Fair officials announce changes to poultry show

Published 8:00 am Friday, June 12, 2015

The Cass County fair board has made the message loud and clear this week — the (poultry) show must go on.

In light of the state’s recent ban on live poultry gatherings, the county’s Michigan State University Extension Office announced Thursday an alternative plan for poultry exhibitions for the upcoming 4-H county fair, which takes place Aug. 2-8 in Cassopolis.

Instead of using living birds, participants in the fair’s poultry showmanship classes will demonstrate proper handling techniques to judges using a stuffed bird and by answering an extensive set of interview questions. The overall champion from these classes will move on to compete in a small showmanship sweepstakes.

Organizers are also considering holding special skill-a-thon and quiz contests for youth this year as well, said 4-H Program Coordinator Stephanie Consford,

“We are also looking at holding some fun activities, such as a turkey-gobbling contest or a game of ‘pin the tail on the chicken,’ to keep the kids interested and moving ahead,” Consford said.

The coordinator also encouraged youth to create an educational exhibition, such as a poster, notebook or 3D model, demonstrating their knowledge of poultry care.

Kids that were looking to sell their bird during the fair’s market auction can create a craft project for the still exhibit auction, which takes place on Aug. 2.

These plans were created following the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s statewide cancelation of all poultry and waterfowl exhibitions announced on June 1, which was put in place to prevent the spread of a recent national outbreak of a powerful strain of avian flu that is responsible for the deaths of chickens, turkeys and other domesticated birds. Consford and other members of the MSU Extension met with local 4H members and leaders last week to help explain the outbreak and its effect on the local fair.

“[The kids] are still able to show and exhibit, they just won’t be able to participate in the market,” Consford said. “It’s saddening, but the kids seemed to be ok with it. No one seemed to be super devastated about the news.”

Although a number of kids have not been able to show their birds in the past due to a quarantine on individual farms, this is the first time in recent memory that an entire category of animal has not been allowed for exhibition at the fair. Despite the popularity of the bird auction (with around 250 chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese up for sale last year), local 4-H youth appear to understand the situation.

“I think everybody is being very flexible and encouraging about the changes,” Consford said. “Everyone understands it’s a delicate and unfortunate situation, but ultimately we want to keep the birds safe.”

MSU Poultry Specialist Darrin Karcher is also scheduled to appear at the fair on Aug. 6 to speak with exhibitors and the public about avian influenza and biosecurity practices.

For more information about the alternative poultry plan, contact the extension at (269) 445-4438.