4-H volunteer hatches novel idea for poultry show

Aug. 26—TRANSFER — Nobody had a live entry at this year's Transfer Harvest Home Fair poultry show — and it's not because contestants chickened out.

For the second consecutive year, Pennsylvania banned all poultry shows. The state Department of Agriculture said the ban is due to prevent the spread of the deadly avian influenza cases cropping up at farms in the spring, mostly the eastern side of the state.

But Mercer County 4-H volunteer and Deer Creek Township chicken farmer Debbie Ward hatched a creative idea. Members entered the contest by bringing photos of their chickens.

Even better, kids sewed together pieces of felt with fluffy stuffing to create artificial chickens.

"I'm really proud of my 4-H kids," Ward said.

Photo entries were hung on walls at the fair's poultry exhibit barn. And to make it seem more real, the stuffed chickens were placed in cages just like live ones.

Thor Noble's stuffed entries included a white leghorn chicken. But the 4-H member from West Salem Township enjoyed talking about his silkie chickens.

"Silkies are more of a pet," Noble said. "They would have a difficult time surviving in the wild."

They also have an odd digestive system, he said. To digest their food properly, they have to be fed small stones that grind their nourishment.

Allan Ward of Sandy Lake, Debbie Ward's grandson, beamed over his stuffed Rhode Island red. But his specialty is raising cornish cross chickens.

"They're made for eating," he said.

Neighboring Ohio and New York continue to allow poultry shows.

Poultry growers take bird flu seriously. It's highly contagious and extremely lethal.

"If you have 600 chickens housed together and just one of them gets the flu — you have to euthanize every single one of them," Ward said.

Since it's a virus, like the many viruses humans get, antibiotics are useless, she said.

It doesn't just hit chickens. Other domestic poultry, such as turkeys, can contract the virus.

Wild birds, such as ducks and geese, can carry and spread avian influenza viruses without becoming ill.

The Centers Disease Control and Prevention's website said bird flu viruses are caused by an influenza type A virus. It can be transmitted from infected birds to other animals, and potentially to humans, in two main ways:

— Directly from infected birds or from virus-contaminated environments.

— Through an intermediate host, such as another animal.

Direct infection can occur from exposure to saliva, mucous, or feces from infected birds. But bird flu infections among people are rare, the CDC said.

Raising chickens in backyards has gained popularity. Ward said anyone with chickens that drop dead suddenly needs to report that to the Agriculture department.

"You have to be vigilant," she said.