The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced in June that, due to the spread of avian influenza across the United States, all live bird exhibitions for 2015 in Ohio would be cancelled. This includes all shows and sales at county fairs in the state and also the Ohio State Fair.
“It’s going to be a big change for us. In discussing this year, we’re not aware of a similar situation happening in history where all the poultry shows have been cancelled here at the Fair so it’s a little bit unprecedented for us. But, that being said, we do have some time to get things in order and that’s been really beneficial for us,” said Alicia Shoults, Ohio Expo Center and State Fair Director of Marketing and Public Relations. “We’ve been working really closely with Ohio 4-H along with FFA and the Ohio Poultry Association to try to come up with ways that youth, 4-H, and FFA exhibitors can still be a part of the Ohio State Fair with their poultry exhibitions even without live birds, and as well as ways to educate the public.”
Without shows, Shoults said the Ohio State Fair has been staying busy coming up with ways to make sure it can still be an educational agricultural event, especially for those exhibitors who’ve been left without a live animal to compete with.
“On the youth exhibition side, there are really two primary ways that individuals can enter one or both of these competitions. There’s the Avian Bowl competition and that’s located off site at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on OSU’s campus and that’s going to be held on July 25 right in the morning at 8:30 a.m.,” Shoults said. “And then the other way that individuals can participate — and this is something that’s been going on for many years but we’ve kind of changed the structure of it this year — is the skillathon. The deadline to sign up is July 1. This year, the skillathon falls on Wednesday, August 5 during the fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. In previous years, it’s always been something where our poultry exhibitors who’ve already been on site here with their birds have been able to just walk up and enter. While we still certainly welcome those walk-up attendees who want to participate in the skillathon, we also really want to entice those individuals who may have either previously exhibited at the State Fair level, or at the county level, to participate,” she said. “We’ve got a form up on our website and the deadline is July 13. Anyone who goes and registers in advance for the poultry skillathon competition at ohiostatefair.com, we will send them a free admission ticket both for themselves and for their parent or guardian so each person who enters will get two free admission tickets.”
Quite a few in the agricultural community have brought up questions regarding the Sale of Champions. Poultry has become a staple in the Sale over the years, but Shoults says those concerned about young people involved in poultry not being recognized have no need to worry.
“With the Sale of Champions, we’re actually going to recognize the winner of each skillathon age group. For a total of 10 winners in the Sale of Champions this year, that’s really a big change for us,” she said.
Though some have suggested other animals entering the Sale, she said their main focus at the moment is making sure those young people involved in poultry are recognized.
“Right now, we’re continually trying to find that way to highlight the poultry industry and just shift the reserve and grand meat chickens and the grand champion market turkey and try to find a way to replace those,” she said. “The plans at least at this point in time are to replace those three entries with this one combined exhibit.”
Monetary prizes will also be increased for winners of this year’s knowledge competitions in poultry.
“The skillathon winners that would represent the poultry industry would get an extra $100 in addition to the premiums that they’ve already received, which are also increased just for this year only. The first place winner for each age class is going to get $225, the second place winner gets $175, and the third place winner in each age class gets $155. So that first place winner, in addition to the $225, they’re going to get another $100 and the famed belt buckle and of course the opportunity to shine in the spotlight here at the Sale of Champions,” Shoults said. “What’s really neat about this particular change is that it’s kind of the one shot that a lot of the individuals who have waterfowl projects, breeding chicken, or breeding turkey projects get to be in the Sale of Champions because it’s primarily been market animals that have been a part of that in the past.”
As is the norm from year to year, the Ohio State Fair is welcoming several new events and activities for 2015 to both the livestock and non-exhibition sides fair.
“We’ve got a couple new things going on on the livestock side. We’ve been working with our beef exhibitors to do EID tags this year. So we’ll be doing EID tags and scanning when all of those exhibitors arrive and we’ve been doing some DNA with that as well. That’s a little bit of a new change,” Shoults said. “We’re looking forward to going into our second year of the dairy feeder calf show, which was really successful last year.”