The Mariposa County Fair is one of the most enjoyable weeks of the year for locals, filled with food, fun, family and friends.
But the fair also serves as a key educational piece in the lives of young students, who learn about agriculture and livestock.
However, this year, an outbreak of a virulent disease known as Newcastle disease has forced the shutdown of the poultry events at the fair.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Virulent Newcastle disease, formerly known as exotic Newcastle disease, is a contagious and fatal viral disease affecting the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds and poultry. The disease is so virulent that many birds and poultry die without showing any clinical signs.
Virulent Newcastle disease spreads when healthy birds come in direct contact with bodily fluids from sick birds. The disease affects almost all birds and poultry, even vaccinated poultry. The virus can travel on manure, egg flats, crates, other farming materials or equipment and people who have picked up the virus on their clothing, shoes or hands.
“Shows (around the state) were suspended because of the outbreak,” said fairgrounds manager Brian Bullis. “The state veterinarian was supposed to make a decision by July 1 if later fairs would be allowed to have poultry shows. They were still finding outbreaks in the poultry communities, so they left it up to individual fair boards to determine if we were going to have a poultry show.”
Bullis said after some consultation, the local fair board decided not to hold the poultry events.
“We had to make a decision right away,” Bullis said. “Since this could be passed on to the public and has a chance of making people sick, we voted in favor of not having the show.”
Bullis said there will be frustrating consequences for the youth who raise poultry.
“They’re going to miss a whole year of production and the experience that comes along with raising a flock. A lot of these kids have probably already purchased birds and will still have them at home, but they won’t be able to participate in it at the fair,” Bullis said.
One family in the Mariposa area, the Sharrars, have four children involved in the Bootjack 49ers 4-H Club and the Mariposa County 4-H Poultry Project. They were each disappointed about the changes caused by the Newcastle disease.
“I’m pretty disappointed that I can’t show birds at fair or even bring any live birds, but I understand it’s important to keep all the other birds safe,” said Robyn Sharrar, 12. “Last year was my first year in the 4-H Poultry project and it was really fun; I placed well in showing my bantam chicken and I got more confident in public speaking. I was looking forward to showing and selling my meat geese because I would have used the money to care for our animals and pay for my project next year.”
Nina Sharrar, 13, added: “We knew there was a chance poultry would be canceled, but we hoped there would still be an auction, so we bought our meat birds anyway. It is kind of disappointing that we can’t bring our birds to fair, but we will be in the barn talking about poultry and the Newcastle disease. I think it is harder for the members that aren’t in any other animal projects, but this year I also joined the rabbit project so I can still sell an animal at fair and show my rabbits. We hope the community will still stop by the poultry barn to support the project.”
But hope isn’t completely lost for the youth.
“We are putting together a demonstration area at the poultry barns where the kids can still participate in the fair. We bought stuffed animals and they’re going to be able to participate in showmanship using those stuffed animals,” Bullis said.
According to the USDA, “Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern. No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat. In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected with mild symptoms, such as conjunctivitis. These are easily prevented with personal protective equipment.”
For more on the disease, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/virulent-newcastle/vnd.