Poultry shows, exhibits cancelled throughout Michigan

Osceola, Mecosta County 4-H works to find alternative solutions

OSCEOLA COUNTY — County fair visitors around the state may notice something missing in the animal barns this year. There will be no poultry.

On June 1, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development released a statement cancelling all poultry shows and exhibitions held in Michigan.

According to the MDARD website, “After much deliberation and consideration with the Michigan Association for Fairs and Exhibitions, Michigan 4-H leadership and the Michigan Allied Poultry Industry, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s State Veterinarian Dr. James Averill made the difficult decision to cancel all 2015 poultry and waterfowl exhibitions in Michigan to prevent the comingling of birds from different locations.”

One of the main reasons for the cancellation is a precaution against avian influenza, although there have been no known cases reported in Michigan as of June 1.

Avian influenza is a very contagious virus that can sicken and kill many birds such as chickens, ducks and turkeys. The virus occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Without being allowed to show birds at the fairs, the 4-H programs and fair boards in Mecosta and Osceola counties have been working to develop the best alternatives for their members and visitors.

All 4-H programs were approved to use two alternatives to show their animals.

According to the MSUE website, programs can use bird models, which judges will treat as they would if memebrs were showing live animals. The score sheet will include criteria such as appearance and attitude of the student, showmanship skills with the model bird, knowledge of the poultry industry and knowledge about biosecurity and avian influenza.

Biosecurity is the protection of agricultural animals from any type of infectious agent — viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Members also can participate in shows or exhibitions by demonstrating their familiarity of the animals to a judge without a model, and will be scored based on their knowledge and skill.

For the Mecosta County 4-H program, any projects dealing with chickens, ducks or turkeys have to find alternatives, which leaves nearly 45 members in need for new ways on how to handle their projects.

“It’s unfortunate, but we will work hard to make sure we have an alternative for the kids,” said Tarin Minkel, Mecosta County 4-H coordinator. “From the states’ point of view, this is the best way to protect the animals.”

Staff at the Mecosta County 4-H program are waiting to learn what their students will be allowed to do for shows and exhibitions.

According to Minkel, 4-H members who planned to sell their poultry at the fairs will have to come up with an alternative and the program has a few ideas to do so.

“We will probably use the models and informative posters,” Minkle said. “We are also thinking about getting the animals processed before the fair so students can still sell the meat, but we still don’t know if that is possible yet. It’s kind of a waiting game right now.”

Now that poultry will not be allowed, the Mecosta County Fair will have open space for new opportunities.

“It’s really a loss to the fair and it’s too bad, but at the same time it’s a good thing to keep everyone safe,” said John Currie, Mecosta County Fair president. “Hopefully this is just a one-year thing so the fair can go back to normal next year.”

Currie hopes to use the space to educate the community on why there are no poultry animals at the fair.

Similar to Mecosta County, the Osceola County 4-H program is still waiting to hear what their alternative is for the students who were set to show poultry.

“I was shocked when I learned we would not be allowed to show poultry,” said Jacob Stieg, 4-H program coordinator for Osceola County. “Right now, my goal is to make sure the students still have an educational experience.”

For the Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair last year, nearly 71 projects featured poultry. This year the numbers were similar, leaving those members forced to find an alternative for fairs.

According to Stieg, program staff also have been discussing the alternative of showing poultry models.

“This is a little set back, but the state is doing what it needs to to protect the youth and public,” Stieg said. “We want to make sure that the students all have an educational experience. This cancellation helps us discuss biosecurity in agriculture and how we handle it. We look at this as an educational opportunity for kids and I hope it opens the door for questions.”

Staff at the Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair plan to make good use out of the extra barn space because of the lack of poultry.

“We don’t have everything set yet, but we want to have educational posters the students make about their animal, quiz bowl and showings and fittings on poultry models,” said Rick Sherman, fair president.

Usually at the fair, 4-H members also have a chance to auction off their animals to make money.

“We need to think of an alternative to helping kids raise some finances because these kids have already spent the money on the animals,” Sherman said. “It’s too bad they can’t show off the poultry, but everything at the fair will work out just fine.”