Poultry exhibits banned from county fairs due to bird virus threat

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Michigan officials have placed a ban on poultry exhibits across the state this year in an effort to stop the potential spread of a deadly bird virus.

On Monday, the state’s top veterinarian said the ban includes county fairs, exhibitions, swap meets and any other place where birds can be comingled.

“We know the tremendous amount of time, money and passion the kids and other exhibitors invest into their birds and the importance of having livestock animals at these events to interact with the public,” said Veterinarian James Averill, of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “The rapid spread of these avian flu viruses is historic and has impacted more than a dozen states across the U.S.

“While there are currently no known cases of HPAI in Michigan, commitment to protecting the health of all of the state’s poultry flocks — backyard and commercial farmers — led us to making this difficult decision.”

Locally, the ban will have the greatest effect on youth who would have entered poultry exhibits in the Berrien County Youth Fair and Cass County Fair.

The BCYF is reporting that 382 youth showed poultry at last year’s fair.

“I was especially disappointed for the kids because they work hard on those projects pretty much year round,” said Chad Hettig, poultry superintendent for the BCYF. “The majority of the kids in our barn use the money they get from the poultry auction to go toward college, so there will be a slight loss of money for college there.”

Niles High School freshman Sam Hein has entered poultry into the Cass County Fair for the past several years. He was expecting to get a few hundreds dollars from this year’s auction.

“I was a little disappointed because I am going to be losing some college money,” he said.

Local fair officials said Monday’s news did not come as a shock, especially considering Indiana had enacted a similar ban late last month.

“Everyday there is more and more in the news about how serious it can be and is… it can really impact commercial operations in the state,” said Gail Peterson, CCF Board president. “It is not a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any easier on exhibitors that are looking forward to showing poultry.”

The director of the BCYF said fair leaders are looking at alternatives for its poultry exhibitors and will provide that information via press release, its website (bcyf.org) or Facebook.

The BCYF has also extended its deadline for registering large animals to June 8 in order to give poultry exhibitors a chance to register those animals.

The Cass County Fair plans to have a bird expert speak on the day when poultry would have been exhibited at the fair. Peterson said the fair board plans to meet next week to discuss other ways to keep poultry exhibitors involved.