FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — Getting 2 million people in and out of the Minnesota State Fair each year is tricky enough for organizers. Now add in 14,000 animals — a few heavier than a truck — to the mix.
From a pair of geese in a wagon being pulled around the Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights to large trailers unloading draft horses, getting the animals into place each year is like a choreographed barn dance. And it is repeated several times each year.
The Wednesday before the Fair’s opening is move-in day. Trailers from across Minnesota line up to unload their animals one-by-one. The task often lasts from 2 in the morning to 5 at night. It isn’t chaotic, but it takes time and manpower.
The animals stay for four days before another group is rotated in. Visitors Sunday can get a glimpse of the first big change-over.
Mark Goodrich, 62, oversees it all. He is the deputy general manager of agriculture and competition at the State Fair. His job is to plan out the logistics for keeping livestock at the Fair, from animal hygiene to stall ventilation to how animals get in or out.
Goodrich was nervous to say it out loud last week, but he did offer: “Everything is running smoothly so far.”
Years of experience, months of preparation
Goodrich has worked for the Fair for 33 years and even remembers checking on the animals when he was 5 years old and his father was a volunteer. He and other Fair staff have prepared months — and for some events years — in advance.
“It’s all year round,” Goodrich said of the annual preparations. “We try to surround ourselves with the best people and exhibitors and livestock.”
Livestock event and operation specialist Cody Koenen makes sure the barns are disinfected before and after new animals come in and he helps set up their ideal environment. For example, cattle prefer to lie on wood chips while sheep and goats prefer straw. That way, the animals stay happy and healthy.
Koenen works closely with the animals and owners, and move-in and move-out days can be methodical. The animals won’t stampede, but you still need to keep a watchful eye on them.
“I’ve seen it before where they get a little wild. Sometimes they’ll have a moment,” Koenen said. “But they’re used to being around people, though. These ones get pretty pampered and all done up and everything.”
In and out
Fair animals stay only four days and Sunday is the first move-out day. Koenen expects as many as 180,000 people to be at the Fair on Sunday, and getting the animals out through the big crowd is meticulous work. It can take three people to move one pig, for example.
Those who traveled the furthest to bring their animals to the Fair load up and leave first. Everyone else trickles out behind them.
The stalls are disinfected and the contents of the stalls are shoveled out onto the street, Koenen said. Finally, all the straw and manure is carried off by semi-trucks and another move-in day can begin.
Each animal must be approved by a veterinarian before attending the Fair. And once on site, they are checked on two to three times a day.
There is an emergency plan in place to handle 30 different scenarios involving the animals, from ankle sprains to more serious ailments.
There have been challenges. In 2009, three pigs at the State Fair tested positive for the H1N1 swine flu virus. Goodrich said they had to switch out ventilation systems and be hyper-aware of the flu’s incubation period. In another instance, in 2015, bird exhibits had to be canceled altogether after avian flu tore across the United States.
Goodrich said he believes the State Fair has continued to improve health and safety every year since, but he isn’t going to relax, either.
“The State Fair is really Minnesota’s Fair,” Goodrich said. “We have so many people working year-round. We are always trying to find ways to be ready.”