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Poultry exhibits are just one of the attractions at county fairs throughout the GLOW region.
But their status remained uncertain Thursday as the state Department of Agriculture and Markets enacted even more measures to hamper the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.
All fowl auctions and other events involving the purchase, sale, swap, or trade of fowl have been banned until further notice, state officials announced. All fowl shows and exhibitions were already banned as of March 25.
“Avian influenza continues to be a growing and serious threat to all poultry and breeds of fowl in the United States, including New York,” said Ag and Markets Commissioner Richard H. Ball in a news release. “This order is an important step to further limit the co-mingling of birds in our state, which will help to slow the spread of this disease, keep our birds healthy, and safeguard our poultry industry. Commonsense steps like these are our best line of defense against this disease.”
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus strains are extremely infectious and often fatal to domestic poultry. The disease — abbreviated as HPAI — can spread quickly from flock to flock and is typically fatal to infected birds.
The disease was confirmed last week in a backyard flock in Orleans County. It has also been confirmed in backyard and commercial flocks in Monroe, Suffolk, Dutchess, Ulster and Fulton counties.
Ag and Markets continues to monitor the situation closely, and will reassess in late May whether the bans should remain in place through the summer fair season.
Area 4-H organizations and similar groups are also monitoring the outbreak — the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County has already started planning for this scenario.
“We’ve got some experience because of the previous time when poultry shows were not allowed in 2015 due to Avian Influenza,” said Executive Director Robert Batt. “Our 4-H Club leader Bill Gerling and members of the club have talked about other ways to showcase their projects including showmanship using a stuffed or model bird, preparing displays including posters and other exhibits and entering these in the fair, and being able to still enter eggs.”
Batt said the county doesn’t know if the state will decide the extend the ban, but all the youth are focused more on the health of their animals right now and have been highly focused on their biosecurity protocols to keep flocks safe.
“Fortunately most of our youth with birds also have other projects too,” Batt said. “So if they can’t bring their birds to fair they will still be able to bring their other project animals. If avian influenza is still a problem when fair comes it’ll also offer them the chance to act as ambassadors to the public to help educate about symptoms, biosecurity, and other questions the public has, so we would definitely still plan on those youth being active in the small animal barn as teen leaders.”
As it is, the situation remains undetermined.
“At this point a ban is in effect and will be reassessed in late May,” said Nancy Glazier of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County. “We do not yet know if fair season will be impacted definitively and will not until the situation is reassessed.”
“Genesee Valley BOCES Animal Science programs are not involved with any live fowl shows and/or exhibitions so this new legislation does not impact any of our educational programs,” said spokeswoman Maggie Fitzgibbon. “Each day, our Animal Science Instructors work with students to instruct and enforce our biosecurity methods, as well as, our disease and infection protocols.”
The Cornell Cooperative Extension is performing outreach about the disease, said Ken Estes Jr., who leads the organization’s agricultural program.
“I’ve been kind of taking the lead on HPAI and its challenges and outreach that we’re doing to promote biosecurity and protecting the flock — to help people be as informed to make their decision on their own,” he said. “Whether or not they take these precautions is entirely up to them to take these measures to protect their flocks. But we’re in a position to share that information and this is where we’re doing the most, and as it keeps getting closer and closer to us, the likelihood of it coming to Livingston County only just seems to get more and more potential for sure.”
“There are a couple different levels of showing of birds so, you have the youth component, which is typically through 4-H, which typically goes through Hemlock Fair and that show, but in addition to that, there are shows which 4-H and adults participate,” he continued. “Members of our community, in Livingston County, participate in those specific shows and those shows are open to adults. There has been some talk of the challenge, but it’s not a challenge that’s new to the adult folks because we had this in 2015 as well.”
The outbreak is still going the have an effect on youth, who have never experienced an HPAI outbreak before, he said. They now have the expense of getting prepared, acquiring their birds, and not being able to show them — an emotional and financial challenge.
“Preventative measures like Ag and Markets is putting out is to potentially protect birds from loss of life and taking these measures is the best way that you can go about protecting them,” Estes said. “So, if a kid is disappointed or a family is disappointed, it’s primarily, from my perspective, it’s protecting the population of poultry and waterfowl in New York and Livingston County specifically.”
Deadly to birds
State and federal officials remain concerned, since HPAI can ravage anything from small flocks to the poultry industry itself.
A total of 31 birds — chickens and guinea fowl — were infected in Orleans County. Twenty-eight of the birds died and the remaining three were euthanized.
A highly pathogenic strain of the disease hit the U.S. in 2014 and was considered the nation’s largest animal health emergency. More than 50 million birds were infected and later died, or were euthanized on more than 200 farms in 15 states.
The disease does not present an immediate public health concern for humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No human cases have been detected in the U.S.
Birds infected with the HPAI virus may show symptoms including:
■ Sudden death without clinical signs.
■ Lack of energy and appetite.
■ Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs.
■ Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks.
■ Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs.
■ Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing.
Ag and Markets recommends all producers — from backyard flocks to large commercial operations — review their biosecurity and take steps including:
■ Discourage unnecessary visitors and use biosecurity signs to warn people not to enter buildings without permission.
■ Ask all visitors if they have had any contact with any birds in the past five days.
■ Forbid entry to employees and visitors who own any kind of fowl.
■ Require all visitors to cover and disinfect all footwear.
■ Lock all entrances to chicken houses after hours.
■ Avoid non-essential vehicular traffic on-farm.
■ After hauling birds to processors, clean and disinfect poultry transport coops and vehicles before they return to the farm.
Report anything unusual, especially sick or dead birds, to Ag and Markets. To report sick birds, unexplained deaths, or a sudden drop in egg production, contact the Department of Ag and Markets’ Division of Animal Industry at (518pt) 457-3502 or the USDA at (866) 536-7593.
(Includes reporting by Mallory Diefenbach, Margret Lee, Kori Sciandra and Matt Surtel.)