4-H'ers overcome poultry show challenges

Model birds provide pros, cons for fair participants

EVART — Many 4-H'ers participating in the Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair last week experienced something different when it came to poultry competitions.

This year, youth showing birds used stuffed animal versions of turkeys, ducks and chickens, as the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development released an order in June canceling all live poultry shows and exhibitions held in Michigan as a precaution against avian influenza. They also were instructed to use shoe coverings and hand sanitizer before and after handling the model to encourage safe practices and provide an educational opportunity about bio security.

"It's a more difficult competition because the stuffed birds don't have all of the parts to inspect," said 4-H poultry judge Ricky Behm. "Plus, the kids practice with their own birds, so they're used to that. However, there's no risk possibly transmitting the disease with the fake birds."

4-H'ers performed to the best of their ability with a bird which was neither alive nor completely anatomically correct. In the case of turkey, the plush animal also was not the same size as a live specimen.

Though the models worked well enough, 4-H'ers saw both pros and cons to using them.

"I have mixed feelings about using the model," said 16-year-old Reese Drilling, who competed in turkey and chicken showmanship competitions. "For the turkey specifically, it was more difficult because the bird was a different scale to a real turkey. The positive is you have complete control over a stuffed bird."

He said the use of the models provided more of a challenge, but believes it was a better alternative than shutting down the entire poultry program for the year. Drilling has researched avian influenza and said the department of agriculture and rural development did the right thing when taking precautionary measures.

"It's also a way educate 4-H members on how to be safe when dealing with the animals," he added.

Behm made sure to work with the children and teens while they showed the model, considering the fact of the abnormal conditions. He also questioned each competitor on their knowledge of the disease.

"For the most part, they're adapting to the change very well," he said.

Jodi Drilling, poultry superintendent and Country Showman club leader, agreed.

"I think they're doing well," she said. "During our own club meeting we practiced with one of the birds and I passed out the modified showmanship rules from the state."

4-H'ers also used photographs of their birds in the barns and were able to sell their animals at the auction. Buyers bid on the processed weight and were able to take the bird home that night.