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Event came from egg of ‘Chicken of Tomorrow’

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Staff Reporter

If you’re a huge fan of the Delmarva Chicken Festival, you can thank 1948’s Chicken of Tomorrow contest.
You probably wouldn’t have the former — and its decades-long lifespan — without the latter.
That fun historical tidbit and others will be part of a research display arranged for the 2014 festival by well-known retired poultry specialist George Chaloupka of Bridgeville, Del.
Chaloupka, 82, said the roots of one of the Delmarva region’s longest running and most storied festivals began not with its first installment in 1948, but four years earlier in Canada, of all places.
That’s when Howard C. Pierce, national poultry director for A&P Food Stores, challenged a group of Canadian chicken growers to develop a consistently meatier bird for the poultry industry, Chaloupka said.
The industry galvanized around the challenge, forming a competition committee that ended up holding local, regional and then a final national contest in Georgetown, Del., four years later.
The title of the competition: The Chicken of Tomorrow.
A festival, later known as the Delmarva Chicken Festival, was organized around it.
The competition included 40 entries from 25 states charged with breeding a better chicken based on factors ranging from their economy of production to feathering and consistency, he said.
The winner was Charles Vantress of Marysville, Calif., who bred a California Cornish with a New Hampshire Red, helping to usher in a new era of chicken growing.
Pierce, Vantress and the contest are often referenced in the larger history of chicken breeding, including Margaret E. Derry’s “Art and Science in Breeding: Creating Better Chickens” published in Canada in 2012.
“The Chicken-of-Tomorrow contest, then, encouraged a geneticist approach to breeding, which in turn was attractive to corporate enterprise,” Derry wrote. “Private breeders who had been successful in the contest found themselves at the head of companies [that] functioned increasingly with the aid of geneticists.”
The festival “just made people more aware of the industry itself. ... It was a great event,” Chaloupka said.  “If it wasn’t for the Chicken of Tomorrow contest there probably wouldn’t have been a chicken festival.”