STOKES COUNTY, N.C. -- The Stokes County Fair kicked off Tuesday with lots to do and see, but for the first time ever, that did not include any poultry.
An outbreak of avian influenza in the Midwest led North Carolina Department of Agriculture officials to decide that all county fairs in the state would be absent of poultry, in order to decrease the likelihood of the highly contagious flu affecting the state's bird population.
"We haven't had any cases of avian flu in North Carolina," said Mark Howell, an emergency program specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. "We're hopeful we won't have any."
Howell said fighting bird flu has been his main focus for the past few months. He traveled to Minnesota and Iowa to help with the outbreak there.
"It's a crisis situation," he said. "Five to seven days, we were seeing flocks of hundreds of thousands completely wiped out."
Howell said, in one case, a single farm lost more than five million birds - which comprised three percent of the national U.S. egg production.
Fairgoers expressed disappointment that the usual 133 chickens at the Stokes County Fair were not present.
"We came here this year really hoping to see chickens," said mother Melanie Fowler. "And there aren't any. We walked in and walked right back out. Hopefully, they'll bring the chickens back next year."
But visitors, like Cindy McNally, said they appreciated the Department of Agriculture's preemptive, cautionary measures.
McNally typically brings ducks to the fair for a racing derby. This year she brought pigs and goats to race, and said she was happy to leave her birds at home.
"I am thankful that the state veterinarian is doing all that he can to protect our poultry," she said.