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Jackson County Fair’s poultry barn is music to the ears of 4-H’ers

JACKSON -- A familiar sound returned to the Jackson County Fair this week -- and will be heard once again at fairs all across Minnesota. It's the sound of roosters crowing, ducks quacking, geese honking and turkeys gobbling. After a mandatory one...

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Jackson County 4-H Cloverbuds (youths ages 5-7) showcase their poultry projects before judge Dennis Thompson Tuesday morning at the Jackson County Fair. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

JACKSON -- A familiar sound returned to the Jackson County Fair this week -- and will be heard once again at fairs all across Minnesota.

It’s the sound of roosters crowing, ducks quacking, geese honking and turkeys gobbling.

After a mandatory one-year hiatus in county fair poultry barns brought on by avian influenza in 2015, 4-H’ers in Jackson County undoubtedly have something to crow about this year. Nearly every pen inside the poultry barn on the Jackson County Fairgrounds is occupied by a bird.

“It was really kind of a bummer last year not to have a poultry show,” said Sarah Jacobs, Jackson County 4-H Program Coordinator.

Sure, there were alternatives offered for the 4-H’ers who normally brought poultry to the county fair. They could make an educational poster instead, and participate in a showmanship contest using toy stuffed birds instead of the real thing. Instead of showing their birds to the judge, they talked about what they would have brought and how they cared for them.

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It just wasn’t the same.

“It’s really good to have poultry back at the fair,” Jacobs said.

4-H’ers brought their livestock to the fair on Monday and Tuesday was the first full day of 4-H activities, with the poultry, rabbit, dairy goat and dairy shows scheduled throughout the day.

The poultry show began at 8:30 a.m. with more than 30 4-H’ers -- including 10 Cloverbuds -- exhibiting. Though poultry show co-superintendent Kim Hohenstein said exhibitor numbers are down a bit this year in poultry, he is pleased with the quality of birds that were brought in and the enthusiasm of the 4-H’ers exhibiting them.

Hohenstein and his wife, Michele, have served as poultry superintendents at the Jackson County Fair for 12 years, taking on the role when their own children were in the poultry project. Their youngest has since graduated from 4-H, but Kim and Michele chose to remain active 4-H volunteers in the project area. Kim even serves on the state poultry committee for 4-H.

“It’s nice to have the live animals -- last year it just didn’t seem right not to have the poultry here,” he said.

Hohenstein knew it might be difficult to get some kids back into the poultry project after the avian flu scare a year ago, so he and his wife got creative. They offered 10 4-H’ers in Jackson County an opportunity to lease chickens from them to show at the fair.

The chickens are an egg-laying variety, which Hohenstein said were chosen so that after the fair they’d have the eggs. Perhaps more important, though, is what the Hohensteins and their chickens provided to the 4-H’ers -- a whole new learning opportunity for youths who might otherwise be unable to experience the poultry project.

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Take Sarah Hedstrom, for example. She lives in a rural area, but has a dog at home and no place for chickens. This is her first year in 4-H, and when she was offered the opportunity to lease chickens, it just seemed like the right fit.

“I like it -- it’s a lot of fun,” Hedstrom said of showing chickens at the fair. She had read a little bit about chickens, but she said she learned a lot from the poultry judge Tuesday morning, such as the parts of her chicken and the difference between its primary and secondary feathers.

Exhibiting mixed breed chickens (Rhode Island Red and White and New Hampshire Red, she said), the hens will lay 250 to 300 eggs per year. In fact, a hen in the pen of chickens next to hers had laid an egg during the show -- to the delight of several young kids in the poultry barn.

Already, Hedstrom is looking forward to next year -- and maybe, instead of leasing, she will have a pen at home for her own chickens.

Connor Wedebrand was one of 10 Cloverbud 4-H’ers -- a term used for youths ages 5 to 7 who aren’t yet old enough for traditional 4-H -- to participate in the Cloverbud poultry show. In that contest, his White Wyandotte chicken was judged alongside all species of poultry. The event helps the younger children learn more about their project as the judge explains things about their bird.

Wedebrand, 7, was a little too shy to talk about the contest, but he nodded that he had fun showing his chicken, and nodded again when asked if he planned to show chickens at the fair again next year.

Hohenstein said seeing 10 4-H’ers in the Cloverbud poultry show is a good sign for the project area.

“You like to think that’s the future of the program,” he said. Another dozen or more kids were enrolled in the junior showmanship category -- also showing strength in the future of poultry exhibitors in Jackson County.

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“We try to keep cultivating the positivity,” Hohenstein said, adding that he and his wife encourage family participation in the poultry project. Already during the show Tuesday, he had one parent tell him she was learning as much as her 4-H’er.

“Every species you learn along with the kids,” he said.

After 10 years in the poultry project, Michaela Kellner has learned a thing or two about raising birds. She is exhibiting standard black and Bantam black chickens at this year’s Jackson County Fair, along with East Indie Bantam ducks.

“I like the birds -- they’re a fun project,” she said, noting that her family also has turkeys and peacocks at home.

As one of the older poultry exhibitors, Kellner said she is sharing her knowledge of the project with a lot of the younger members this year. For instance, she gave away her trade secret for making a chicken’s comb look shiny (just rub a little Vaseline into it), and how to make a bird’s feathers shine (wet wipes work fantastic for that).

Kellner has taken her poultry project to the Minnesota State Fair every year since she’s been eligible -- except for last year, of course, when the state fair cancelled its poultry shows as well. Kellner ended up taking her dairy project instead.

It was still too early Tuesday to know if Kellner sealed a trip to the state fair, but one thing was for certain.

“It’s good to hear the roosters crow at the fair,” she said.


Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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