MILAN, Illinois — Milan-native William Ahrens is the proud owner of 43 chickens. The 13-year-old has been in charge of them on his parents farm for nearly three years.
"They're so curious and they're fun to have around," Ahrens said.
He treats them all like pets, even naming most of them. It's part of the reason he's doing everything he can to make sure they stay safe and healthy as Avian Flu cases pop up around Illinois and Iowa.
"We keep our boots clean even from even going to the coop from the sheep barn. We make sure no one really goes in the chicken coop or chicken run to make sure that the disease doesn't get transmitted in any way. And we keep good, sanitary stuff," Ahrens said .
His precautions come as the Iowa Department of Agriculture announced a temporary halt to all live bird exhibitions at fairs and other gatherings of birds.
Mike Anderson is the state of Iowa 4H Ag and Natural Resources program manager. He remembers when this happened back in 2015, and makes note of the major impacts it has.
"It's a huge detriment on the industry nationwide, no doubt about it. I think that probably comes to light in situations like this in far as the sheer number of millions of birds having to be euthanized or destroyed so to speak. So it's tough on the industry," Anderson said.
It also prohibits the sale or transfer of livestock at auction markets, swap meets and exotic sales. The orders are already in motion and are effective for a minimum of 30 days, and until 30 days have passed without a confirmation of a new infection in the state of Iowa.
In Scott County, Mississippi Valley Fair staff told News 8 they are taking the matter one week at a time right now. Since that fair isn't until August, they're hopeful kids will be able to show their poultry by then.
While Anderson acknowledges the disappointment from 4H members on potentially not being able to show, they do set up other program options for members. On top of that, he explained it's also a part of the agriculture industry, which 4H is all about.
"This is kind of one of those lessons we teach in 4H as far as animal production where things sometimes don't go your way," Anderson said.
Despite the optimism, Ahrens said he isn't taking any chances. He knows it could be something as simple as nature running its course that renders his flock ill.
"A wild bird could just fly over and transmit it," Ahrens said.
Even at just 13-years-old, he knows that's just the way it goes sometimes on a farm.
"It's kind of just up to nature. It's kind of disappointing. But we know that we've done all that we can," Ahrens said. "And if we need to, we can just get new birds."