ANOKA, Minn. (WCCO) — Poultry is making its return to the county fair scene after a one year hiatus over fears of bird flu.
The outbreak of the virus impacted 9 million birds and forced farmers to eliminate their entire flocks. It also prompted a decision to prohibit all poultry showings at fairs.
There’s no denying Cassie Padula knows a thing or two about raising award-winning chickens This 4-H’er already earned four ribbons at the Anoka County Fair.
“These two [chickens] were second place in their class,” she said.
An impressive return after a year hiatus.
“I was really upset, especially since I had a lot of really nice birds last year, but I knew the underlying issue,” Padula said.
Last spring, a bird flu outbreak forced the cancellation of all poultry showings on the fair circuit.
“It was obviously a health risk to the animals,” said Anna Gilbertson, 4-H Club coordinator.
The alternative? Interactive and educational displays highlighting the poultry industry. It allowed 4-H’ers to still compete in a different setting.
“They had to think and be creative about how to showcase their learning with others without the live birds here. So they did that through displays and posters,” said Gilbertson.
The change had a small impact on participation. The State Fair saw a drop of about 14 percent. But this year, the return of the live birds brought back tough competition.
“Something was missing with my fair experience,” Padula said.
Even though the live birds are back, 4-H did keep one element of last year’s competition: Interactive displays. Only now they’ve been expanded to all animals.
“It’s just another way to showcase their learning, which is exciting,” said Gilbertson.
For Padula, who is in her final year of competition, the ribbon represents more than just poultry perfection — it symbolizes the health of the entire industry.
“There were millions of birds that died last year and a lot of us were thankfully unaffected because we did keep our birds home,” said Padula.
The state board of animal health lifted the quarantine on poultry farms in December.
4-H organizers say there hasn’t been a new case of bird flu this summer.