Some children will be disappointed, but animal health experts and many who raise chickens locally say it's for the best.
The Kern County Fair has canceled this September's poultry show and live poultry exhibits on the advice of California State Veterinarian Annette Jones. An outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease has had a devastating effect on poultry and poultry producers across the state, she said.
Jones, who is also director of Animal Health and Food Safety Services with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, recommended all poultry shows and exhibitions be canceled throughout the state.
Nearly a half-million back yard and commercial birds have been euthanized in an effort to combat the highly contagious respiratory virus, which is almost always fatal.
Michael Olcott, CEO of the Kern County Fair and Event Center, said in a statement that Kern's poultry show is one of the largest in the state.
"The show provides an opportunity for younger exhibitors to start showing animals and educates them about the (animals') care, health and well-being." Olcott said.
Fair organizers "are all disappointed," he said. But it's important the fair do its part in helping to control the outbreak.
Fair management is working to add new activities to take the place of the poultry show, he said. In the meantime, all other livestock shows and exhibits will proceed as normal.
Shawnra Ancheta, whose three children have been involved for years in raising and exhibiting chickens at the fair, said she's been warning them for months that this cancellation could happen.
"I don't think my kids will react the way other children might," she said.
Indeed, while there will be disappointment, they pretty much expected it. In fact, their mom, a 4-H Community Club leader and a former member of the Kern County Fair poultry team, had already decided they would keep their chickens home this year out of an abundance of caution.
"I'm actually happy they canceled it," she said. "The health of my birds is not worth the risk."
Andrew Houchin, whose 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son are active in raising birds, said the cancellation was not a surprise.
"It was kind of foreshadowed," he said. "The handwriting was on the wall."
They sat down and talked about it. And once they understood how terrible it would be to spread the disease to other birds at the fair, they were reconciled.
Houchin considered it a life lesson for the kids, a chance to grow.
Orville Andrews, chairman of the Kern County Fair's Poultry Committee, joined Houchin and Ancheta in asking backyard raisers and others to stop moving their birds and trading birds.
"There should be no movement of birds," Andrews said. "No bringing in new birds."
New chicks, sourced through a respected commercial breeder, are probably an exception, he said.
Virulent Newcastle poses little or no threat to humans. Eating meat or eggs from infected chickens could cause a case of pink eye or a fever in rare cases.
But it is fatal to birds including ducks, parrots and other exotic species. In 1971, nearly 12 million chickens were destroyed because of it.
"Nobody will report it," Houchin said. "And that's a hindrance in itself."
If one bird tests positive, every bird in your flock must be euthanized, he said. So sometimes the illness may go unreported.
But Houchin and the others believe the outbreak will ease over the summer, and the poultry show will return to the fair in 2020.
"Two years ago, there were close to 1,000 birds at the fair," he said. "It's huge."