COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio 4-H is expressing support of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s decision to cancel all live bird exhibitions at county and independent fairs in 2015 to protect Ohio’s $2.3 billion poultry industry from the current avian flu outbreak affecting the United States.
The cancellation, announced today (June 2) by Agriculture Director David T. Daniels, covers poultry and waterfowl exhibits and also extends to the Ohio State Fair and all other gatherings of birds for show or for sale, including auctions and swap meets.
“We appreciate Director Daniels’ leadership in protecting Ohio’s poultry industry,” said Bruce McPheron, vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. “We are committed to providing 4-H youth with a positive learning experience about poultry, and believe that can be achieved without the live animals being present.”
Ohio 4-H programs are run by Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the college.
Since last December, an unprecedented outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5 linked to wild migratory birds has gripped the U.S. poultry industry, affecting more than 44 million birds from commercial and backyard flocks at close to 200 locations in 15 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
No cases of avian flu have been reported in Ohio so far, and the ban is intended as a proactive measure to keep this extremely contagious disease out of the state, ODA said in a statement. Wild or domesticated waterfowl can carry and spread the virus, but they do not show symptoms. The virus is not dangerous to humans, and poultry products are safe to eat.
“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’s economy,” Daniels said. “The right move isn’t always the easy move, but this is the right move, especially when you see just how devastating the virus has been to other big poultry states like Iowa and Minnesota.”
According to ODA, Ohio ranks second in the nation in egg production and ninth nationally in turkey production. The state is home to 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys. Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey farms provide more than 14,600 jobs.
“Four-H is about fun, but underneath it all, it’s about learning and education. Our members who have chosen poultry projects this year have a fantastic learning opportunity in front of them,” said Tom Archer, state 4-H leader for OSU Extension. “Yes, they won’t be showing a live animal, but they will be learning about how a disease can affect an animal and an industry. We will provide other creative ways for our members to show what they have learned about poultry at our county and state fairs.”
Lucinda Miller, 4-H youth development specialist for companion and small animals programs, said she understands 4-H youth planning to show birds at fairs this year will be disappointed and appreciates their enthusiasm for learning. In 2015, 9,113 4-H youth across the state are taking poultry-related projects out of the 69,653 total youth enrolled in 4-H organized community clubs.
“I remind our youth that they can complete their poultry projects without showing the animals at the fair. It’s not a requirement for completion,” Miller said.
She added that there are a number of alternative ways by which 4-H youth with poultry projects can participate in the fair and show what they have learned — including interviews with judges, demonstrations with props or pictures, skits, skill-a-thons, “Avian Bowl” contests and more.
“We are encouraging our 4-H educators to work with their local fair board partners to identify alternative activities that can be implemented at their counties,” Miller said. “At the state level, we will put together resources and activities and make them available to educators, 4-H youth and fair board members online.”
For more information about 4-H poultry projects, contact Miller at email@example.com or 614-292-7453.