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On wings and a prize

Seven-year-old Aubrey Lingo was nervous.

Soon, it would be her turn to stand before the Pasco County Fair poultry judge, a woman who would question her about Oreo's body parts and watch how she handled the White-faced Black Spanish chicken.

Many hopes were riding on Aubrey and Oreo. After all, Oreo wasn't just her chicken, she belonged to all the kids in Kathy Kessler's kindergarten/first-grade class at West Zephyrhills Elementary School.

The class adopted Oreo this year from the school's 4-H Club, which bought her from a poultry farm when she was just a little peep.

The students helped write Oreo's record book, which was presented to the fair judges. It included what the kids learned about chickens, from their body parts to what they like to eat.

Each day at 2 p.m., the class would go outside to Oreo's cage to change her water, feed her and collect her eggs.

The eggs they carefully tended, turning them in the incubator every afternoon and logging the days until they hatched: 21.

"It was a lot of fun," Kessler said. "We took all the little chicks to the fair."

To prepare Oreo for the fair, Aubrey had to give the Oreo a bath, clip her toenails and beak.

Monday was the big day.

Aubrey competed for her showmanship; Oreo competed against other fowl.

When it was her turn, Aubrey had to take Oreo from her cage, hand her to the judges and then take her back. They watched to see whether she handled the bird correctly.

Aubrey answered questions about the chicken's comb (that red thing at the top of its head,) beak and wattle. They asked her what breed Oreo was and what she ate.

"They're just looking to see how knowledgeable the children are about the birds," Kessler said.

At one point, Oreo squirmed a little bit, but the panic Aubrey felt didn't show on her face.

"It tried to get of my hands," she said. But she held Oreo firmly.

She competed against eight others in the kindergarten to second-grade level. She didn't win any ribbons this year, but she plans to try again next year.

Oreo won best of show for her breed, Kessler said. The chicken was to be presented with a trophy during a fair ceremony this week.

"My chicken got first place," Aubrey said proudly. "My sister's got first place too."

Oreo will go back to Zephyrhills Elementary, where she shares a cage with a hen named Fluffy.

As for Aubrey, what was her favorite part of the whole experience?

"Almost all of it," she said.

Staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Heather Urquides can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4613. Her e-mail address is hurquides@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4613.

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