- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - In addition to the bustle of the rides, rich smells of the fried food and twang of music on the stages at this year’s Tanana Valley State Fair are the adorable sights of the hundreds of animals raised for livestock competitions.

There are pigs, goats, rabbits and turkeys to name a few, but one of the most diverse collection of animals are the chickens.

They can be found in the Cluck Hut, neatly arranged in rows of tidy cages where they’ll cluck and crow at fairgoers. You’ll find everything from fluffy silkies to small, feisty Old English game bantams.

“That’s one of the really fun things about chickens, there are so many different blooming varieties,” said Susan Ashcraft, the assistant superintendent of the Cluck Hut and 4-H leader. “You start with one kind and then you find another kind that you want to raise.”

Chickens, she said, are an inroad for many young people to raising animals, which in turn teaches responsibility and appreciation for hard work.

And that’s definitely true for an animal lover like 13-year-old Eva Wise, of Fairbanks. This is her fourth year showing chickens at the fair. She began raising chickens the year before with her family, and didn’t really know what she was getting herself into the first year.

“I never intended to do showmanship the first year and I got pressured into doing it because everyone who was signing me up said, ‘Oh, you should do it. It’s so much fun.’ I wasn’t really sure, but they convinced me and that’s one of the best decisions of my life,” she said.

Another competitor took her “under her wing” to teach her the basics of showing chickens, and Wise said she’s been hooked ever since. And now she’s helping others learn the ropes, along with spending just about every hour of every day tending to her chickens at the fair.

This year, she’ll be showing a pair of Rhode Island Red bantams named Reyna - a sassy bird that Wise is hoping will do particularly well - and Julius Caesar, four Old English game bantams and some Belgian Bearded d’Anvers bantams. Judging is set to start today - which happens to be Wise’s 14th birthday - and will run through Wednesday.

For many, chickens are a so-called “gateway animal” that’s a relatively easy entry into the world of raising livestock.

That’s true for Wise, who has branched out into turkeys - she’s showing three Sweetgrass heritage turkeys - and two goats named Pearl and Sally. Her sister, Katie, specializes in raising ducks, and the two disagree on which animals, ducks or chickens, are the best.

Their dad, Deral, is proud of the development, he said raising livestock have been big boosts to his daughters.

“They show more responsibility and leadership, and are becoming leaders themselves,” he said.

The benefits of working with animals and the lessons picked up along the way aren’t lost on Wise either.

“It’s a good thing to be into, it’s a confidence booster,” she said. “You would never know it, but I used to be a really shy person and here I am prattling on about chickens.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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