How to Prepare Livestock for a County Fair

If you're considering entering animals at a county fair, here are the health and identification requirements you can expect before they hit the show ring.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Late summer and early fall is prime county fair time with 4-H members blow-drying their steers, fluffing their chickens and training their hogs. Everyone’s busy, including the vets. If you’re considering entering an animal into a fair this season, you must do certain things before setting foot (or hoof) into the show ring. Here’s what you should anticipate.

Health Certificates

Before animals of any species are allowed in a county fair, owners must present certificates of veterinary inspection, commonly called CVIs. These documents show that a veterinarian has examined the animals and, at the time of inspection, found them free from various contagious diseases.

The most common contagious diseases seen in show livestock include ringworm, respiratory disease, foot rot and warts. If an animal demonstrates signs of contagious disease or is otherwise unhealthy, a vet will not write a health certificate. Additionally, animals are examined prior to entry onto most fairgrounds. If at this point an animal appears sick, that animal will be denied entry. This is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the rest of the animals on the grounds in close quarters.

Permanent Identification

Ensuring livestock have a form of permanent ID is the next step. All individual livestock must be identified in some manner, usually in the form of a unique number/letter combination that links an animal to its owner. This helps ensure traceability of livestock during interstate movement. There are set ID methods determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that are considered “permanent.” These include special ear tags for small ruminants and cattle, ear tattoos for cattle, microchips for horses and alpacas, ear notches for pigs, and leg bands for poultry.


All animal owners must show proof of their livestock’s current vaccinations before entering the a county fair. Required vaccinations depend on the species as well as federal, state and local regulations. In general, however, cattle and small ruminants should be vaccinated for tetanus while all species should be vaccinated for rabies. Horses are typically required to show proof of a negative Coggins test.

Timing of these pre-fair events is critical, too. Typically, health certificates are good for only 30 days, although ID and vaccinations can be done earlier in the year.

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An extremely rewarding aspect of helping farmers and their children prepare for the fair is that many animals I examine for health certificates in August are ones I have seen (or even delivered) the previous spring. Seeing a lamb grow from a gangly heap of legs to a mature, well-proportioned specimen of the breed is really neat, even if this fine example head-butts me as I examine him for foot rot. As for the actual training for the ring? Well, that’s up to you.

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