Bird ban at Michigan fairs amid avian flu concerns

Posted at 7:35 PM, Jun 03, 2015

VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich--  Schools will soon be letting out for summer, which means fair season officially gets underway in West Michigan.   A lot of kids will be showing off their prized animals raised on farms and in barns.

This year, though, there is an unusual problem. Due to a dangerous flu, one group of animals won't be part of the standard line up.

Poultry barns at fairs statewide will be missing something this year, the birds themselves.

"There's going to be no exhibitions of poultry in the state, so the counties do not have a say it's a state call," said Van Buren Youth Fair Poultry Superintendent  Colleen Burke.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture issued the ban on all poultry exhibitions due to avian influenza, also know as the bird flu. It's a virus that affects domestic chickens, turkeys and waterfowl.

"What happens is they can't breathe very well and their eyes start getting goopy," says Burke, "and so within a short amount of time go from a healthy bird to a very unhealthy bird."

The virus often causes birds to die suddenly. While there are currently no cases of bird flu in Michigan, the Department of Agriculture doesn't want to take any risks.

Fairs often times have hundreds of birds in close areas and if one bird is sick, the virus is easily spread so it is likely all birds at the fair would get sick.

"If this were to get to Michigan and it was in their flock then their flock would have to be euthanized," says Burke.

For kids preparing their birds for the fair, the news of the ban is sad, but doesn't mean they won't be competing. It's how they'll be competing that's surprising.

Burke notes, "Showmanship will go on, we just won't have a live bird to use."

The Van Buren Yourh Fair will have poultry showmanship with no poultry. Instead there will be stand-ins.

"It's either going to be stuffed or a rubber type bird, I'm not quite for sure yet," explains Burke, "and they will go through the proper handling techniques of how the judge would ask them to hold that bird, how they would restrain the bird. And then they would ask questions about different parts of the bird on that model."

Competitors are taking the news in stride and they think it will enhance the contest.

Poultry competitor Lacy Burke says, "I think the focus more on actual showmanship and the showman knowledge of the animal and their project area, less on the bird."

The actual showing of the animal is only a small fraction of the contest at the fair. Competitors must also study up on their flocks.

"They ask numbers and ratios, what kind of diseases or stuff you might get and what you should watch out for with the flock," explains Lacy Burke, "They might also ask for specific body parts."

The judges will also get pictures of the competitors' birds so that they can judge them based on appearance.

Supporters of 4-H market poultry will still be able to bid, but will have to base their decisions off of pictures.