Waukesha County Fair opens; exhibitors happy bird flu rule lifted

The Waukesha County Fair opened Wednesday, July 20 and welcomed guests that were banned until just a month ago: chickens, geese and turkeys.

Previously, the birds were not allowed at any live events because of bird flu. Fair organizers are closely monitoring the health of all the birds, but worries that the illness could return are ruffling feathers.

"When you work so hard to build something – it’s hard to think about it all disappearing," said 19-year-old Amara Bugenhagen.

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The Waukesha County Fair is a big deal for people like Bugenhagen; her family owns a hobby farm in Mukwonago with about 60 chickens. This year, her dreams of showing her prized flock almost didn't happen.

"We normally have a lot more birds here, but I’m glad we still have a show in general and kids still can come to participate," she said.

Amara Bugenhagen

The state banned poultry at live events, like county fairs, from May until the end of June due to bird flu.

"We did have to put everything on pause prior to that," said Waukesha County Fair President Aaron Schuett.

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When the fair opened Wednesday, it came with a last-minute rush of entries. Exhibitors had to cram four months' worth of preparation into the last 30 days because of that now-expired bird ban.

"The exhibitors were ecstatic they could come to the fair and show the exhibits they worked on so hard during the year," Schuett said.

2022 Waukesha County Fair

Wisconsin's State Veterinarian Darlene Konkle said, for now, bird flu is no longer a worry. There haven't been any confirmed Wisconsin cases of bird flu in more than a month. 

"There is a possibility that it could return in the fall when migrating birds come through," she said.

All commercial farms impacted have since resumed normal operations. That includes a farm in Palmyra where nearly three million chickens and eggs had to be destroyed in March.

Palmyra bird-flu carcass composting

"They have to get put down to stop the spread – and it did," said Bugenhagen.

Bugenhagen couldn't miss this year's fair; it's her last as a member of 4-H.

"This year, I had my best batch of babies," she said. "I was sad and worried."

Zoos are also lifting their precautions. The Racine Zoo reopened its aviary last months. While the Milwaukee County Zoo's aviary and penguin exhibit remain closed, it is expected to reopen in the next week or two.