Branch County Fair: Poultry exhibited this week after avian flu ban lifted – Coldwater Daily Reporter

Ribbons for poultry were awarded Sunday morning at the Branch County Fair. In May, there was concern none could be shown after bird flu swept the country. 
The highly-pathogenic avian influenza, with a 90-100% mortality rate in chickens, infected more than 37 million birds in 34 states in April and May. 
Brian Shirk, the small animal committee representative on the Fair Board, said on May 10, “the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development canceled poultry, or put a stop on the movement of poultry and poultry shows.”
The ban ended on June 11 when no new cases were reported in poultry in Michigan for 30 days.  
In the poultry and rabbit barn, projects fill the cages.
“For sure, kids worried their projects would be canceled,” Shirk said. “The chickens are down, but the ducks and the turkeys have doubled. So actually, our poultry numbers are up by two, just different species.” 
The 4-H youth showing the birds purchased them before the ban. Exhibitors could not wait for a final decision.
“They purchased those during the height of avian influenza knowing that there wasn’t a chance to catch up” and develop then finish the birds if the ban was lifted, Shirk explained. 
Many fairs canceled poultry altogether.
“Our fair chose to hold out and wait. We had a backup plan to be able to show,”  Shirk said. The alternate show would have been “a terminal show where the kids would show and then (the birds) go on the truck to be processed. We were still going to offer them the opportunity, which is why I think we kept getting turkeys and ducks and geese numbers went up.
“The board kept going. They allowed me to give guidance and kind of oversight. We were fortunate that we were able to have the birds here,” he said.  
The avian flu spread mainly in the migratory birds, with none reported in the large Branch County poultry industry. 
“There’s a lot of good birds. We got great compliments from the judges about the quality of animals that the kids were exhibiting,” Shirk said.  “The one judge, a licensed poultry judge, recommended that a couple of our kids get their birds on the national circuit because they were pretty good. Those birds are already on the national circuit. So we just said thank you.” 
Youth in 4-H are aware of pathogens and diseases affecting livestock. Fair board director Colleen Albright said, “We also require the youth become certified for the quality care of animals. They have to understand the importance not only for animal’s health, but for the key industries and communities.
“Every youth is required to obtain that certification to exhibit at our fair,” Albright said.
As a show pig breeder, her industry is concerned about the spread of Asian Swine Fever, which the pork industry has kept out of the U.S.