The appearance of a threatening poultry virus in Northern California has forced the Stanislaus County Fair to put all poultry shows on hold this summer.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture confirmed on Friday that a chicken raised by a backyard bird owner in Alameda County tested positive for Virulent Newcastle Disease, less than a month after a quarantine was placed on poultry owners in Southern California.
While CDFA and the United States Department of Agriculture are not aware of any other cases of the virus in Northern California, they are actively investigating and taking precautions to prevent any spread of the disease. As a result, the entities recommended all fairs evaluate their poultry shows. Though the population of poultry in California impacted by the virus is small, some poultry gatherings are considered higher risk.
Rather than take any chances, Stanislaus County Fair officials decided to forgo this summer’s poultry shows altogether.
“In the best interests of our community and the poultry industry, we have decided to cancel our poultry show for 2019,” Stanislaus County Fair CEO Matt Cranford said. “We understand the impact this decision will have on the youth in our livestock program and wish we had other alternatives. But in accordance with recommendations by CDFA, we will have to postpone our show and hope that this disease is quickly eradicated in our area.”
VND is a nearly-always fatal respiratory infection in poultry which has no cure. While birds may seem healthy, they’ll die within days of being infected. The virus can be spread from bird to bird, and can also be transmitted by people who have VND on their clothes or shoes, and by equipment or vehicles that can transport the disease from place to place.
While there are no human health concerns provided that any meat or eggs are cooked properly, people who come in direct contact with the virus may develop conjunctivitis-like symptoms or run a mild fever.
In a letter to poultry exhibit organizers in January, CDFA State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones said the virus has been present in California since May 2018, with the outbreak causing devastating effects on backyard bird populations in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. So far, nearly 500,000 backyard and commercial birds have been euthanized.
“The primary way in which the disease spreads is by seemingly healthy birds being moved,” Jones said.
With the virus already confirmed in the Bay Area, cancelling poultry shows is a preventative measure being taken by not only Stanislaus County Fair, but in other Northern California counties like San Mateo and at fairs like Tehama District’s in Red Bluff.
The poultry show is usually a popular destination for Stanislaus County Fair goers, with categories including poultry dress up, a youth mini show and the birds entered for show by local 4H and FFA members. According to the fair’s marketing and communications director Adrenna Alkhas, there were 120 exhibitors for poultry and 450 birds entered.
Pitman High School Ag Department Chair Luke Gocke said that he realizes the decision to cancel such a beloved event was one made with the community’s best interest in mind.
“You want kids to have an opportunity to show, exhibit their animals and participate in these unique experiences. However, you want students to learn industry-level standards and procedures,” Gocke said. “Unfortunately, the poultry industry needs to take precautions for the longevity and benefit for everyone involved.”
Turlock High School ag advisor Kevin McGuire echoed Gocke’s sentiments.
“Here at Turlock High School, we are disappointed that our poultry exhibitors will not be able to show this year,” he said. “However, we understand that this sacrifice is for the security of the entire poultry industry and we are more than willing to assist in any and every way possible.”
In lieu of the poultry shows, Alkhas reminded those who intended on entering their chickens into the fair that there is still time to sign up to show other small animals, like rabbits.