Biosecurity at the Fair

By Sally Colby

Livestock competitions held at summer fairs provide a great venue for both serious breeders and hobbyists to exhibit animals, compare them to animals from other farms, and get a judge's professional evaluation of those animals. These shows also provide an opportunity for livestock owners to answer questions from the public and can be a valuable advertising opportunity for the farm. However, fairs mean that animals are not only commingled, but will likely be in contact with other exhibitors and fair visitors - circumstances that create a disease risk. A good biosecurity plan for those who exhibit animals at fairs should begin before animals leave the farm and continue for several weeks after the animals return home.

Biosecurity encompasses any measures that help prevent disease in healthy animals. Animals are most likely to become ill through disease acquired through direct contact, aerosol transmission or fomites. Fomites include any inanimate object that can carry a disease-causing agent from one animal to another. Common fomites at livestock fairs include feed and water buckets, grooming tools and halters.

Animals in a lineup in a livestock class are close together and share walking surfaces. Your own boots and clothing can become contaminated during a show, so always change clothes after the show and prior to caring for animals at home.
Photos by Sally Colby.

Removing animals from a familiar environment, placing them on a truck or trailer and unloading them in a different place causes stress, even if it isn't obvious. Stress, along with the potential commingling of animals from other farms, creates the perfect scenario for disease.

Animals that will be exhibited should be fully immunized according to your veterinarian's recommendations, which should be in accordance with state or federal requirements. When planning the trip, place health certificates for each animal (or the herd or flock) in a plastic sleeve and store them in a binder so they're easy to access. It's a good idea to keep health certificates, registration papers, entry fee receipts and other paperwork together in the same binder.

Before the show, prepare a quarantine area for housing animals upon return to the farm. This area should be far enough away from other livestock that aerosol contamination is impossible. Quarantine should be at least 14 days; 30 days is ideal. Pens that have held quarantined animals should be thoroughly disinfected and left empty for at least 30 days after use.

Try to acclimate your animals to fair conditions as much as possible prior to the event by tying them out frequently, as well as loading them into the trailer and unloading them. For small animals such as poultry or rabbits, use an unfamiliar cage placed in a different area at home. Fairs in certain locations have city water, which some animals refuse to drink. If possible, obtain water from a different source to see if your animals will drink it. If not, try adding a package of instant gelatin or sweetened drink mix, such as Kool-Aid, to the drinking water.

When it's time to pack for the fair, figure out how you'll store equipment such as feed and water buckets, shovels, rakes, grooming tools, halters and lead ropes at the fair. Store these items to prevent unauthorized use by others, and be prepared to politely refuse requests to borrow any equipment.

At check-in, a veterinarian or other trained individual should be reviewing health papers on incoming animals as well as doing visual inspections for obvious signs of illness, blisters or open sores on animals' mouths and hooves.

While at the fair, monitor your own animals closely and have a basic treatment plan in case one becomes ill. Livestock owners should also be aware of other animals' health conditions. Report any animals that are limping or coughing, as well as animals that have open sores or discharge from the eyes.

If you plan to purchase animals at a livestock sale, assess their health and make sure that they have a veterinary certificate of health appropriate for the state of origin. If you plan to move animals across state lines, make sure that the health certificate is valid for interstate movement.

Animals that are exhibited multiple times throughout the show season are at higher risk for illness due to increased exposure to other animals, and they undergo additional stress each time they're moved. Plan to keep these animals separate throughout the entire show season so you can monitor their health and prevent possible disease transmission to other animals.

If the fair is close to your home and you plan to return home each evening, change or disinfect your boots prior to caring for animals at home. Make sure boots and equipment are free from organic matter before disinfection. Consult your veterinarian for suggestions about appropriate disinfectants.

Remember that fairgoers may have attended other fairs recently and can bring contamination from a source unrelated to the fair at which you are exhibiting animals. If the fair includes a petting zoo, take some time to observe the health of animals in the exhibit. Remember that fairgoers might visit the petting zoo and then come to the animal housing area and touch your animals. If you provide animals for a petting zoo, monitor the health status of those animals, especially if they are housed with animals from other farms. Make sure there are signs that instruct visitors to wash their hands after handling animals, and that there are adequate hand-washing stations available.

Livestock shows at fairs are an excellent learning and social opportunity for both the livestock owner and fair visitors, but biosecurity should be the priority for the health and safety of livestock, their owners and the public.

The author is a frequent contributor and freelance writer who farms and raises Great Pyrenees in south-central Pennsylvania. Comment or question? Visit and join in the discussions.