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Efforts to prevent avian flu mean fewer poultry entries

July 29, 2005|by ADAM BEHSUDI

SHARPSBURG

adamb@herald-mail.com

The cages that hold the chickens at the Washington County Ag Expo were not quite as full this year.

"They're all gonna win first place because they got no one to compete against," said Tom Topper, the judge of the show.

With only 31 entries, the poultry division was hit hard by stringent state regulations to prevent the spread of avian influenza. Compared to last year there were fewer than half the entries this year, according to Jeff Simmers, the 4-H poultry club advisor.

In past years, all chickens were tested before they were entered to be shown. However, because of increased precautions against avian influenza, a highly contagious poultry disease, the whole flock must be tested along with any chicken being shown, Simmers said.

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Simmers said this can be inconvenient because the whole flock, which the state of Maryland set at 30 chickens, has to be taken to a test site. He said some members of 4-H didn't compete this year because of the new regulations that would require them to crate up their whole flock to be throat swabbed and blood tested.

Topper said it's confusing for people who want to show from state to state. He said he hopes that in the future, regulations will be established on a national level, governed by the National Poultry Improvement Program.

The show, however, had enough chickens to form a small crowd of spectators under the poultry tent.

Rachel House, 11, was wheeled up to the judge's table. Her leg, fitted with a blue cast that went up to her knee, had kept her from showing her steers, pigs and sheep during the week.

"Because of her broken leg she couldn't show anything," said Mary House, her mother.

Except for some wing flapping and squawking from the birds, the wheelchair-bound Rachel was able to hand her large white bird off to the judge.

"I miss it, I'd rather show," she said. Her two sisters have helped her show her other animals while exhibiting their own animals during the week.

Capons, judged primarily for their meat, were the largest division at the show, with 18 birds. Topper said if the weather had been like it was on Wednesday, he was scared some of the chickens would drop dead by being handled in the heat.

All the chickens made it back to their cages alive, although a little shook up after being poked and prodded.

With most people having chickens only in the capon division, the small crowd dispersed as Topper moved on to judge the 13 purebred chickens or "exhibition birds."

Two young boys rushed up to the cages and stared at the Silkies, an odd-looking breed with extra-puffy feathers.

"They look like monkeys," said one.

"Dude, they don't even have any eyes!" said the other boy with surprise.

Topper checked and re-checked the small group of purebreds. At every angle he looked at them, turning them over, spreading their wings, and running his hand down their bodies. He finally awarded grand champion to the strange-looking, black Silkie hen.

Topper said he hopes the regulations will become more consistent in the future so more people will enter their birds for show.

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