Avian flu: State & county fairs creatively replace poultry shows across the nation
Special to the Free Press
As state and county fairs across the United States gear up for the busy summer show season, some familiar faces might be missing: live poultry. Yet, this year’s worst outbreak of avian influenza H5N2 in U.S. history is not preventing a few fair directors from getting creative about bringing together the poultry community.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 47 million birds in 16 states have died or been slaughtered since December 2014. Although the H5N2 virus has been moving around the globe for years, spreading via direct contact with infected wild and domestic birds, this particularly deadly strain mutation has state animal boards and agriculture departments scrambling to get the virus under control.
In hopes of containing the virus and lessening the economic impact on the multi-billion dollar U.S. poultry industry, a number of state animal health boards have enacted statewide bans on the comingling of birds at poultry shows, exhibitions and public sales — not including private sales — for the rest of 2015. Minnesota was one of those states.
“Some 4-H’ers will be disappointed that they won’t be able to show their poultry projects at fairs this summer, but we’re exploring alternate learning opportunities to offer them at fairs and will share more details as plans develop,” said Brad Rugg, Extension 4-H and State Fair and Animal Science program director in Minnesota.
“Part of our job developing the next generation of agriculture leaders includes teaching youth best practices to ensure the health and safety of the animals they raise, and this is that learning being put into action in the real world.”
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The statewide bans have forced fair organizers to get creative. Some states, like Minnesota and Pennsylvania, will be replacing the poultry shows with interactive displays and educational events as they continue to explore additional alternative show options.
Other fair organizers have chosen to replace the poultry shows entirely. The New York State Fair will hand over the usual poultry stage to and exhibit on rabbits. The daily rooster crowing contest will be replaced with a rabbit hopping exposition and a special demonstration on angora rabbits that will teach fair-goers how to cut, comb and spin rabbit fur into yarn.
The Elkhart County 4-H fair in Goshen, Indiana, is taking a more modern approach with inspiration from the popular game app Angry Birds. Using plush birds and slingshots, contestants will compete in a barn fly-off.
Although the Michigan State Fair has not announced official alternative activities in lieu of the canceled poultry shows, Michigan State University Extension has published an extensive collection of creative alternatives that fairs across the state are encouraged to use. Ideas range from showmanship with faux bird models to a creative build-a-bird contest using synthetic materials.
Caitlyn Carpenter, an employee at Munsell’s Poultry Processing in Fowlerville, Michigan, said her county fair in Ingham County — where her mother and aunt are superintendents — will rely on showmanship competitions using bird models and educational displays to fill the poultry barns this year.
“The kids are going to be judged obviously purely on how well they do the showmanship and nothing to do with the bird,” said 23-year-old Carpenter. “We’re also talking about opening up special bird-keeping projects and classes with some educational tables in our barn. We want to show that yes, we still have poultry in the county, this is still our project and the kids have still worked on it.”
Some states have not issued any state fair cancellations despite the presence of the virus within their borders. The Kansas Department of Agriculture placed movement bans on a few counties with infected birds, but has since lifted them after having inspected affected areas and clearing them of the virus. As of this date, the state has not released restrictions on live birds at state and county fairs.
The virus has been confirmed in 16 U.S. states so far: Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California.
As the virus shows no signs of slowing down, it’s up to bird owners to practice vigilant biosecurity measures to ensure the safety of their flocks at home and on the road to fairs allowing live poultry shows this summer.
The USDA suggests that all bird owners:
• Isolate your birds from visitors and other birds;
• Wear clean shoes and clothing when visiting bird cages;
• Clean vehicles and cages after traveling;
• Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors;
• Watch out for warning signs such as increase in sudden death, sneezing, coughing, watery or green diarrhea, lack of energy, swelling around the eyes, neck and head, and purple discoloration of wattles, combs and legs; and
• Report sick birds and deaths to a toll-free USDA hotline: 1–866–536–7593.
For more information about the avian influenza outbreak, please visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov.
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