Rooster crows, birds pecking at their sawdust bedding, and the sounds and sights of 4-H and FFA exhibitors opening cages to prepare their birds for the poultry show at the Story County Fair last week were a welcome change from just one year ago, when the spread of avian influenza forced the cancellation of all poultry shows in the state.

"This is much better," said Patty Sindt, who works with poultry superintendents at the Story County Fair. "It was sad to walk through an empty barn last year."

Kylene Harold, a member of the Palestine Peppy Pushers 4-H club, said the year off from showing gave her and other exhibitors a chance to reflect on the industry and their local poultry show.

"I think everybody’s super excited. We have a whole new appreciation for our show," she said while watering her birds. She brought a pen of production pullets, an Ameraucana rooster and a Rhode Island Red hen for the show this year.

Greg Sindt, a poultry show superintendent for the Story County Fair, said organizers used the 2015 fair as an opportunity to teach exhibitors about the avian influenza.

"We stressed to them (exhibitors) that the show cancellation was a small part of it; it was really tough on producers," Sindt said.

A teaching opportunity

Instead of the regular exhibition, Story County instead hosted a poster competition and a quiz bowl. The quiz bowl was held again this year, and will likely be a new tradition, Harold said.

"We started a tradition as a result of last year’s disappointment," Harold said.

In addition to the quiz bowl last year, Harold said Iowa State University gave a presentation about what the avian influenza can do.

"It was really eye-opening b­­ecause a lot of us wouldn’t have known about its total impact. It (avian influenza) was a sign that in a very, very small amount of time something can come through and ruin everything," she said.

And last year, it ruined her chance to show her birds.

"We raise birds every year, partially for eggs but also for show, so obviously it was a big disappointment for everybody. A lot of people here raise birds for this reason," Harold said.

The U.S. Department of Agri­culture (USDA) called the avian influenza outbreak last year the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. There were 223 cases of avian influenza nationwide, with 48 million birds affected in 21 states.

Between April 14, 2015, and June 17, 2015, there were 77 premises in 18 Iowa counties and 31.5 million birds affected in the state. In total, there were 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, one chicken breeding flock, one mail-order hatchery and five backyard flocks impacted by the disease, according to Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship.

Back and ready to show

Sindt said exhibitors came back this year, ready to show and compete again.

"People are happy to be back," said David Schmitt, state veterinarian for Iowa.

Schmitt worked with the poultry industry last year in identifying the illness and helping producers prevent the spread of the avian flu as much as they could. Unfortunately, he said, the poultry shows across the state had to be cancelled to help prevent the spread.

"I know exhibitors were disappointed, but I appreciate the clear understanding when the poultry shows were cancelled," he said.

Instead of bringing his birds to the fair last year, Rease Morris of the Collins-Maxwell FFA Chapter made a poster describing the birds he would have brought to the fair if not for the avian influenza.

"It was quite a bit of a disappointment for me. There’s a lot of passion that goes into getting the animals ready to show," he said. In May, he learned there wouldn’t be a poultry show at the 2015 Story County Fair.

"We had the birds and everything ordered already," he said.

Keeping up appearances

Some of the chickens he was to show last year as pullets were shown this year as hens. Last year he was going to show his Bantam chickens, but there was no show.

"I was kind of panicking because you have to keep them looking good," he said. He was able to show them this year, though, after keeping them groomed and in good showing condition for two years.

This year, more than 40 exhibitors participated in the 2016 Story County Fair’s poultry show.

"This year there’s more competition," Morris said. He’s been competing since the fourth grade.

It’s a welcome sign not only for exhibitors, but also for the state’s poultry industry, Schmitt said.

"Seeing the return of poultry shows across the state is a very positive situation in my view."