FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn.-Here's something to crow about: It's not all about fancy feathers in the Poultry Barn; the Minnesota State Fair even rewards the state's most vociferous roosters.
A line of roosters of various sizes and colors squared off Wednesday in the preliminary round of the State Fair's Rooster Crowing Contest. It's not like Moo-Off - in which humans do the calling - or as adorable as rabbit agility races, but it's its own kind of fun and had crowds cheering.
The competition is open to those cockiest of birds at the fair for poultry judging. For the contest, judges - volunteers from the crowd, so you, too, could do it - perch near each of 12 feathered entrants and for a full half-hour track their number of crows.
"They count how many times the birds do a full cock-a-doodle-do kind of crow," said Paul Bengtson, superintendent of the Fair's Poultry Barn and the contest's emcee.
Most roosters just crow on their own, but some folks do things to coax the birds to crow. They can't touch the animals, but volunteer judges - so biased! - clap their hands, toss their sawdust bedding around, whoop - whatever it takes to get them to talk.
"We will have some exhibitors who try to entice their bird to crow, and those people usually do pretty well in the contest," Bengtson said. "But it's usually just the bird crowing on its own that will win it."
Such was the case Wednesday, when owner and hobby farmer Haakon Vaadeland of Park Rapids stood near his birds and puffed up his shoulders to fire up his light Brahma bantam, Rocky, who slightly trailed the rival barred Plymouth Rock rooster next to him.
But the barred Plymouth Rock, who took top honors, had the Rooster Whisperer on his side.
"You've got to know how to talk chicken," said volunteer judge Joe Aitkin of Bemidji, who took home a lavender ribbon for coaxing 49 crows from his charge. "You have to be one with the bird."
It also helped that the barred Plymouth Rock and the light Brahma bantam sparred before the contest even began. As Bengtson, the poultry superintendent said, roosters crow to pass on information, "whether it's their territory or just a call-and-response."
Judge Mallorie Taft, 10, of St. Paul took a different tack with her buff cochin who took second place, with 39 crows. "You just crow at him," she said. "If you irritate him, he'll crow."
Vaadeland, meanwhile, was strategizing for the next day's finals for Rocky and Goldy, his father's buff cochin bantam. "Tomorrow they'll be rested, more focused, less pressure now that they've been through it once," he said. "They have to fight through the pain. ... They know in their heart they're champions."
The Vaadelands' cochin, Goldy, who scored just three crows, is "not done yet. He had a little stage fright today. He's a fighter. He'll be back tomorrow," Vaadeland said - and just then Goldy let out a peal. "Now you crow!" he said.
The roosters square off again in Thursday's finals. Their totals accumulate, so they can make up for a more reticent day before.
The champion lands his owner a cool $100, plus up to $60 for a top score in the qualifying round.
If you go
Rooster Crowing Contest finals, 11 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the Poultry Barn, Judson Avenue and Cough Street.
Moo-off. 2:30 p.m. Sunday, at the Moo Booth in the Cattle Barn, corner of Judson Avenue and Stevens Street.
Other quirky competitions to check out next year at the Great Animal Get-Together: Lama Costume Competition, where 4-Hers and their llamas or alpacas, dressed in complementary costumes, square off. (Fair folks routinely note that "Lama" is the correct spelling for the genus that includes llamas and alpacas). Milk Moo-stache Contest, in three age categories. Dress A Sheep, in which teams have a set amount of time to put a costume on a wooly teammate. And the Agrilympics, in which local celebrities compete in hand-milking a cow, packing wool and carving butter.