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Ohio State University Extension


Providing Livestock Comfort at the County Fair

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Revised 2021: Glen Arnold, Associate Professor, Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Hancock County
Revised 2021: Chris Zoller, Associate Professor, Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Tuscarawas County
Original author: Glen Arnold, Associate Professor, Ohio State University Extension
Original author: Steve Ruhl, Associate Professor, Ohio State University Extension
Original author: Mike Brugger, Associate Professor, Ohio State University Extension

Most Ohio county fairs have days that are hot and miserable for livestock, youth exhibitors, and fairgoers. When temperatures rise above 80 degrees and the relative humidity is above 65 percent, the comfort of both livestock and people is compromised. Heat stress can predispose livestock to illness and even death. Organizers of county fairs should provide exhibition animals with the most comfortable environment possible to prevent undue stress.

At the fair, livestock and exhibitors spend most of their time inside buildings. Fairgoers also spend considerable time viewing the exhibits and shows in these same buildings. Therefore, the buildings need to be properly ventilated to minimize the heat stress on the occupants.

Fair buildings need good air exchange to keep the inside temperatures as close to outside temperatures as possible. When the temperature and humidity cannot be lowered, more air movement over people and animals removes heat, helping to reduce heat stress. Fair managers should evaluate existing buildings for good air exchange and air movement, and make building modifications, when needed, to improve environmental conditions.

Fair buildings are not conducive to creating the ventilation found in most commercial livestock facilities. Those facilities utilize tunnel ventilation during hot summer months. County fair buildings cannot easily be converted to tunnel ventilation as they are designed for both animals and people to be continuously entering and exiting the facility. In addition, the number of fans needed to create a four-to-five-mile-per-hour flow rate for only one week each year would be cost prohibitive. Mechanical ventilation systems using negative pressure do not work because the intake openings cannot be controlled. This causes air to short circuit, making the system ineffective (Iowa State University 1990). Commercial swine and some dairy facilities also utilize water to cool animals during periods of hot weather. Drip coolers and mist systems work well in commercial facilities but are difficult to adapt to fair buildings.

People can regulate their body temperature during hot weather by sweating. The evaporation of sweat cools the body. This is not the case for most livestock exhibited at county fairs. Cattle, pigs, rabbits, and poultry do not effectively cool their body temperatures by sweating. Cattle rely on respiration and cooler evenings to eliminate accumulated heat. The problem for rabbits is compounded by their thick fur. While wild rabbits can seek burrows or other shaded areas, exhibition rabbits may be exposed to more direct sun. Poultry do not have sweat glands. They rely on panting to evaporate water from their throats. Pigs are best cooled by wetting their skin and allowing the water to evaporate.

Large, white, barn-like structure.

Common Problems with Buildings Found on Fairgrounds

Building ventilation brings fresh and cool outdoor air indoors to keep the inside temperature, humidity, and airflow at comfortable levels. However, county fair buildings are commonly not properly ventilated. Some reasons for this include:

  1. The buildings were originally built for cool weather: Many fairgrounds have older buildings that were constructed when county fairs were held during cooler autumn weather. For whatever reason, though, fair dates changed, and county fairs are now typically held during much warmer weather. The older block and mortar buildings do not lend themselves well to being remodeled or opened up to allow summer breezes to blow through.
  2. Buildings primarily are used for storage: Many county fair buildings are used for storage during the non-fair season to generate income. A building that can be easily secured is more attractive for storage, so fair boards may not have an incentive to open buildings for just the one week of the year when fair is held.
    RVs and campers parked inside a large building with exposed beams, trusses, and supports.


  3. Newer buildings interfere with the airflow through older buildings: Many fairgrounds are hemmed in by residential housing or industrial developments and cannot expand. Thus, new buildings are constructed close to existing ones, which can interfere with natural airflow. In Ohio, summer winds blow primarily from the southwest. Plan for new buildings to take advantage of this wind, when possible. Allowing as much space as possible between livestock buildings on fairgrounds can help prevent heat from building up.
  4. Older buildings are not managed as the builders intended: Many older fair buildings are cavernous compared to those constructed more recently. These older buildings were likely built with ridge or gable openings near the ridge (possibly windows), which were eventually painted shut or boarded up. Closing these openings traps heat that would normally have escaped in the building. This can be especially true if the building has no insulation under the roof.
    Large, white, barn-like structure sits next to paved road.


  5. The electricity supply available to run fans is often limited: Electrical updates are expensive and sometimes not within the means of the fair board’s budget. However, fans to provide air movement over larger fair animals have been common for many years and are also gaining popularity with exhibitors of smaller animals. This increase in electrical usage can easily overload the existing electrical system, causing power outages. In some instances, overhead electrical wires can overheat and sag creating a dangerous situation.

