REYNOLDSBURG – The order from the Ohio Department of Agriculture banning all bird shows in the state was lifted on Thursday.
Put in place more than seven months ago by Director David Daniels in reaction to the outbreak across the United States of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (avian flu) that was killing poultry by the millions, the order resulted in the cancellation of all county fair poultry shows this past summer as well as the Ohio State Fair poultry shows.
There were no reports of the avian flu in Ohio since the outbreak was first reported on the West Coast Dec. 19, 2014. The disease then spread rapidly to Midwest states such as Iowa and Wisconsin, and almost 50 million birds had to be destroyed. In reaction, the state announced the ban June 2.
But if another outbreak develops, the ban could be back in place, cautioned Darke County OSU Extension Educator Sam Custer.
“The industry is just so large here in Ohio, I don’t think the state would hesitate to put the ban in place again if there was another outbreak,” said Custer.
Melinda Morrison, Champaign County’s 4-H Youth Development director and educator, is cautiously optimistic about local exhibits at the 2016 fair.
“I want to make sure that youth selecting poultry as a project need to know that if there is another outbreak in Ohio or in a surrounding state, the ban could be put back in place,” she said. “With that being said, I would encourage poultry exhibitors to select more than one project so they have a backup. However, if a ban would have to be put back in place, we would have activities for the kids to participate in at the fair as we did in 2015.”
Morrison said the reaction among local exhibitors to the disruption in 2015 shows was supportive and constructive.
“The overwhelming positive response to the programs we provided in 2015 has led to the decision of keeping some of those activities in 2016,” she said. “We will continue to have egg judging, avian bowl challenge and the Poultry Fair. These activities, along with bringing the birds back to the fair in 2016, are sure to make an exciting and fun year in the poultry department.
“Our poultry exhibitors dealt with a tough life lesson last year, but they made the best of the situation and still enjoyed the 2015 fair season,” Morrison added. “4-H promotes teaching life skills, and the creation of new poultry activities for youth is just one example of how to take a tough life situation and turn it positive. I’m looking forward to a bigger and better 2016 Poultry Show and activity participation in August.”
Avian specialists being proactive
On Nov. 18, the World Organization for Animal Health (known as the OIE) issued its final report on the deadly avian flu outbreaks which declared that the outbreaks in all affected states are now final, closed and resolved. This now makes the United States free of avian influenza for the time being.
But Custer said Ohio poultry producers and exhibitors still need to take precautions.
To that end, he and Dr. Mohamed El-Gazzar, Ohio State University Extension’s poultry veterinarian, will be developing a bio-hazard program with information on detection and prevention of avian flu.
“I met with Dr. El-Gazzar Tuesday night and we will be distributing through all of the County Extension offices some bio-security pamphlets and recommendations for backyard flocks, junior fair exhibitors, doing this in the next couple of weeks, making sure that people are well aware of what they need to do to protect their birds,” Custer said.
“We don’t have an outbreak currently, but if you see something suspicious, we will have numbers available for people to call immediately. Our goal is to get these (pamphlets and recommendations) out to any place where people will be buying poultry – poultry suppliers, feed stores and so on – so that not only junior fair members but anyone purchasing birds from any supplier can have access to the bio-security information.”
Custer said he supported the decision to ban all Ohio bird shows.
“We are so populated with poultry that if there was an outbreak in our area it would be hard to keep it going from barn to barn we are so close,” he said of poultry farms in the Darke County-Mercer County area, one of the nation’s largest egg-producing regions. “It would be difficult to stop.”
Custer also supports the timing of the state lifting the order Thursday. “It is important for the young people, the young exhibitors wanting to show their birds.” He said many junior exhibitors would now be starting the process of showing their poultry at the fairs next year.
“I just saw that the Paulding County Junior Fair members can order their turkeys now through Cooper’s. Their fair is mid-June, so they will be able to pick up their turkeys in the next three weeks,” Custer pointed out.
In lifting the ban Thursday, Daniels said it was originally intended to remain in place until April 2016. In the announcement, Daniels said that while the intention is to allow bird exhibitions to be held next year, an outbreak in Ohio or nearby states may require the reinstatement or even an extension of the ban.
“I would like to extend a sincere thank you to OSU Extension and the youth exhibitors for their understanding and to their advisers for turning this unfortunate outbreak into an important educational moment. As I traveled around the state this summer, I was overwhelmed with the maturity and understanding of the disappointed but supportive young people I spoke with who were unable to bring their poultry projects to the fair. It’s a real testament to the strength and importance our 4H and FFA programs in Ohio,” said Daniels in the news release.
Ohio is the second-largest egg producer in the country and home to 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys. Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey farms create more than 14,600 jobs and contribute $2.3 billion to the state’s economy.
Gary Brock contributed to this report. Brock is editor of Civitas Media’s Rural Life Today and can be reached at 937-556-5759 or on Twitter at GBrock4. Urbana Daily Citizen staffer Joshua Keeran also contributed to this report.