MSU Extension creates alternatives to live poultry shows for Michigan 4-H’ers

Alternatives needed following announcement of cancellation of poultry and related shows as a precautionary measure to protect bird health in Michigan.

Story updated June 9, 2015. Michigan State University Extension experts have assembled resources and information to help answer frequently asked questions that poultry owners, 4-H families and consumers may have about avian influenza.

Contact: Sean Corp,, 517-884-7083; Katie Ockert,, 517-432-5270

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have developed programming that will allow poultry enthusiasts to demonstrate their knowledge at fairs and exhibitions this summer without exhibiting live birds.

The announcement of alternative activities comes on the heels of a June 1 announcement from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) cancelling all poultry and water fowl shows, exhibitions, swap meets, fair petting zoos, game bird and waterfowl displays, and Miracle of Life exhibits. The cancellation was initially a precautionary measure to ensure the health of Michigan’s bird population; before avian influenza has been detected in Michigan. Since the initial show cancellation announcement, the discovery of avian influenza in wild geese in Michigan has poultry owners on high alert. State departments of agriculture in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Illinois barred poultry shows earlier this year.

Julie Chapin, director of children and youth programming for MSU Extension, said Michigan 4-H has created alternatives that will give members a chance to show off what they have learned through the 4-H poultry project without putting their animals at risk of catching or spreading avian influenza.

“4-H members throughout the state have invested their time and talent in caring for and learning about poultry, waterfowl and other birds in anticipation of showing them at their county fairs and other venues,” said Chapin. “We want to make sure that investment doesn’t go to waste.”

The ruling extends beyond poultry such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, ostriches, emus and guinea fowl, and includes game birds, such as quails, pheasants and pigeons. MDARD also strongly encourages all bird owners to keep avian pets away from fairs, exhibitions and swap meets. As an extra precautionary measure, MSU Extension will also not allow the display of any live birds that are part of the 4-H small animals program known as ‘pocket pets,’ including canaries, parrots, parakeets and macaws.

“We want to keep all avian species safe by advising 4-H’ers and other exhibitors to keep them healthy by keeping them home,” explained Katie Ockert, 4-H animal science educator for MSU Extension. “We will not support the display or exhibit of birds at any venue, public or private, where they would be come in contact with birds not from their home flocks.”

Ockert and other MSU Extension staff members have created alternative to traditional county fair activities to ensure that youth involved the poultry project will still benefit from the knowledge and skills they have gained through their projects. The options have been approved by the MDARD state veterinarian.

Showmanship using poultry models, quiz bowl and skillathon contests, and poster displays are among the alternatives. The list of alternatives is available online at, but Ockert encourages 4-H’ers to look for guidance from their county 4-H program coordinators.

“We worked with the state veterinarian to determine best practices and have presented viable options to our county staff members,” she said. “It will be up to local county 4-H coordinators, their advisory committees and project superintendents to make sure that good practices are followed so young people get the most from the knowledge and skills they have gained from their project.”

Ockert says other alternatives will be available for members raising market birds that are generally judged live at the fair and then sold at public auction.

“We continue to look for ways for 4-H members with broilers and other market poultry to have their birds judged and sold as a part of their experience,” Ockert said, noting that theses birds are also banned from fairs and exhibitions. “We know that many members have worked hard on these projects, and we want to honor that while ensuring we don’t put their animals at risk.”

Visit for updates on alternatives for Michigan 4-H poultry auctions.

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