Bird Flu affects 4-H Fair in Putnam County

Thursday, July 23, 2015

You may have noticed something missing from the Putnam County 4-H Fair this week.

Though this year's events have seen solid turnouts comparable to years past, many have had to cope with the lack of a poultry competition -- one that has become a standard of 4-H fairs across the region.

The Bird Flu (a.k.a. H5N8) is a variation of the Avian Flu and is considered highly contagious to humans. Coupled with a recent outbreak in Indiana, poultry competitions across the state have been canceled.

Putnam County 4-H Fair poultry superintendent Jason Keeney has witnessed the effects the recent nix, saying that the kids involved in the competition have taken the unfortunate news in stride.

"The kids that come to the fairgrounds and see the animals and walk through the barns, some of them have been disappointed," Keeney said in a brief interview with the Banner Graphic on Thursday. "I've heard a lot of people say 'let's go look at the chickens' -- and there aren't any.

"My 4-H kids this year have been awesome," Keeney continued. "I have the best families and the best kids, and when they canceled [the event] in May, I thought, 'ok, how do I tell the 4-H kids?' But they've taken every bit of it in stride -- they've been wonderful. The kids have really stepped up and they've had to deal with the rejection of not being able to show their birds. They're doing great otherwise, they all understand."

H5N8, like its predecessor, the H5N2, has caused a large drop in the bird population, killing more than 30 million birds to date.

Furthermore, humans are being affected in ways beyond illness. More than 200 Montana egg-production workers have been "temporarily laid off," according to a statement released by USDA spokeswoman Joelle Hayden.

Though the cause of the spread is not certain, the USDA released a statement saying it is likely due to the introduction of the waterfowl and its easterly-migratory routes. Originating in the western United States, H5N8 has been traced back to a turkey farm in California and a backyard poultry flock in Oregon.

Keeney, who also takes part in the diagnosis and testing processes in Putnam County, said the current strain is similar to human influenza.

"But birds have a much different metabolism, it moves through them faster than it would through a human," Keeney said. "Because there are birds everywhere, it spreads quickly -- the more you get birds together, the more of a possibility of spreading."

The Putnam County Fair, which plays host to several hundred-birds each year, joined the rest of Indiana in dropping the show due to concerns of a roll out.

However, as with many stories, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Although the ban on poultry is currently in place, Keeney says said-ban may be lifted as early as Sept. 17, 2015.

"Because we were shut down, we haven't had any shows in Indiana this year," Keeney said. "None of the other 92 counties have been able to host a show, and there is no show at the State Fair.

"But after Sept. 17, I have already seen that some of the open shows have already rescheduled," Keeney added. "They'll reopen, so they'll give the kids, who didn't get to show at the fair, the opportunity to, if they want, to go to the open shows."

Without this staple of Indiana festivals, patrons will have to adjust to the lack of crowing roosters and clucking hens at the fairgrounds. However, the humble chicken and its exhibitor will be back in action next year, resuming 4-H Fair standards.

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