Amid ban, poultry exhibitors told to think creatively

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Farm and Dairy file photo

SALEM, Ohio — County and state fair organizers are being asked to get creative this year, as they grapple with the loss of one of their major livestock shows: poultry.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced June 2 it was canceling all 2015 live bird exhibits, to help protect the state’s $2.3 billion poultry industry amid a national outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The ban includes county and independent fairs, the Ohio State Fair and all other gatherings of birds for show or for sale, including auctions and swap meets.

Still opportunity

But don’t count out the poultry projects just yet. While the live birds will not be on display, some fairs are planning to exhibit pictures and posters of poultry projects, and a few are also exploring ways to sell the birds without bringing them onto the fairgrounds.

Lucinda Miller, 4-H youth development specialist, said in a released statement that youth can still “complete their poultry projects without showing the animals at the fair.” There are a number of alternatives —  including interviews with judges, demonstrations with props or pictures, skits, skillathons and avian bowl contests.

The numbers

This year, more than 9,100 4-H youth across the state are taking poultry-related projects to fairs, out of nearly 70,000 youth enrolled in 4-H clubs. At last year’s Ohio State Fair, there were more than 3,700 poultry entries from 214 exhibitors, with approximately 25 percent of those entries coming from youth exhibitors. Alicia Shoults, Ohio State Fair spokesperson, said organizers are meeting this week to discuss alternatives, and how they might include poultry projects in the annual sale of champions.

In past years, proceeds from the sale have gone to exhibitors, with dollar amounts above the cap (limit per project) going to 4-H and FFA youth programs and scholarships. She said the state fair will “very likely” continue to do a skillathon and an avian bowl, with more decisions to be announced. Exhibitors who have already submitted entries for the 2015 Ohio State Fair poultry show will be issued full refunds.

Making plans

Kirk Bloir, associate state 4-H leader, said some fairs are already making plans to display posters of projects, and some are working out ways to hold auctions, in which the funds will be dispersed among exhibitors.

“They’re all trying to come up with some kind of creative ways to have poultry displays in those poultry barns,” he said.

Learning experience

On the positive side, Ohio State’s Kirk Bloir said the disease and the ban can be an educational opportunity about the risks of livestock production.

“It’s certainly a learning opportunity about how a disease can impact an entire industry,” he said.

No cases of avian flu have been reported in Ohio so far, and the ban is intended as a proactive measure to keep the disease out of the state. Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels said the decision was difficult “because it means young people can’t show their birds at fairs.” But he said it’s in the best interest of the industry. Ohio ranks second in the nation in egg production, and the poultry industry supports thousands of Ohio families.

“The right move isn’t always the easy move, but this is the right move, especially when you see just how devastating the virus has been to other big poultry states like Iowa and Minnesota,” Daniels said.

County fairs

With its fair kicking off June 8 this year, Paulding County Fair officials preempted the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s June 2 announcement, by voting May 26 to cancel all poultry shows at the fair. Michael Schweinsberg, Paulding County OSU Extension 4-H youth development educator, said a group formed immediately to select an alternative. Schweinsberg said the fair board vote was announced to 4-H members May 27 — “on the night of our skillathon.”

“They (4-H’ers) understood the avian flu and what it could do and the importance of biosecurity,” he added. “The 4-H motto states ‘for my club, my community, my country and my world.’ Nowhere in there does it say ‘me and my chickens.’ So they know this is for the betterment of the community.”

Fair officials hit upon the idea of having youth take pictures of their projects and hang them in the poultry barn. 4-H members with poultry projects will also participate in a “Poultry Jeopardy” activity, with three age groups — beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Schweinsberg said OSU Extension, the Paulding County Sheriff’s department, county commissioners and representatives from Cooper Farms had met with Emergency Management Agency officials previously to discuss a countywide plan to address avian flu. The Extension office is now reaching out to educate the community, Schweinsberg said, to more fully explain the poultry show cancelation and the potential ramifications of bird flu outbreak in the county.

“People do understand that Cooper Farms is huge in our community and what an impact it would be on our county if something happened there,” he said, noting that while Cooper Farms was consulted on the decision to ban birds at the fair, the fair board alone made the ultimate decision.

