Visitors to the 2015 Crawford County Fair and all fairs across the state won’t be doing any bird watching this season.
In an effort to be proactive and prepared, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is suspending poultry shows at all state-approved agricultural fairs statewide, including the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, according to Brandi Hunter-Davenport, the department’s press secretary.
“The department is making every effort to minimize the risk of avian influenza, also known as bird flu, should it appear in Pennsylvania,” she said.
The department is working proactively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other government agencies and the state’s poultry industry to prepare for an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, identified as the H5N2 strain, a state Department of Agriculture letter read. The disease has caused other states to lose millions of turkeys and chickens, the letter read.
On April 24, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton declared a peacetime state of emergency to combat the disease. Millions of birds have been killed in the country’s top turkey-producing state.
On Friday, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad also declared a statewide state of emergency due to the rapidly-expanding epidemic throughout the state.
There are no confirmed cases of H5N2 influenza in Pennsylvania, but the public must be aware of the impact, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture letter read. The last outbreak, from 1983 to 1984, caused the state to lose 17 million birds worth $65 million.
Chester Hughes, Penn State Extension Poultry Team program leader, recalls how devastating the previous outbreak was.
“The suspension is unfortunate for our exhibitors, but it’s necessary to prevent this outbreak from spreading to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We have a large commercial poultry industry, and the suspension is a step in the right direction.”
The letter expressed regret of the effects this suspension will have on youth exhibitors at county fairs. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is working with the Penn State Extension to establish alternative competitions, such as educational poster competitions or birdless showmanship to keep youth engaged in the poultry industry and help them complete poultry projects.
“This is obviously disappointing news, but the seriousness of it outweighs the desire to show,” said Curtis Oakes, chairperson of the Crawford County Fair’s Department 10, poultry and pigeons.
As a breeder of rare waterfowl for more than 50 years, Oakes practices biosecurity.
“Rare breeds are not replaceable and I always take measures to protect my birds,” Oakes said.
For more information on poultry contests and activities that do not require a bird to participate, visit extension.psu.edu/4-h/projects/poultry or email Phillip Clauer, the extension’s senior instructor/specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that all bird owners practice biosecurity and take all possible measures to reduce the chances of infectious disease being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment or vehicles. For biosecurity tips, visit healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.
Lorri Drumm can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.