah wasn’t even going to enter the comical competition.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” she said. “I’m really impressed.”

The NCRA-sanctioned Poultry Drag Races started in 2000 as a way to get kids to stop asking when they could break down the poultry barn on the county fair’s final day, race founder Mike Craig said.

“It’s all tongue-in-cheek,” Craig said.

Craig refers to the poultry poop that pops up on the 12-foot-long track as “oil slicks.” (He swears the track is a quarter-mile, just in chicken miles.) Chicken racers need to win the preliminary rounds so they can get lane choice later. Even the National Chicken Racing Association acronym is making light of the National Hot Rod Association sanctioning body.

The rules are pretty simple: Whichever bird gets from one end of the drag to the other wins. If neither bird makes it within 30 seconds, whichever one gets farther down the track advances. Baiting your bird along with feed, seed or even watermelon is allowed.

And you can’t throw your bird down the track at the start of the race. That will get you disqualified — as will doping.

“If we suspect any high-protein feed or performance-enhancing drugs, it’s a mandatory teardown and barbecue after the race,” Craig said sarcastically.

Craig has been involved with the races since the beginning, and he proudly noted that his daughter Melinda still holds the record for fastest race (2.0 seconds back in 2001).

On Sunday, it only took two races for one of the avian competitors to leave an “oil slick.”. More than once, the chickens ran off after the race, holding up the competition just long enough for the bird to be wrangled.

The races were all announced by the emcee for the kids’ pedal tractor pulls, who did it between races.

Unlike many of their competitors, the Albrights didn’t use any bait for Bella during the competition. Instead, they stood at each end and goaded the chicken into doing what they wanted.

“I had a strategy,” Tiffany said, laughing. “It was to give it space to get out and to trick it into thinking it could run away.”

She’s been a 4-H mom since her oldest daughter, now 19, started raising rabbits. She lets her kids do their thing: They feed the animals, they pay for the feed, they take care of them.

“I don’t do anything but tell them to clean the chickens before fair,” she said.

Rebekah picked Bella, her 3-year-old Buff Orpington hen, because she’s the most hyper of her three chickens. (She also raises three ducks as well as rabbits in Pierce County 4-H.)

“I was feeling kinda a little bit nervous,” said Rebekah, who was racing her chickens for the first time Sunday. “I wasn’t worried because I knew even if I didn’t get first, I knew I would get a ribbon, period.”

Not only did they get that, but Rebekah and Bella got a trophy for their efforts — the size of which is dictated in the three-page NCRA rulebook — topped with a metallic chicken. It ought to look good next to the reserve champion ribbon she got for showing one of her other chickens at the fair this year.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker