Besides eating outrageous amounts of food at the fair, boarding crazy amusement rides and looking at sprawling farm implements by the hundreds, another all time favorite activity at the state fair is visiting the livestock barns. Slow moving brown-eyed cows, strong yet gentle draft horses, twitchy nosed rabbits and clucking chickens all beckon us to view the animals on display. And who could pass up seeing the world’s largest boar or cute baby pigs with their squealing calls and frantic feeding? These animals residing at the fairgrounds for three weeks each summer bring in thousands of people who otherwise might never see a farm animal up close, and allow us to remember from where and how we get our daily food.
There is another display, however, going on at the fair that portrays another side of the important farm food chain – a display of “other” animals found on farms. (And not only farms – but also in woods, wild lands, and, sometimes, not so wild places. Like our backyards!) To the farmer growing important crops to feed livestock, these “other” animals help keep down rodent populations that would otherwise damage and destroy untold amounts of produce and forage.
You can learn about these animals at the Department of Natural Resources building. Daily talks on snakes and raptors give fairgoers a unique chance to see up close and personal some examples of these fascinating and important “other” farm animals. Each morning at 10:00 in the DNR amphitheater is a snake program, and each afternoon at 4:30 a program on raptors. Interpretive naturalists at the amphitheater talk about the important role these, and other animals play in our daily lives. You might be lucky enough to see a hawk take a mouse from the raptor handler’s gloved hand, or view an owl pellet – the by-product of their mouse eating habit. Learn about the variety of snakes found in Indiana, and how to tell a venomous snake from a non-venomous one and where they can be found. See the snake that is the farmer’s friend, and learn why these creatures need to be protected and cared for. Just like the livestock.
Of course, there is much, much more to learn at the DNR building – but I will leave that up to you to discover. Check out the fair schedule for daily programs ranging from spider talks to geology, fishing, history and more. And while you are munching down that butter-slathered ear of corn, remember to say thanks to the farmers, the livestock, and the “other” farm animals that made it all possible.
Vicki Basman is the Chief of Interpretation for Indiana’s Division of State Parks and Reservoirs. For over 17 years she has helped visitors appreciate our natural and cultural resources, and considers it a privilege to work with devoted staff at more than 32 unique properties across our Hoosier state.