New York is playing it safe when it comes to the bird flu. Poultry exhibits have been banned from all state fairs, including the Erie County Fair.
Currently, avian influenza has not been detected in New York. Other states have also banned bird exhibits at fairs, including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Deborah Condon, whose poultry exhibit won multiple awards last year, says birds are her favorite part of the fair, but she thinks it’s a good idea to ban them this year.
“If birds had that, the bird that might be affected might transfer it to a person,” Condon said. “It might go back to a large poultry flock. And from there it would just continue on, like viruses do in people.”
Condon added that she is confident the county fair officials are getting creative to fill the fowl gap. It turns out she’s right.
Last year featured a daily rooster-crowing contest. This year will feature a rabbit-hopping demonstration instead. Jessica Underberg, assistant fair manager and agriculture manager, says the substitution should do well with fairgoers.
“We have had, in the past, a rabbit-hopping competition and, as silly as it sounds, people love it,” Underberg said. “It’s very cute.”
The rabbit race track will also keep the focus on smaller, more child-friendly creatures – one of the reasons the poultry will be missed.
“It’s not intimidating to be next to a chicken, where it might be intimidating to a youngster to be next to a 1,200 pound cow,” Underberg said.
The Erie County 4-H youths will have to adjust as well. Members will have displays to educate visitors on the bird flu. The kids will still get to sell their market poultry, but via a PowerPoint presentation rather than having the buyers see the birds up close.
The 4-H bird building will now house an 8-minute video showing how eggs hatch into chicks.
Any usual fair activities not involving live birds will not change. That includes the 4-H chicken costume contest and the “Little Hands on The Farm” exhibit, an interactive educational tool to teach kids about agriculture.
Underberg said she wants to make sure people know they are not in danger.
“[I am] trying to get across the point that poultry is still safe to eat, your food source is not harmed, and that this was more about the safety of the birds than anything,” Underberg said.
For this year’s fair, Condon will have to stick to entering her rabbits and vegetables. She said her birds will just have to wait for next year.