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NY bans birds from county and state fairs this year

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 May 2015 at 12:00 am

Move made to protect against avian flu

File photo by Tom Rivers – These turkeys were part of last year’s meat auction at the 4-H Fair in Knowlesville. The state has banned turkeys, ducks and other fowl from fairs this year.

KNOWLESVILLE – The annual 4-H Fair in late July will be missing some mainstays – turkeys, chickens, ducks, peacocks and other fowl.

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has banned the birds from all county fairs and the state fair this year. Richard Ball, state agriculture commissioner, issued the order on Tuesday, saying the state needs to be proactive in fighting the potential spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

“Avian influenza has not yet been detected in New York State, but it is a very serious threat to poultry and all breeds of fowl and is continuing to spread,” Ball said on Tuesday. “Despite the efforts of the best poultry health experts in North America, we do not fully understand the cause of the rapid spread of this virus. This commonsense step will help limit the spread of the influenza to other farms and chickens.”

Orleans County had 126 entries in fowl events in last year’s fair from 27 kids in the 4-H program. The news from the state is disappointing to the 4-H’ers, but the kids will still work to educate the public about poultry, said Cara Wachob, the poultry superintendent along with her husband Jim.

“It’s definitely a disappointment, but we want to do our part to stop the spread of avian flu in New York State,” she said.

Robert Batt, the 4-H educator in Orleans County, said kids in the poultry program may do photography displays of their chickens, turkeys and other fowl. They may also have other educational displays about the birds.

Batt said the ban is the first he’s experienced in a 4-H career going back about two decades. He understands the need to safeguard the poultry industry.

“It’s absolutely a safety thing,” he said.

Wachob said the local 4-H’ers will put some of the energy they would have used in preparing the birds for the fair into educational displays about the industry and poultry sicence.

The ban covers all breeds of fowl, including chickens, pigeons, turkeys, pheasants, guinea fowl, bantam poultry, geese, and ducks. Exhibitors who have already registered fowl for the 2015 New York State Fair will be contacted and will receive a refund of their entry fees.

“This is a disappointment to us as well as to fairgoers and our exhibitors, who look forward to this competition every year,” said Troy Waffner, acting fair director. “But we believe people understand that we are stewards of the animals in our care and I know they understand that we’re doing what’s best for everyone, and especially for the birds.”

The State Fair has already made plans to fill the space in the Poultry Barn normally used for displaying chickens with rabbits and cavies, and the daily rooster crowing contest will be replaced by a rabbit hopping demonstration on seven days.

While the current strains of avian influenza circulating in the Midwest are extraordinarily deadly to birds, experts stress that the H5N2 and H5N8 strains are not a threat to humans. Chicken and eggs are safe to eat, the Department of Ag and Markets advised.