Like many states, Kansas banned the live exhibition of poultry at its county fairs and state fair in 2015 to prevent the possible spread of avian influenza.
Fortunately for the estimated 2,200 4-H members in the state that had been enrolled in the poultry project, they still had an opportunity to exhibit. Mostly, those entries were in the form of educational posters concerning the poultry project.
It has been several years since I have had a child in 4-H or FFA, so I didn’t make it to any county fairs this summer to see what youths have been doing as an alternative for showing live poultry. Therefore, I was really curious what was being done at the Kansas State Fair.
It was a very odd feeling walking into the poultry barn. Never before had I been in there and saw empty cage after empty cage, with hardly anyone in the building.
But I did see about 30 posters created by the young exhibitors, covering a variety of topics. About a half dozen of them went with an avian influenza theme, explaining why the virus prompted the cancellation of live poultry exhibits, the scope of the toll it took on the industry, and other details such as the different strains of avian influenza found in the U.S. Nearby, a professionally made poster explained similar information.
Just before going into the poultry barn, I was across the way at the birthing center, at an exhibit featuring all sorts of species being born and nursing, largely hosted by Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. There were brochures explaining avian influenza there, and another poster.
Also while at the birthing center, I visited with a man from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) about avian influenza a little, and in the midst of our conversation, another man joined in. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the man joining the conversation already knew of the two cases of avian influenza in Kansas, where they were located and whether the cases were high-path or low-path.
I was glad to see there were some educational materials available, and I applaud those people who shared it. But in a way, I had hoped there would have been more. Perhaps more eye-catching displays or interactive educational activities could have been utilized to help spread the word. When a health issue has caused the type of widespread loss -- both in terms of animals and dollars -- as we have experienced with avian influenza in the U.S., there really is no such thing as sharing too much information.
People like the gentleman visiting the birthing center who have knowledge of the virus and its impact are certainly more the exception than the norm. Fairs are a great way to educate both those involved in production agriculture and the consumers whose information may have been delivered by unreliable sources.
I hope in 2016 avian influenza will be a moot topic and there will be no need to ban live poultry exhibitions in any state. But if that is not the case, I hope fair organizers and exhibitors make the most of their opportunity to educate.