County fairs proceed with caution on poultry exhibits

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Youth exhibitors watch eagerly as their turkeys are weighed in prior to the 2021 Jefferson County Fair.

It’s been over a month since the last confirmed case of highly transmissible avian influenza in Wisconsin, which means poultry judging competitions can proceed with caution.

As stated by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) the order against bird movement was written so that it expired 30 days after the most recent detection. The last recorded case was listed in Bayfield County on May 20, 2022. 

"With the decline in confirmed avian influenza cases and fewer reports of sick birds, we were comfortable in allowing poultry owners to move their animals to these events," said Kevin Hoffman, spokesperson with the Division of Animal Health at DATCP.  "However, we want everyone to understand that we are still seeing detections of avian influenza in the wild bird population, so we know that the virus is still here in Wisconsin. That is why it’s very important for flock owners to continue to use proper biosecurity measures to ensure that the birds participating in these events stay healthy."

Ron Kean, a faculty associate and extension specialist in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Poultry Science, says that historically (at least in 2015), incidences have stopped in the summer. "Migration of wild waterfowl is mostly done, and warmer temperatures help destroy the virus more quickly," Kean said. "Hopefully, this is the case again this year. I think everyone is cautiously optimistic that outbreaks may be done, at least until the fall."

Therefore, county fairs are moving forward with poultry exhibits and competitions as normal. Jefferson County Fair Poultry Superintendent, Joy Brattlie said, "We are not making any significant changes due to Avian Influenza. We will continue to monitor the situation and will follow through with any recommendations from DATCP."

Brattlie said that all poultry project animals are inspected for a general wellness check prior to being allowed into the fair barn. In addition, there is always a veterinarian on site during the fair, which is scheduled to run July 13 through July 17.

Hanna Brattlie a 17-year old member of Cambridge FFA and Lake Ripley 4-H is looking forward to participating in poultry competitions at various fairs this summer. She plans to bring 20 birds to exhibit at Jefferson County Fair.

"The bulk that I will be showing are fancy birds, large fowl and bantams." said Hanna, who has been breeding and raising poultry for over eight years. In addition, she will be exhibiting meat birds which she had purchased. Had fair officials cancelled the poultry show, Hanna says her family would have simply raised them for their own consumption.

Hanna Brattlie with her Rhode Island Red Bantam, "Candy."

"There is definitely a risk and concern about bringing birds to these shows," Hanna Brattlie said. "However, I think it has gotten to a point where I feel comfortable doing it. I'm passionate about showing and we plan to take extra safety precautions to ensure we keep our birds safe and healthy." 

During the fairs, Hanna said she will ensure her birds always have fresh water and clean bedding. She hopes to keep them away from floor pens to eliminate exposure to foot traffic and possible transmission of feces. In addition, she plans to quarantine all birds that were at the fair when they return home.

Regarding fairs and other poultry shows Kean said, "I think it’s good to note that there are other potential diseases that could be spread at fairs. These diseases may not have the notoriety of avian influenza, but they can still be devastating to a flock, and take a lot of the fun out of raising birds. Monitoring incoming birds for any signs of disease is usually done, but should definitely be done this year."

He also said that it is best for exhibitors to quarantine their birds when they take them home, as it can help protect the rest of their flock, in the event they picked up a disease or illness at the fair.

Anneka Schuld from Twin Rivers 4-H Club awaits the judge to visit her poultry exhibit at the 2021 Jefferson County Fair.

As for special precautions, Kean says flock owners should continue to monitor their birds for signs of influenza. The poultry expert also notes the importance of cleaning and sanitizing equipment (feeders, traveling cages, etc.). "Changing clothes and shoes before going back to your home flock is also helpful," he said, adding that washing hands before and after handling the birds (or other people’s birds) is always a good practice to keep in mind.

"These precautions may seem fairly simple, but they can greatly help prevent disease transmission," Kean said.

Hoffman says that DATCP continues to recommend that poultry owners continue monitoring their flocks for avian influenza and reported instances of increased mortality and or other signs of illness. He said the state will also be keeping a close eye on spread, especially this fall when migratory birds once again travel through the state.

Reports can be submitted to DATCP at (608) 224-4872 (business hours) or (800) 943-0003 (after hours and weekends).