MDARD: No birds at fairs, petting zoos or swap meets for now due to bird flu

Avian influenza continues to impact agriculture

Veva Robinson waits to auction off her duck during the Midland County Fair small animal auction Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 at the Midland County Fairgrounds. (Katy Kildee/kkildee@mdn.net)

Veva Robinson waits to auction off her duck during the Midland County Fair small animal auction Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 at the Midland County Fairgrounds. (Katy Kildee/kkildee@mdn.net)

(Katy Kildee/kkildee@mdn.net)

The county fairs and petting zoos across Michigan will look a little different in the foreseeable future due to a recent 'bird ban' issued by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

MDARD issued an advisory May 10 to stop all bird exhibitions in the state due to the rapid spread of avian influenza in an attempt to protect the health of domestic flocks.

"After much deliberation and consultation with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s State Veterinarian Dr. Nora Wineland, MDARD’s Director Gary McDowell has decided to stop 2022 poultry and waterfowl exhibitions in Michigan until such time that the state goes 30 days without a new detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza in domestic poultry," an MDARD press release read. "This decision is effective immediately to further protect against the spread of HPAI, helping to keep Michigan’s domestic poultry flocks safe."

The stop order includes — but isn't limited to — shows, exhibitions, swap meets, petting zoos at fairs and game bird/waterfowl fair displays. However, it does not include or affect egg hatching exhibits, pigeon races or zoos.

Various levels of state government have been issuing warnings and notices as bird flu spread throughout the state.

A few weeks ago the Tuscola County Health Department in Michigan's Upper Thumb put out a warning to its residents when a tundra swan was diagnosed with HPAI in the county. The health department warned flock owners to watch for unusual deaths, drops in egg production and a significant decrease in water consumption — each of which is symptoms of HPAI.

Avian influenza is spread in a variety of ways from bird to bird and flock to flock, impacting both wildfowl and poultry, along with domesticated birds. The MDARD website states symptoms of birds with avian influenza can include:

  • Sudden death
  • Significant drop in water consumption
  • Lack of appetite, energy or vocalization
  • Drop in egg production
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen comb, wattles, legs or head
  • Nasal discharge, sneezing or coughing
  • Abnormal behavior like difficulty walking

There have been scattered reports across social media of people finding dead birds. Michigan Department of Natural Resources is asking people to avoid dead birds and instead report them on the DNR's website at https://tinyurl.com/2p89m225 or by calling the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030. The reporting asks for general reporting information such as the reporter's name and contact information, where the bird or mammal was located, along with other information such as the health of the animal and how many are involved.

According to the MDARD press release, there have been 12 cases of HPAI in non-commercial backyard flocks from nine different counties across both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

“MDARD is committed to protecting the health of all Michigan’s domestic birds. Preventative measures are the best and only tools we have to limit the negative impact of HPAI. By exercising this necessary precaution, we can wait for the warmer, drier weather needed to kill the virus without creating conditions that could worsen the problem,” said Wineland. “By taking this step now, it is hoped that poultry exhibitors can still participate in fair activities once circumstances have improved.”

The department will work with the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, Michigan State University Extension, 4-H programs, and other partners to notify and advise exhibitors regarding when these activities can resume and how to conduct them safely, according to the release.

“While the stop on poultry exhibitions is not ideal, the safety of our exhibitors, attendees and animals is of the utmost importance to our fairs,” said Lisa Reiff, executive director Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions. “When poultry exhibitions were canceled in 2015, many fairs thought outside the box to allow exhibitors an opportunity to highlight their projects in unique ways without live exhibitions. Fairs are already planning ways for poultry to still be a part of the fair in a non-traditional way that will keep everyone safe.”

“Our 4-H families are often on the leading edge of biosecurity,” said Jake DeDecker, Michigan State University Extension state 4-H leader. “We will work closely with MDARD and MAFE to make sure that we address this issue head-on.”

To slow the spread of avian influenza, there are a number of preventative measures needed to protect flocks. Whether it’s a few backyard birds or a large commercial flock, following a few key steps is fundamental to protecting the health and vitality of Michigan’s domestic birds:

  • Prevent contact between domestic and wild birds by bringing them indoors or ensuring their outdoor area is fully enclosed.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling birds as well as when moving between different coops.
  • Disinfecting boots and other gear when moving between coops.
  • Do not share equipment or other supplies between coops or other farms.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting equipment and other supplies between uses. If it cannot be disinfected, discard it.
  • Using well or municipal water as drinking water for birds.
  • Keep poultry feed secure to ensure there is no contact between the feed/feed ingredients and wild birds or rodents.

Reporting possible cases

For domestic birds

Domestic bird owners and caretakers should watch for unusual deaths, a drop in egg production, a significant decrease in water consumption, or an increase in sick birds. If avian influenza is suspected in domestic birds, contact MDARD immediately at 800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after-hours).

For wild birds

If anyone notices what appears to be unusual or unexplained deaths among wild bird populations, please report these cases to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources by:

  • Using the DNR’s Eyes in the Field app. Choose the “Diseased Wildlife” option among the selections for “Observation Forms.”
  • Calling the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030.

More information on avian influenza and how to protect flocks through biosecurity measures can be found on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.