The week of the Washington County Fair was hot — the hottest week in the county so far this year.

Washington County was under an “excessive heat” advisory for most of the week, with the heat index rising above 100 degrees in several areas.

Fans were propped up at every corner of the fairgrounds, but it was still hot in the barns.

That heat was blamed in the deaths of three production broiler chickens during check-in Sunday evening, July 14. 

“It’s not a pervasive problem,” Poultry Superintendent Marty Van Roekel said.

“Poultry and rabbits are susceptible,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life.”

He said the combination of unusually high temperatures and the stress of transportation proved deadly.

“They just couldn’t take the heat, the poor little things,” said Nancy Adrian, Washington County Extension director.

Fair board members were quick to take action.

Although it is difficult to regulate the temperature of an open-air barn, fair board members used a thermometer to gauge the barn’s temperature at consistent intervals, specifically in the area surrounding the broilers.

“We changed the fan flow in the barn,” said Van Roekel, who said that additional fans were placed above poultry pens to aid airflow.

Van Roekel said he used a thermometer to measure the temperature at the corners of the pens consistently throughout the fair to ensure the barn remained at an acceptable temperature for the animals.

“The highest it got was 87.2 degrees,” he said.

While fair organizers were able to hold down the temperature in the barn, outside in the sun, temperatures soared throughout the week.

“Sunday was the warmest of that stretch,” said David Cousins, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service.

Temperatures for the day peaked at around 4:30 p.m., with the heat index climbing as high as 101 degrees.  

Board members decided to change the scope of broiler chicken projects for future fairs.

In coming years, the check-in time for broiler chickens will be moved to the Monday morning of fair week, rather than the Sunday evening prior. 

The age and size requirements for broiler chickens also will change, so that they will be younger, and will not yet have reached full market size by the time they arrive at the fairgrounds.

“We’re taking measures to reduce the problem happening again,” said Van Roekel, who added that he hopes the incident will not detract from “all of the good the fair does for the kids.”

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