Reflections of the 2015 Michigan poultry show ban in 4-H youth programs

The 2015 Michigan poultry show ban presented many challenges, but 4-H members rose to the occasion.

This has been a challenging year for the over 4,000 Michigan 4-H youth who participate in a poultry 4-H project. On June 1, 2015, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that a ban on poultry shows and swaps was to be immediately enacted in response to a growing concern about highly pathogenic avian influenza entering the state. Michigan is home to a very large poultry industry, with large scale poultry operations spread across the state. Highly pathogenic avian influenza would be absolutely devastating if it were to affect the Michigan poultry industry.

In response, Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development programs offered alternative activities that provided youth with an opportunity to still learn, grow and develop in their poultry project through various contests and simulations. Although it was a different experience, it was none the less valuable.

Over 94 percent of county 4-H programs moved forward with offering alternative activities in their county. 4-H program coordinators, volunteers and members were responsible for the high rate of success in continuing to offer opportunities for youth in showmanship, breeding and marketing youth’s projects.

The Michigan 4-H Poultry Showmanship Scorecard was altered to reflect the inability to use live birds for the examination. Instead, the process focused on youth’s knowledge of poultry and bio-security principles. The use of bird models allowed youth to still physically go through a proper showmanship examination, which is typically awarded the most points on the scorecard; however, in the modified scorecard, the emphasis was placed on youth’s knowledge.

Youth were also able to create posters, displays and models to help educate the public about their breed of bird. Youth were able to participate in an interview judging experience with their pieces and demonstrate to a judge their knowledge and skill in poultry management.

Lastly, some counties took part in contests such as quiz bowls, skill-a-thons, cage decorating and egg tosses. Incorporating fun, team activities was a positive activity to include because it brought youth together during the experience.

Market poultry was able to be sold through the typical auctions during the fair. The only difference was that youth displayed a picture of their birds instead of the live bird. In a majority of counties, youth were rewarded for their tenacity by higher than average sale prices.

This experience was a challenge of the 4-H program’s flexibility, nimbleness and adaptability. Dedicated staff, volunteers and youth met this challenge head on and were highly successful! Overall, although this experience was anything but typical, it was truly educational and has spurred programmatic change in many counties to incorporate more educational opportunities for youth and the general public during exhibition.

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