To overcome the electrical problems, generators are often brought to the fair by exhibitors. But electrical generators can be noisy and distracting for fairgoers. They can also create a dangerous situation by drowning out the sound of approaching vehicles, runaway livestock, and public service announcements about inclement weather. If fair boards allow the use of electrical generators to supplement the available electrical supply, they need to provide an isolated location where the generator noise will not be too loud for the general fair population. Generator noise can also be muffled with barriers such as plywood or shrubs.

Means to Provide Animal-Friendly Facilities

Pig lying on its side within an enclosure with bars to allow air movement.
  1. Renovate and build animal-friendly facilities: When new, naturally ventilated livestock facilities are constructed on fairgrounds it would be helpful to follow the design recommendations “Natural Ventilating Systems for Livestock Housing,” which has suggestions for ridge openings, gable openings, sidewall openings, and spacings between buildings (Iowa State University 1989). The guidelines in this handbook can assure that new, naturally ventilated facilities are properly designed.

Existing naturally ventilated livestock buildings on fairgrounds can be modified to provide more livestock comfort. Fair boards can often improve environments in older buildings by opening the long-closed air outlets that the original builders intended to be open. Ridge openings can be installed, allowing hot air to escape upward through the building and be replaced by cooler air from outside the building.

A tan building with roof and open sides on a concrete slab.

Properly sized ridge openings are sized for 2 inches of opening for each 10 feet of building width. Thus, a 30-foot-wide building would need a 6-inch ridge opening. Ridge opening designs can incorporate continuous ridges or waterproof structures at proper intervals. As an alternative to open ridges, copulas are an attractive means of ridge ventilation without the problems of rain and snow entering an open ridge. Design the copulas with at least 1 square foot of net opening for every 100 square feet of floor area.

Ridge openings are more effective in the fall, winter, and spring. But they are less effective in the summer due to the small temperature difference between inside and outside air. When the temperature and humidity outside the building is stressful to livestock, the temperature and humidity inside will be no better. Properly designed and installed ridge openings will extend the life of a building by delaying premature rust on truss plates and fasteners.

Open-sided building with gray roof and fence-type of enclosure around the base of building.

If an existing livestock building has solid walls, then it may be possible to create openings to aid in natural ventilation. Great care must be taken not to weaken the structure, so it’s important to involve a structural engineer in designing the openings. Place sidewall openings at animal height if possible.

When replacing roofs on fair buildings, consider adding insulation to assist in preventing heat buildup. In past years, some fair boards have applied water to building roofs during hot weather to prevent heat buildup. When building new livestock buildings, make them as narrow and open as possible to allow heat to escape from the building. Buildings under 40 feet wide with plenty of sidewall openings provide better environments.

  1. Proper management of shade devices: Many fair buildings utilize tarps to provide shade for animals when the sun is positioned to shine into the facility and stress the animals located along the outer walls. This can happen in swine or small animal buildings built with open walls. Often a tarp is lowered to prevent the morning sun from shining into a building and left in place for the remainder of the day. This allows the tarp to trap heat in the building. Using the tarp to block the sun is a sound strategy. However, the tarp should be raised during the hours it is not providing shade to prevent it from trapping heat.
  2. Supplemental air mixing fans: Individual fans in the aisles at people-level can pose a safety concern for fairgoers and exhibitors. Safety should always be considered before installing any fans.
  3. Have all fans in a building blowing in the same direction or in a racetrack fashion: Ventilation fans are commonly used at county fairs to move air, especially around large livestock. A growing trend at county fairs is to have all ventilation fans in a livestock building blowing air in the same direction, or to blow air around the inside of a large building in a circular (or, racetrack) fashion. While not as effective as the true tunnel ventilation used with many modern commercial livestock facilities, this method does tend to move air more effectively than having all the fans functioning independently. If possible, take advantage of any prevailing winds.
    Black cows inside a barn with fans all blowing in the same direction affixed to rafters above them.


  4. Consider ceiling fans: Ceiling fans are gaining popularity at county fairs as a method to create moving air to cool animals. Ceiling fans can be located above livestock and can provide air movement while being out of reach of visitors and exhibitors. In recent years, ceiling fans have evolved in size and can now measure up to 60 feet in diameter. Ceiling fans that are 5 feet in diameter can be purchased for less than $100 per fan and operate on approximately 100 watts per hour. A 60-inch ceiling fan can produce approximately 25,000 to 45,000 cubic feet per minute of airflow. This provides good air movement for approximately 1,000 square feet.
    Ceiling fans mounted above animal stalls inside a barn.


