Fair exhibitors kept birds home to keep Michigan flocks healthy

Efforts to reduce the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza changed the atmosphere of county fairs across the United States this summer, including Michigan.

MSU Extension worked with MDARD to create guidelines allowing market bird projects to be sold at fairs in an alternative way. Though birds were not permitted on site, members provided pictures of their birds for buyers to view as they cast their bids.

MSU Extension worked with MDARD to create guidelines allowing market bird projects to be sold at fairs in an alternative way. Though birds were not permitted on site, members provided pictures of their birds for buyers to view as they cast their bids.

Fairgoers to Michigan’s 80-plus fairs may have noticed a difference in the animal exhibits this year—the sound of gobbling, crowing or quacking was absent. To protect Michigan’s poultry industry from the potential spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), no chickens, ducks, turkeys or other bird entries were allowed to be exhibited at any fair in Michigan.

On June 1, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development cancelled all poultry shows in Michigan. The cancellation was initially a precautionary measure to ensure the health of Michigan’s bird population as more than 48 million birds throughout the country were destroyed because of the virus.  Though the initial show cancellation announcement was made before HPAI had been detected in Michigan, the following week avian influenza was detected in wild geese, leading all poultry owners in the state to be on high alert. State departments of agriculture in many states throughout the United States have also barred poultry shows to reduce the spread of HPAI.

As soon as the show cancellation announcement was made, Michigan State University Extension educators worked to devise alternatives to poultry showing that would allow 4-H members to display their poultry knowledge and skills without using live birds. The Michigan 4-H Poultry Showmanship Scorecard was modified to reflect the use of lifelike model birds, and Extension staff members challenged members to learn more about poultry industry topics such as what avian influenza is, what proper biosecurity measures poultry owners should take to protect their flocks, and general poultry feeding and management topics. 

Youth who would have exhibited breeding stock poultry projects had the opportunity to be recognized for their efforts through an interview with the judge. In the interview, youth informed the judge about their breed of bird and how their birds compared to the American Poultry Associations Standard of Perfection, and answered questions about breeding and flock management. 

In addition to bird handling alternatives, several educational contests were also proposed as supplemental activities, including poster contests, skill-a-thons and barbecue contests. MSU Extension also worked alongside MDARD to create guidelines that allowed market bird projects to be sold at fairs in an alternative way. Though birds were not permitted on site, members provided pictures of their birds for buyers to view as they cast their bids. Most auctions saw an increase in the price for birds this year because of the tremendous support from the buyer community.

Throughout the summer fair season, more than 4,100 youth enrolled in the 4-H bird science area had an opportunity to exhibit their poultry expertise at fairs through one or more of these alternative show activities. With a greater emphasis on education than a traditional showmanship competition, the new show structure helped youth to understand how they fit into the Michigan poultry industry. Members also learned valuable information on how diseases spread, how they can be prevented, and the importance of an appropriate biosecurity plan for their farms.

Visit the MSU Extension Avian Influenza page for detailed information on how to keep birds safe from the disease.

I am a MSU Extension 4-H educator and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Darrin Karcher is the MSU Extension poultry specialist, and he can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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