Bird flu ban: Ohio fairs get creative

WILMINGTON — County 4-H programs across Ohio scrambled to develop suitable poultry show plans in the days following the June 2 announcement by the Ohio Department of Agriculture that all live poultry shows in the state were banned because of the the threat of Avian bird flu decimating the state’s poultry stock.

In some cases, county 4-H programs had just a few weeks to decide what they would do before their county fairs were scheduled to be held.

Within days of the announced ban, state 4-H officials worked with the ODA, the State Fair Managers Association and county 4-H Junior Fair Board directors and Extension agents to quickly develop recommended alternatives for the thousands of kids who were planning to show and compete for county and state fair poultry honers, and receive money from poultry championship sales that were now threatened by the ban.

The result so far?

A wide range of solutions, with many similar plans but some differences.

Justin Holbrook, Clinton County Junior Fair Board Committee member, said participants must complete a number of requirements in order to participate in the market sale at the end of the fair.

“We’ve encouraged all of them to continue to raise their projects … get it to a marketable size and age and harvest it according to how they normally would — they’re just not going to be bringing it to the fair,” he recently told the Wilmington News Journal.

“The poultry building will be different, in that it’s just not going to be as lively as it has been,” Holbrook said. “But with the events, the educational posters, there is still going to be some energy there.”

Darke County decided to give youth poultry exhibitors three choices of showing at the fair — one in which they raise a bird to receive a premium, one in which they raise a bird to receive a premium and sell it at auction, and lastly an option for receiving a premium for a general project where the junior fair exhibitor does not raise a bird.

The Putnam County Fair held June 22-28 was among of the first in the state to be held after the ban was put in place. County Fair Director Maurice Miller said that in his fair, the 4-H youth were asked “to take photos of their projects and display them in the cages that would normally be occupied by their poultry. Many agree that at least this way the children can show off what they’ve done before the fair, and people will get a chance to look at the photographs to get an idea of what their poultry looks like.”

“The counties have been pretty creative so far,” said Tom Archer, assistant director for 4-H Youth Development with OSU Extension. “They’ve done a variety of things since the announcement was made June 2.”

He said the Ohio Extension Service in Columbus already had a 4-H specialist who, before June 2 and knowing that the live show ban was a possibility because of what had been happening in places like Iowa and Minnesota, started to develop a number of alternatives for the 4-H members at county fairs.

“All of the 4-H committees, fair boards and volunteers put their heads together to look at what kind of programs could they do to give a great experience for the youth this year.”

Archer said that at the first fair held, Paulding County June 8-13, he was told by the fair director there that the activities in poultry went so well they are considering adding the events for all the species shown at the fair.

“It has made people creative,” he said. He pointed out that about 8,000 Ohio youth have, among their fair competition showings, a poultry entry and perhaps 2,500 youth who had only poultry entered in a fair. “I think it has gone very well, and I expect that it will continue to go well the rest of this season,” he said.

“The biggest disappointment is for those who will not be able to actually have their bird at the county or state fair. The most disappointment is for those who would be showing their bird for the last time this year,” he pointed out. But he said he hopes that the educational alternatives will be sufficient this year for the youth.

Around the state, county fair boards and 4-H Extension educators have made a number of decisions on how their poultry shows and competitions will be held.

In Greene County, “This year you’re going to have to have knowledge behind it, not just bringing in the best bird,” said Mark Everman, director of the poultry barn for the Greene County Agricultural Society. “It’s more of what you know about poultry as a whole.” He said posters (40 percent), skill-a-thons (30 percent) and book checks (30 percent) will make up scores that will determine champion exhibitor. Project sales will continue as normal.

The ban included county and independent fairs, the Ohio State Fair, and all other gatherings of birds for show or for sale, including auctions and swap meets. Similar bans have been enacted in other poultry states.

So far, Ohio is virus-free and the move is intended to continue that status.

Gary Brock can be reached at 937-556-5759 or on Twitter at GBrock4.

By Gary Brock

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and Civitas Media reports