Chickens flock back to state fairs after bird flu outbreak

MINNEAPOLIS — Chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese are flocking back to state fairs across the country after a one-year absence due to a historic bird flu outbreak that forced a ban on live poultry exhibitions in several states.

The outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza was regarded as the worst livestock disease disaster to ever hit the country, costing farmers nearly 50 million birds by the time it ended in June 2015. Iowa, the country's top egg producer, and Minnesota, the No. 1 turkey producer, were by far the hardest hit states.

But because the disease hasn't been detected in the U.S. since the outbreak, the fairs now are allowing bird exhibitions — including competitions for kids sponsored by 4-H and FFA.

Tiana and Kayla Lenzmeier, who live near the east-central Minnesota town of North Branch, grew up in 4-H, and their 10-year-old sister, Ella, is following in their footsteps. But the two older girls missed out on the chance to show their birds last year after the Minnesota State Fair canceled its poultry exhibitions.

The sisters were disappointed, but they jumped at the chance to make special projects to display at last year's fair instead. And they said what they learned during the hiatus is helping them now as they get ready for the fair, which opens Thursday.

"Everybody is very glad to have poultry back," said Marla Calico, president and CEO of the Missouri-based International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

Fairs had no choice last year because of the need to protect the country's food supply, Calico said. But they rose to the challenge and came up with innovative ways to let the affected kids participate anyway, she added.

Tiana Lenzmeier, 17, will be showing market geese this year. Since she couldn't show her birds last year, she did her alternative project on the digestive system and poultry nutrition.

"We had the opportunity to learn about our birds in depth and I think it helps us with showmanship," she said.

Kayla Lenzmeier, 15, is showing bantam ducks, which she said are "a difficult breed" to successfully hatch. But the pause gave her time for a project she had long wanted to tackle on duck embryology, breaking open incubating eggs every few days and preserving the embryos for a display on how they develop. She said that helped give her the knowledge she needed to get her ducks to hatch so she could show them at this year's fair.

"We were handed a whole bushel of lemons and somehow figured out how to make it into lemonade," said Brad Rugg, director of fairs and animal science programs for Minnesota 4-H.

Rugg expects only a slight decrease in poultry showings this year compared with a normal 250 birds. One reason for the dip is that some kids switched last year to rabbits or other animals that weren't affected by the ban and stuck with them.

Poultry returned to the Iowa State Fair earlier this month. Participation was down "just a few," said Derek Straube, superintendent of the fair's FFA Poultry Show.

But enthusiasm was high, he said, "especially the kids that have the fancy birds." Breeding fancy chickens is a multi-year proposition for many families, he explained, so missing last year's state fair and county fairs cost them a year's worth of feedback as they strove to perfect their birds.

Iowa 4-H members exhibited 710 birds while FFA members showed 266.

City people visiting the fair were also glad to have the birds back, Straube said.

"There was something missing at the fair without poultry there," he said.

Related News

Image of Asia: Taking part in the festival of the janai

Aug 18, 2016

Image of Asia: A Hindu priest adjusts his hair while performing rituals during Janai Purnima in Kathmandu, Nepal

A festival to remember a riot? New York event stirs debate

Aug 18, 2016

A plan to mark the 25th anniversary of one of New York City's most searing race riots with a family oriented festival has brought criticism from relatives of a man killed in the violence

Rare Tyrannosaurus rex skull arrives at Seattle museum

Aug 19, 2016

Paleontologists with Seattle's Burke Museum have unearthed the bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex that lived more than 66 million years ago, including a rare nearly complete 4-foot long skull

Must Read

Japanese Prime Minister Abe wows Rio finale as Super Mario

Aug 22, 2016

Doffing a big red hat, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "emerged" from a big green pipe as the game character Super Mario in an appearance at the Rio games' closing ceremony that is winning accolades for his theatrics

Animal charity removes 15 animals it rescued from Gaza zoo

Aug 24, 2016

International charity removes 15 animals rescued from Gaza Strip's main zoo for resettlement abroad

Park Service celebrates 100 years, seeks minorities' support

Aug 24, 2016

The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday Thursday

About Us

Tale Out is your go-to website when it comes to global travel and lifestyle news. If you need suggestions for the most relaxing places for vacation or some zen spa retreat, we have it all here in Tale Out.

Contact us: