- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

No black cochins, medievals, red and silver gray dorkings, silver spangled hamburgs or Dominiques will be at Virginia's state and county fairs this summer.

The chickens as well as turkeys, pigeons, ducks and geese will have to roost at their home farms, rather than strut their stuff to compete for grand champion or first- through third-place ribbons.

"We can have nothing with feathers," said Charlie Parks, who is in charge of the poultry exhibit at the fair in Rockingham County.

Avian flu, which has resulted in the slaughter of more than 4.7 million birds in the state this year, has hit Rockingham County particularly hard. Most birds showing flu symptoms were killed by their owners to prevent spread of the disease to healthy poultry.

"They're sad. They're unhappy," said Mr. Parks, 72, referring to owners who have brought their best-looking feathered friends to the fair for many years.

"It devastated a lot of people," said fair director Tim Smiley, referring to exhibitors and commercial farmers who raise poultry for eggs and meat.

Farmers produce about 265 million broiler chickens and 25 million turkeys each year. Rockingham County is the top turkey-producing county in the nation. In 2000, poultry production contributed $745 million to the state's economy.

The plague of 1983 and 1984 led to the destruction of 1.5 million chickens and turkeys at a cost of more than $45 million.

Owners kill droopy, wheezy, unsteady and listless poultry that stop eating. Mr. Smiley said the brooders, which lay eggs for birth of chicks, especially are killed if they show symptoms. That way, potential flu-laden eggs are not placed in incubators.

The flu, a respiratory ailment that does not infect humans, can be transmitted to other birds. Mr. Smiley said healthy chickens often are found in the midst of sick flocks.

Joann Hensley of McGaheysville, who has been showing her prize poultry more than 15 years, said, "I'm really disappointed, actually. I have really pretty birds."

Mrs. Hensley would have shown eight or 10 of her rare birds. One of her big black cochins won a grand championship a few years ago. The big cochins are best defined by the feathers on their legs.

The avian flu is affecting Virginia's oldest county fair the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair, which began in 1738. Manager Richard Limerick, 74, said one barn will be practically empty because about 200 feathered showpieces won't be there.

Some of the chickens are common fowl, like leghorns and Plymouth rocks, but, Mr. Limerick said, "A lot of owners just raise them for show."

Buck Jarusek, 40, who has been showing his chickens for 15 years at the Prince William County Fair, the largest county fair in Virginia, said halfheartedly that the ban is probably a good idea.

"The breeds I have here are so rare that I wouldn't want them to come in contact with the avian flu," Mr. Jarusek said. "My yard is full of birds now."

Mr. Jarusek, farm manager at Gunston Hall Plantation, raises five breeds of chickens, three of turkeys, three of geese and one of ducks.

He also uses his birds for educational purposes, explaining, for instance, how the red dorking was brought by the Romans from Asia to the British Isles, then by colonists to America.

"It was one of the top breeds before the Civil War," Mr. Jarusek said, adding that lessons about migrations of the dorkings make history about Rome, Britain and America much easier and more interesting for second-graders.

Mr. Jarusek has been fascinated by chickens since he was 8.

"I started out with a little blue and a little pink chick," said Mr. Jarusek, recalling an Easter gift from his parents. He said he kept the two birds as they grew into roosters.

The Rockingham fair will feature displays, literature, movies and pictures about chickens, and pamphlets describing the flu, in addition to the usual exhibits of rabbits and guinea pigs, said fair co-chairman Joann Grayson.

More than 260 birds were exhibited last year, said Mr. Parks. "We had hoped to pick up more this year because we have more young people involved."

One of the big attractions was a duck giveaway, Mr. Parks said. Ducks were enticed to walk up an incline from their pond to get food, but a second slope would be greased.

The ducks would slide down the incline into the grasp of humans. About 25 are given to children.

"That won't happen this year," Mr. Parks said.

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