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State fair champs describe experiences

Taylor Fankhanel started her 4-H poultry exhibition career with quail and chukker. Those interests led her to a championship at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair showing her Bantam Buff Orpington chickens.

"I insisted I wanted chickens the color of my hair," Fankhanel said.

Her red cockerel and pullets earned her one championship. She also championed in poultry showmanship and for her scientific poster presentation on epigenetics, the study of how genes can be variously expressed in an individual without changing the basic DNA makeup.

Fankanel, 15-year-old from Beltrami County, said Vern Holtzheuter, who supervises the poultry barn at the Beltrami County Fair, is her mentor in poultry exhibition. "I grew up watching Beth and Lucas Holtzheuter," she said of Vern and Sandy's children. "I told my mom I wanted to be just like them."

She said she especially values the showmanship honor because the award is based on her handling of her birds, knowledge of poultry, health of the chickens and her confidence in her presentation. As for epigenetics, she's always had an interest in genetics, but breeding poultry gave her the opportunity to put that science to practical use.

Reid Vonasek and his brother, Seth, made news in 2006 when they petitioned the Bemidji City Council, with their neighbors' consent, to raise pigs at their home within Bemidji city limits.

This year, Reid Vonasek's Yorkshire/Hampshire gilt won a state fair livestock championship. His pig was sold to subscribers at the Purple Ribbon Auction for $3,900.

Vonasek said he raised six pigs this year. He earned the trip to the state fair with a different animal he showed at the Beltrami County Fair, but decided the gilt he took to state had matured with better muscle mass. He said he and his family pick out the swine show candidates when they are weanlings, "feed them and raise them up to be good show pigs. It's a lot in the genes, but a lot changes from 60 pounds to 250 pounds."

Vonasek, a senior at Bemidji High School, said he will put the state fair livestock auction money toward a college fund. He said he is interested in a career in engineering. Qualifying his animal for the championship auction was a wonderful culmination of the show year, he said.

"It's such a cool experience," he said. "Being there has been one of my goals for a long time."