The Morrow County Fair (Ohio) installed 60-inch ceiling fans in their junior fair horse barn and main show arenas before the 2003 fair. In an 80 x 270-foot horse barn, these fans were installed at 20-foot intervals down the aisles. The 70 x 130-foot show arena had twelve 60-inch ceiling fans installed. The spacing was one fan per 750 square feet. Fair exhibitors and fairgoers reported that these fans increased the comfort of animals and people. These fans were installed to be permanent fixtures. Storage of the ceiling fans can present a problem during the off-season for fair boards where security concerns will not permit them to remain installed. Ceiling fans designed for agricultural or industrial uses should be used to allow a long service period.

Other Steps Fair Boards and Exhibitors Can Take to Improve Comfort

  1. Timing of livestock movement: Hauling livestock to the county fair can add to the stress on animals. Enclosed trailers that do not provide air movement should be avoided. Hauling livestock in the early morning or late evening creates the least amount of heat stress, as these are the coolest times of the day. Arrival times for livestock to the county fair should allow owners to avoid the hottest time of the day. When loaded, trucks and trailers should keep moving because heat rapidly builds up in a stationary vehicle. The checking of livestock registration papers and inspection of the animals as they enter the fairgrounds should be coordinated as efficiently as possible, so livestock trailers do not wait in line longer than necessary.

During hot weather, hogs should be wetted down immediately after loading, and sand or wet wood shavings should be used for bedding. Fair activities such as weighing, showing, and showmanship should also be done during the cooler times of the day.

  1. Grouping of animals: The lower the animal density within a building, the less heat will be created. Perhaps the least heat-tolerant animal species commonly found at county fairs are chickens. Grouping chickens, rabbits, and other small animals in buildings with larger animals (i.e., cattle) tends to increase heat stress on the small animals, resulting in possible deaths. Fair exhibitors often use bottles of frozen water to cool smaller animals at the fair. Providing space for each exhibitor to store two or three bottles in a freezer allows thawed bottles to be replaced with frozen bottles to cool smaller animals.
    Three white rabbits inside a cage stretch out near a frozen bottle of water to stay cool.


  2. Availability of cool drinking water: Cool water should be available to county fair livestock at frequent intervals, especially when heat stress conditions exist. Always consider the use of waterers to allow animal access to water without creating messy pens.

While commercial swine facilities often use drippers or misters to cool pigs during hot weather, most county fair buildings are not designed to utilize water in this manner. Most fair livestock buildings have flat concrete floors or dirt floors that can become messy because they aren’t sloped to allow excess water to drain outside the building.

  1. Tying animals so they can lie down comfortably: Tying larger fair animals outside at night can help cool them. Always be sure tethered animals can lie down comfortably. Overactivity and/or placing animals in a poor environment causes them additional discomfort.
  2. Holding fairs in colder weather: In colder weather, the biggest problem can be providing sufficient ventilation to maintain a healthy environment inside buildings. Under colder conditions, buildings do not require as many total openings, but do require some openings for good air exchange. Poor air exchange can increase the risk of respiratory problems. At a minimum, buildings should have ridge openings to provide the equivalent of 2 inches of width for each 10 feet of building width and the same amount of opening at the eave or sidewall.

Additional sidewall openings can keep the building from getting too hot during a sunny fall day. Problems develop when the building is closed too tightly at night to keep the temperature warmer for the exhibitors staying with the animals. Remember, the first priority is animal comfort and health.


Fair boards, building superintendents, volunteers, and livestock exhibitors can all work together to provide the best environment possible for animals at county fairs. Proper building design, proper building management, and keeping plenty of cool, fresh water in front of animals can create a more positive fair experience for animals and exhibitors.

Safety must be a high priority at county fairs. When fans or other building modifications are made to improve environments for animals and fairgoers, be sure safety is the highest priority. Fair officials should consult with qualified contractors and licensed electricians before making modifications to existing buildings.


Dewell, Grant. 2010. “Heat Stress in Beef Cattle.” Iowa State University, Production Animal Medicine.

Martinson, Krishona, Marcia Hathaway, Christie Ward, and Roy Johnson. 2020. “Caring for horses during hot weather.” University of Minnesota Extension, Horse care and management.

University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture and Kentucky Poultry Federation. n.d.  “Chapter 7 - Air Temperature.” Poultry Production Manual. Accessed September 17, 2021.


Iowa State University. 1990. Mechanical Ventilating Systems for Livestock Housing. Midwest Plan Service, Bulletin 32.

Iowa State University. 1989. Natural Ventilating Systems for Livestock Housing. Midwest Plan Service, Bulletin 33.

Originally posted Sep 20, 2021.