Bird flu prompts new plan for 4-H

Daily Reporter staff reports

GREENFIELD — Despite a state decision to ban bringing poultry and birds to county and state fairs because of a bird flu scare, local fair organizers say 4-H might still have the chance to show their animals.

This week, the State Board of Animal Health announced the statewide ban in hopes of preventing the spread of the H5 avian influenza virus that’s killed millions of chickens, turkeys and birds across the country.

The ban has local 4-H organizers scrambling to make new plans for participants who had hoped to show poultry at the county fair, which begins June 19.

One idea organizers are considering is to have participants bring in photos of their birds to be judged. The 4-H’ers might not be able to bring their birds to the fair, but they would still be eligible to win ribbons.

The ban includes fairs, 4-H events, exhibitions and other events where birds are commingled and is expected to last through the 2015 fair season, which ends with the Indiana State Fair in August.

Roy Ballard, director of Purdue Extension Hancock County, said his office is required to follow guidelines set by the State Board of Animal Health and therefore can’t allow students to show poultry and birds at this year’s fair.

While this year’s 4-H’ers will have a different experience, it’s a learning experience all the same, Ballard said.

“The animals they show are part of a larger commercial industry in Indiana, and they need to understand that,” he said.

So far, Indiana has had only one confirmed case of the H5 avian influenza virus in a flock of mixed poultry earlier this month in northern Indiana. Still, state and Purdue Extension officials say the ban is necessary to protect the animals.

Chuck Whiting, the Hancock County 4-H poultry superintendent, said local 4-H officials have yet to make a formal announcement that 4-H’ers’ poultry won’t be on display at this year’s fair.

But word is getting around, and he’s received phone calls from parents and children looking for more information.

Fair organizers are planning a meeting with 4-H’ers on June 10, when officials will make an official announcement about how they’ll deal with projects. About 150 students planned to participate in Hancock County’s poultry show.

“I’m sad for all my kids,” Whiting said. “(Showing poultry) is quite … a big deal for some of these kids. For a farm kid, especially, it’s a big deal.”

Purdue Extension officials say showing and competing at the fair is only one part of participating in 4-H.

Aaron Fisher, a Purdue Extension 4-H youth development specialist, said raising and caring for animals is a greater value for participants than showing and selling them.

“The emphasis of the 4-H projects is on young people learning about their animals,” he said in a news release.

New Palestine resident Erica Long, 12, was all set to show her chickens, Peg and Lacey, this summer. She might have had a good chance at a ribbon this year, she said, since she kept the birds clean and healthy.

“It’s kind of disappointing, but 4-H has taught me that you need to do what’s best for your animals,” the third-year 4-H’er said.

Erica will keep busy with her rabbit, llama and craft projects this summer, and mom Stephanie Long said her daughter took the news pretty well.

“She obviously was disappointed when we heard it was canceled, but she’s like, ‘I know it’s for the best.’”

No matter what organizers decided, Whiting said he wants 4-H’ers with birds and poultry to know they’ll still be part of the fair.

“They’re not shut down,” he said. “That’s so very important for the kids to know.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.