Stark County

Stark County Fair Junior Fair Coordinator Pam Baad said June 8 that she was in the process of contacting families of the 130 broiler project entrants in this year’s fair to see if they want to continue with their projects or drop out. Those who continue, she said, will still have plenty to do.

“They will have posters and pictures and we will be adding a few other things for them,” Baad said. “We are going to keep the kids very involved one way or the other.”

Fair officials are also discussing the possibility of a poultry carcass sale for turkey projects.

“Our turkey kids had their birds by June 1,” Baad said, “But we haven’t completely decided (on a carcass sale) for broilers. We don’t know if our processor can handle that many birds.”

Mahoning County

The Canfield Fair has not made a final decision as to what will happen with its junior fair poultry show. Fair board director Bob Jarvis said that a parents’ meeting was scheduled this week, and a senior fair board meeting was set for June 9. Jarvis said the goal is to find the best approach for the youth involved.

“Until we get the blessing from the senior fair board, the whole board of us will not make any decisions,” said Jarvis.

Lorain County

The Lorain County Fair is also in limbo as they wait to figure out what is the best plan for the youth and their fowl projects. Sherry Nichols, a junior fair board director, said that a meeting is also planned for this week to talk about what options are available.

“We are very concerned because we have a lot of fowl in our fair,” said Nichols.

She said there were 350 fowl projects at the 2014 fair and 200 projects were comprised of meat chickens and turkeys. The one bright side, if any, to this issue is that the youth involved with meat chicken or turkey projects at either Canfield or Lorain county fairs have not gotten their poultry projects for this year’s fair since they are considered to be later fairs and short projects. The Lorain County Fair is set for Aug. 24-30 and the Canfield Fair is set for Sept. 2-7.

Shelby County

The Shelby County Fair won’t have any poultry at this year’s fair, but it does have a plan on how to handle projects. There were 650 4-H fowl entries, which included 100 meat chickens and 50 meat duck exhibits, for the Shelby County Fair which is set to run July 26-Aug. 1. The 111 4-H members who planned on showing their poultry projects at the Shelby County Fair will instead be selling something else.

Each youth participant will be creating a poster for his or her project, with between three and five pictures that shows how they progressed through the project from picking up their chicks to showcasing their fully grown chickens. Then, the fair participants will write a short essay about what they learned during the project and include feed tags. The final phase will include an interviewing process in place of the usual show, in order for them to participate in the junior fair sale. At the junior fair sale, instead of selling the market birds, the youth will sell shares for $50 “for a bucket of chicken.”

Shelby County Fair board member Bill Clark said the sale will be similar to their dairy projects’ milk gallon sale. The money gathered from the sale of shares will then be distributed equally among the market fowl exhibitors. Clark said they are hopeful that the sale will help get the community involved in what the youth are doing.

The buyers who purchase shares in the bucket of chicken will gain a certificate designed to recognize their participation and an advertisement will be put in the newspaper to thank them. In addition, the fair will also be selling the chance to be the main advertisement on the podium during the sale.

The poultry committee will be soliciting different chicken restaurants for their chance to put their logo on the podium. They will be going to places like Kentucky Fried Chicken or Buffalo Wild Wings and asking them to purchase shares. The restaurant or business that buys the most will get their logo on the podium. Clark said it will give the business recognition and increase awareness about how chickens are produced.

“So if the Colonel wants to be on the podium, he has to pay up,” said Clark.

Jefferson County

In Jefferson County, according to a newsletter mailed out by 4-H Youth Development Director Janine Yeske, all members with poultry projects can still complete their projects by attending the skillathon. This will ensure a fair pass to those members taking only poultry projects.

For fair competition, there will be an interview class during the fair for poultry youth (without the animal), and the winner of the interview classes will be eligible to compete in a Super Supreme Showmanship Contest. The outstanding poultry exhibitors will be chosen based on skillathon score, attendance at a Jefferson County Clinic, contest day interview score and interview class during the fair. Jefferson County 4-H members who have a poultry project can also switch projects before July 1, but the replacement projects are not eligible for Ohio State Fair competition.

Related coverage:

Ohio 4-H’er on poultry show ban: “In my heart, I still have earned first place” June 9, 2015

Ohio cancels poultry shows  June 2, 2015

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