ODA bans poultry shows from fairs

Bird exhibitions will be absent from the Fulton County Fair this September after the Ohio Department of Agriculture shut down poultry shows across the state to stave off a deadly avian flu virus.

ODA Director David Daniels announced the ban last week in an effort to shield the state’s $2.3 billion poultry industry from the potential for catastrophic loss. No bird exhibitions will be permitted at county, state, and independent fairs, swap meets, auctions or other types of sales.

Calling his decision “an aggressive move,” Daniels said it’s necessary to prevent the flu virus from negatively impacting Ohio’s poultry population as it has the poultry populations in other states.

“This was a difficult decision because it means young people can’t show their birds at fairs, but it’s in the best interest of an industry that literally thousands of Ohio families and businesses depend on and which provides billions of dollars to our state economy,” he said.

According to ODA statistics, the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)-or avian flu-began striking poultry in the United States in 2014, and has affected 44 million birds at more than 197 sites. The “extremely contagious” H5N2 strain is believed to be carried by migratory birds, and often kills poultry within 24 hours of being contracted.

Ohio has 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets, and two million turkeys. It’s also the second largest producer of eggs in the country.

The virulent flu, which has been confirmed in cases in Indiana and Kentucky, originated in Asia, and crossed with the American strain. It made its appearance in the West, then reached the Pacific Flyway, the north to south path used by migrating Canadian geese and mallard ducks.

Dr. Tony Forshey, state veterinarian and ODA’s chief of animal health, said the flu doesn’t affect those birds but they’re carriers. “Every place they land…it’s shed in the feces. It’s tracked into the bird population,” he said.

The State of Iowa has lost 40 percent of its poultry production due to the deaths of roughly 29 million birds from H5N2. In Minnesota, the top turkey-producing state, the avian flu strain has devastated the industry.

No clinical cases have been reported in Ohio’s poultry population, and Dr. Forshey said banning bird exhibitions can prove a major step in keeping it healthy. He said the risk of spreading the flu among co-mingling birds at those events is unacceptably high.

“Once it’s in an area, it seems to spread,” he said. He added that H5N2 would need only a few months to significantly damage the state’s poultry industry, leading to price increases for consumers.

John Poulson, the FFA advisor for Pettisville Local Schools, said he was aware avian flu was presenting a problem and would require attention. “I expected that we would have to look at something,” he said.

But while his FFA students cannot exhibit birds at the county fair they can still raise, them, and complete their projects by alternate means.

“I’m not sure what options they’re being given in Fulton County. Mostly, it’s going to affect the children who have to decide if they still want to raise poultry,” Poulson said.

People aren’t affected by the H5N2 virus, but can carry infected materials from one site to another, he said.

Because the virus can also be transported by water fowl and migratory birds, and because there are multiple strains of the avian flu, “I’m pretty sure there will be some flocks in Ohio that will have an issue,” Poulson said. “You are co-mingling birds with all different flocks. This one can be quite contagious, different from the last round they had.”

He said work on a vaccine is in progress, but it will be about six months before a viable version is ready for use. He added that no connection has been found between the avian flu and the poultry’s meat quality.

Jill Stechschulte, and OSU Extension educator and Fulton County’s 4-H Youth Development director, said she can’t speculate on what the organization will do about the ODA ban. She said it’s a matter of meeting with the county Fair Board and the Junior Fair Board “to come together to make up some alternatives, to discuss procedures. We are making a plan with the youth poultry and waterfowl projects.”

She declined further comment.

An upcoming Pettisville High School sophomore, Jacob Myers, has raised fancy poultry, broilers, and layers for about six years. He has routinely shown them at the Fulton County Fair, and has won a couple of ribbons. The ODA ruling means he’ll skip the Junior Fair competition this year.

“I’m a little disappointed, but I know that this is a very serious issue and it needs to be stopped,” he said of the avian flu.

He’ll continue raising the birds he planned to show this year, and hold them over for next year’s county fair.

Myers’ family raises 35 chickens for the eggs on their property outside of Archbold. He said he enjoys raising poultry, and, despite the ODA ban on poultry shows, he won’t switch his interest to other animals.

“We’ll just work on keeping the birds on our farm safe,” he said.

Birds suffering sickness or unusual deaths should be reported to the ODA Division of Animal Health at 614-728-6220 or the U.S Department of Agriculture at its toll-free number, 866-536-7593.