CIRCLEVILLE - With the Pickaway County Fair less than three weeks away, organizers are scrambling to accommodate poultry projects from 4-H and FFA members after a ban on live bird exhibitions by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The statewide ban was issued Tuesday to protect Ohio's $2.3 billion poultry industry from the avian flu, according to the ODA. The Pickaway County Fair is scheduled to begin June 21.
"While we understand that this is extremely disappointing for our 4-H and FFA members taking poultry projects, please understand that this decision was not taken lightly and it was made in an effort to protect flocks of birds around Ohio, including the projects that our own members are raising," states a message on the OSU Extension Office website.
Joy Sharp, Pickaway County Extension educator, said 105 members of 4-H and FFA were set to show poultry at this year's county fair, which is one of the first of the season in Ohio.
She said the Pickaway County Ag Society (Sr. Fair Board), the OSU Extension Office (4-H) and the Livestock and Sale committee are working to provide the best possible options in response to the crisis.
The OSU Extension Office website offers details of arrangements made so far, but Sharp said the final details are still being worked out.
"We have a lot of people working to make the best we can of the situation," she said. "We're all working together right now with lots of ideas, lots of questions and just a lot of work, but we're going to make something good happen for these kids."
At this time, each member should still plan to attend Skillathon, which is the actual project completion for a 4-H member. Members should complete their books and attend June 15 or 16 as scheduled.
The end of the poultry barn will be reserved for a poultry display and poultry activities. Each member is asked to bring a 4 x 6" photo of them with their birds. The photo will be put on the display board for the week of fair. Each member is encouraged to include the pen tag that their adviser picks up and provide their name and project on the tag.
"We're still working on how their area of the barn will be designed for picture displays as well as some other maybe interactive displays, information and knowledge, both about the poultry industry as well as avian flu," Sharp said.
On Poultry Show day, a set of activities will be offered from about 9 to 11 a.m. in the arena. These activities will be both fun and educational in nature. Most will be contests. All poultry members are encouraged to take part. Additional information on this will be provided in a hand-out at Skillathon judging.
"We're still working on what all those acivities and contests are going to look like," Sharp said. "I think they will be fun and educational and competitive at the same time. Obviously it's not going to replace the experience of showing their animal, but I think those kids that participate are going to enjoy the experience they do get in place of that."
As for sales, the Junior Fair rule that states "each member may sell only one animal through the ring individually" will stand, but if the animal for sale through the ring is a market poultry animal, the member (without the bird) will be able to sell through the sale ring. Exhibitors will still receive their premium bid from the buyer, they just will not receive any packer money. Details on how to declare "sale" of a bird are still being established.
Organizers are still working to see if there may be packers that members may take their animals to individually. As that information becomes available, it will be shared with members and advisers.
Members or advisers with questions are invited to call the OSU Extension Office at 740-474-7534 or visit the website at www.pickaway.osu.edu.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture said the statewide ban on bird exhibitions includes county and independent fairs, the Ohio State Fair and all other gatherings of birds for show or sale, including auctions and swap meets.
Similar bans have been enacted in other poultry states, according to the ODA press release. So far, Ohio is virus-free, and the move is intended to continue that status.
"This was a difficult decision because it means young people can't show their birds at fairs, but it's in the best interest of an industry that literally thousands of Ohio families and businesses depend on and which provides billions of dollars to our state's economy," said David T. Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. "The right move isn't always the easy move, but this is the right move, especially when you see just how devastating the virus has been to other big poultry states like Iowa and Minnesota. Ohioans need to do all we can to ensure that we protect our industry and that we help avoid a costly spike in the price of important foods like chicken, turkey and eggs."
According to ODA, Ohio is the second largest egg producer in the country and home to 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys. Ohio's egg, chicken and turkey farms employ more than 14,600 people and contribute $2.3 billion to the state's economy.
Ohio's role in national poultry production is even greater considering the loss that other major poultry states are experiencing as a result of the avian flu, according to the ODA.
For the complete statement from ODA, visit www.ohioagriculture.gov.