Fowl return to the fair

Enterprise file photo — Saranac Hale-Spencer

Following a longstanding tradition, kids will once again be able to show their chickens at the Altamont Fair. Last June’s statewide ban has been lifted.

ALTAMONT — The Altamont Fair is “thrilled” that the poultry barn will once again be filled with all variety of fowl come August, said the fair’s manager, Amy Anderson, this week.

Last year, because of avian flu in other parts of the country, New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets banned all live fowl competitions.

Prior to the ban, the Altamont Fair, which serves Albany, Greene, and Schenectady counties, in recent years has displayed 800 to 1,000 birds including chickens, ducks, guinea hens, and geese, in its poultry barn. The fair also holds judging competitions for youth.

“We were devastated last year,” said Anderson on Wednesday. “As we speak, we are getting the barn ready for chickens.” She went on about the birds, “You don’t realize how important they are until they’re gone. You don’t hear the roosters crowing, and it just doesn’t feel like the fair.”

The New York ban was instituted last June after avian flu had killed millions of birds and the federal Department of Agriculture declared it was the worst outbreak of HPAI in United States history.

“New York took an aggressive approach to preventing the spread of avian influenza and it paid off,” said State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball in a statement announcing the lifting of the ban. “I am very proud to say that thanks to the cooperation of farmers, suppliers, distributors, and live bird markets, as well as the hard work of the Department’s division of Animal Industry, the outbreak did not affect a single bird in the state and we look forward to their return at fairs this summer.”

The state’s department of agriculture continues to test poultry in live bird markets for avian influenza. Experts stress that the HPAI strains seen in recent years do not threaten human health.

Poultry has long been part of the Altamont Fair, said Jeffrey L’Arche, the fair’s poultry superintendent. A Catholic priest, L’Arche has been transferred to Amsterdam this past year but still remains the fair’s poultry superintendent, Anderson said.

“In the old days at the Altamont Fair,” L’Arche told The Enterprise last year, “there would be 5,000 to 10,000 birds. They used to have string men who would load birds on railroad cars or flatbed trailers and go from one fair to another.” In recent years, he said, most of the exhibitors at the fair are local and many of them are youth who raise their birds in 4-H programs.”

Last year’s Altamont Fair still managed to have its popular baby chicks exhibit. “We went to a state-certified avian-flu-free hatchery for them,” said Anderson. “They hatched in my office; they weren’t allowed to leave the fairgrounds.”

For over half a century, one of the most unusual and best-loved attractions at the fair has been the Chick Follies.  The tiny replicas of Altamont Fair carnival rides, to be used by chicks, were built by the late Richard Langenbach, the fair’s longtime poultry superintendent. Langenbach was a Willow Street neighbor of L’Arche when L’Arche was a boy and introduced him to the art and science of raising poultry.

“We just had the Chick Follies refurbished,” said Anderson. Her father-in-law, Boyd Anderson, updated the wiring and repainted the follies.

“It’s awesome,” said Amy Anderson.

She concluded, “We expect a full barn of chickens and we’ll have the peacocks outside.”

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