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State cries 'no fowl' at this year's Ag Expo

July 19, 2002|by Liz Boch

lizb@herald-mail.com

Brian Forsythe is one of about 30 young participants who must keep his fowl on the farm instead of showcasing them at next month's Washington County Ag Expo.

"It's a letdown," said Forsythe, the 17-year-old vice president of the Washington County 4-H Poultry Club. "I won the past two years and can't try for a third."

The Poultry Show, a contest and auction that draws hundreds of spectators, was canceled because of an April decision by the Maryland Department of Agriculture to ban all poultry exhibiting indefinitely, said Jeff Semler, a 4-H Extension educator at the Maryland Cooperative Extension Office.

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The ban resulted from cases of avian influenza, a highly contagious disease affecting poultry, that have sprung up in Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina. The airborne disease spreads through the feces of waterfowl.

"It's like a flu," said Art Cosner, 4-H Poultry Club group leader. "They get droopy and they stand around with their feathers ruffled and they drop dead on you."

The Poultry Show was scheduled for Aug. 8. The Ag Expo will be at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center off Sharpsburg Pike from Aug. 1-9.

Sue duPont, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the high number of avian influenza outbreaks in Virginia sparked the ban.

"We're being very vigilant about this because it's not something we want," duPont said. "Poultry is the number one agricultural industry in the state. It's huge."

The poultry industry accounted for $552 million in 2001, 35 percent of Maryland's agricultural income.

Cosner said his group is disappointed by the ban, but knows chickens are more susceptible to the disease if they leave their farms.

"They put a lot of work into it, but they understand," Cosner said. "They know it's out of my and their control."

Hannah Smith of Clear Spring said she is angry with the ban's timing.

"I really like my chickens and I want to show the public what I've done all year," the 14-year-old said. "I bought them when they were little peepies, and I've got them to look really nice."

Smith estimated she spends at least an hour a day cleaning and feeding her 12 chickens. She stays home the majority of the day to assure they have a constant supply of cold water since chickens overheat very easily, she said.

"I have to separate the roosters all day so their tail feathers don't get plucked out by other chickens," she said. "They don't grow back and the longer they get, the more likely you'll win."

Smith won two first-place titles for her Rhode Island Red and Polish chickens last year and wanted to keep her winning streak alive.

"I bought a lot of chickens this year and I wanted to exhibit them," she said. "Now I can't."

Semler said both the fancy section and the egg-producing section of the poultry contest were canceled entirely.

The meat-producing section of the production fowl judging will be held at the abatoir, or slaughterhouse, west of Hagerstown off Clear Spring Road on July 30. Those bidding at the meat-producing fowl auction will base their bids on pictures of the animals, not the usual parade of children and their fowl, Semler said.

Under the state ban, meat-producing fowl can be auctioned to bidders if they are immediately processed at the abatoir once judging is complete to keep them from possibly catching the disease, Semler said.

Forsythe, a Hagerstown resident who raises both fancy and production fowl, said he is thankful the auction is not canceled because he relies on the money raised to help pay for his college plans. He once received $90 for one chicken and $65 for another.

Although he understands why the ban was ordered, Forsythe said he does feel a little cheated.

"It's good to see all your hard work pay off," he said. "We were thinking of going to a Frederick show, but that's been canceled too. I just hope I can show them next year."

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