By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BERRIEN SPRINGS — The cages were less empty this year at the Berrien County Youth Fair’s poultry barn.
On Wednesday morning, exhibitors stood beside their birds at the ready for the judge’s questions. The sight was a big relief to Chad Hettig, co-superintendent for the poultry barn, who helped run the alternative exhibitions at last year’s fair.
Due to a statewide ban on bird’s at county fairs last year, the Berrien Springs-centered fair had to get creative.
In an attempt to stamp out any spread of the avian flu that ran through Michigan in the summer of 2015, exhibitors used stuffed birds for the showmanship portion and made educational posters in an attempt to obtain blue ribbons.
Hettig said this year the fair has seen more poultry exhibitors with the return of live bird exhibitions. However, numbers were still down compared to the period prior to the bird ban.
“Yeah, there are more exhibitors this year, but it’s down a little bit from two years ago,” Hettig said. “That’s due to the fact that we didn’t have them last year and it was warm this summer. Some of the birds didn’t survive at home. Which meant they were unable to bring them or they were under weight in terms of market animals.
“Overall though, the kids are much happier this year. They’ve been away from it a year and they are happy to be back.”
Katelin Herr, 19, of Eau Claire was focused on her bird, which part in the Standard Cockerel class Wednesday. The bird is a bit larger than most and is under a year old.
Herr said she’s spent the last few months washing and blowdrying the bird, while also attending to its nails. She’s been participating in the fair for 14 years after she was given her first chicken from a breeder.
She had about 10 birds picked out and ready to go last year when she found out there was a ban on poultry. This year, she has four chickens and a duck competing for a ribbon.
Herr was one of the few who participated in the alternative poultry exhibitions last year.
“We made a biosecurity poster that was meant to bring awareness to the avian flu,” Herr recalled. “I was just glad to see all the people I only see this time of year. You make friends here and it’s tough to stay in touch when you’re an hour away.”
Herr was one of several exhibitors who transferred their birds to the adjoining tent, beside the poultry barn. In the tent, exhibitors lined up their birds on a table in front a small crowd and a judge.
Among the birds in play for exhibitions were chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys and pigeons.
For Hettig and the other volunteers at the poultry barn, they expect things to be back to normal in numbers in another year or two.
“We were surprised by the fact that we didn’t have more submissions,” Hettig said. “In prior years, we’ve had quite a few more birds. Right now we are transitioning from a year off, and some kids have probably moved onto other animals. Others might have dropped it all together.”