No birds allowed at local county fairs due to avian flu epidemic

Friday’s announcement of no local bird exhibits in Minnesota for the rest of 2015 has left local county fair organizers and poultry project participants disappointed but understanding.

Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) joined decision-makers at the University of Minnesota Extension canceling all bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Minnesota State Fair, swap meets, exotic sales, petting zoos and all other events where the birds would gather.

The purpose of the board’s directive is to minimize the spread of the H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI.)

“Taking this step makes sense,” said Dr. Beth Thompson, BAH’s assistant director, in a press release.

“We need to do everything possible to get rid of this virus, and preventing the commingling of birds from different farms is one way to do that.”

The cancellation of the Rock County 4-H’s July 29 poultry show involves about two-dozen exhibitors and about 100 birds, primarily chickens, brought to the annual fair.

“It’s going to be a disappointment for the kids,” said Beth Kalass, poultry superintendent for almost 20 years with Rock County 4-H.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Since March the HPAI has impacted nearly 90 farms in Minnesota with more reports of the deadly virus striking commercial turkey and chicken flocks in South Dakota and Iowa. More than 7 million birds have been affected in Minnesota alone.

There have been no reports of the virus in Rock County, according to the BAH website.

Minnesota Extension and its local directors are looking at options for project members who won’t be showing poultry locally or at the state fair in August.

Brad Rugg, the state’s Extension director, also said in a press release, “(Our) priority is youth and their learning experiences.

“Part of our job developing the next generation of agricultural leaders includes teaching youth best practices to ensure the health and safety of the animals they raise.”

Jenna Schelhaas, a member of the County K-9 4-H club, has been showing chickens for eight years.

She planned to enroll 20 chickens in the local county fair. Friday, May 15, was also the enrollment deadline for 4-H livestock.

“I am a little disappointed that they did this a little late,” Schelhaas said.

She is, however, eager to take part in other activities at the fair involving poultry, including the promotion of raising a flock.

“They are pretty low maintenance. … Anyone can take care of them,” Schelhaas said.

However, raising a flock could prove difficult with the current influenza outbreak.

According to the BAH, influenza in poultry falls into two groups: low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and HPAI.

Similar to influenza in humans, poultry infected with LPAI usually experience only mild signs including respiratory distress and nasal discharge, ruffled feathers or drop in egg production.

In the past 40 years, LPAI has been successfully eliminated.

Unlike LPAI, however, the first indication of HPAI is sudden death, often without signs of illness.

For the latest news, hotline numbers and biosecurity steps to prevent the spreading of HPAI, go to www.mnairesponse.info.

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