Avian flu scare leaves 4-H’ers out in cold at South Dakota fairs

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Farm Forum

If you were hoping to see farmyard birds at the Brown County Fair this year, you’re out of luck.

Because of the avian influenza epidemic that ripped through the Midwest when the weather was cooler, the South Dakota Animal Industry Board put a moratorium on the transport of birds, including to and from county fairs and the State Fair in Huron, said Dustin Oedekoven, South Dakota state veterinarian.

“It’s been the largest foreign animal disease outbreak in our nation’s history,” Oedekoven said. “We did consult with members of the poultry industry, as well as some of the folks who were involved in the poultry exhibition at the State Fair and in the 4-H program.”

This included all birds, even those that don’t carry the disease, like pigeons.

Megan Binfet, 13, and her brother Landon, 15, have been showing pigeons at the Brown County Fair through 4-H for years. Megan said she’s been doing it since she was 8.

“I was sad about that; I was like, ‘Oh, OK, mine don’t have it, but I understand the whole reason,’” Megan said.

Even though it’s understandable, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to deal with the letdown.

“I had them all ready to go,” Megan said.

The story is the same for hundreds of kids across the state, said John Keimig, 4-H associate.

“Just because you don’t get to do the fun thing at the end doesn’t mean that you don’t try as hard when you’re raising, tending, caring for, trying to select pedigree and stuff, on raising a better animal,” Keimig said. “The getting to show is the fun part, everything else is the learning experience.”

There were nearly 500 birds shown last year at the State Fair, Keimig said.

In Brown County, there were 38 4-H members enrolled in the poultry program this year, said Becca Tullar, Brown County 4-H youth program advisor. While not all would end up showing, none will show this year.

“It does affect a lot of people, it takes something away from them, being able to exhibit their poultry,” Tullar said. “But we have to remember to keep everybody safe.”

Those planning to show eggs, though, will still be able to at the fair.

South Dakota isn’t unique in its moratorium, Oedekoven said. Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska have all made similar mandates this summer.

“It was a fairly well-accepted practice,” Oedekoven said. “At the time the board made the decision, there were a number of flocks that were affected.”

The disease has most affected turkeys and chickens, but geese and ducks are carriers, Oedekoven said.

“They don’t become ill,” Oedekoven said. “They can become infected and then they shed large amounts of that virus in their feces, and it potentially transfers the virus to other types of birds, like chickens and turkeys and pheasants.”

There have been measures taken like this before in the state’s history to stop the spread ofanimal-borne diseases, but not in recent years, Oedekoven said.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have excellent livestock health recently,” Oedekoven said. “We’ve eradicated many of the diseases that plagued various livestock industries.”

Summer has helped stop the spread of the virus, Oedekoven said.

“The avian influenza virus doesn’t like the warm, hot weather,” Oedekoven said.

If the disease doesn’t spread, this should be the only year bird exhibitions are suspended, Oedekoven said.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get ahead of this virus and relax that ban by next year,” Oedekoven said. “That will depend somewhat whether or not we see more cases of this highly pathogenic avian influenza in the fall.”

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Avian influenza by the numbers

3/28: First case found in South Dakota, in Beadle County at a commercial turkey farm.

5/20: Board order suspending all bird exhibitions.

5/28: Final case found in South Dakota as of today, in Moody County at a commercial turkey farm.

9: South Dakota counties affected.

10: South Dakota premises affected.

1.7M: Number of birds affected in South Dakota.

Source: South Dakota Animal Industry Board