Infrequently Asked Questions: What happens to the animals after the fair?

Guiding pigs
Pigs are guided through the stalls in the swine barn on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR 2012

This question is probably infrequently asked because the answer is, in part, a bit morbid. But the Minnesota State Fair is, at its heart, an agricultural exhibition, and animals are a big part of that.

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson set out to learn what happens to all of them after the fair.

What happens to all of the animals at the State Fair the rest of the year?

Well, like so many things at the State Fair, it's a complicated story. You know, there are literally hundreds of animals here that belong to hundreds of families. So there isn't really one answer to what happens, but it basically falls into two categories: They go back where they came from, or they are trucked off to be killed and processed and could wind up as bacon on your breakfast plate or dinner in your oven.

So it’s a harsh reality, isn’t it?

This is an Agricultural Exposition and meat is one of the reasons these animals were bred and raised.

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The 4-H program here features competitions for market beef, sheep, swine and meat goats. A few years ago, they added in market chickens and turkeys. And these are the commercial type birds, not the fancy feathered ones you see in rows in the poultry building.

The 4-H participants here have the option to send their animals right from the fair to market — there are literally trucks waiting for them here and this is their second to last stop.

Some of the champion animals go to the 4-H purple ribbon auction before they go to the processor. That helps raise thousands of dollars every year for agricultural education.

Some of these animals are destined for our food chain, but what about the rest?

When you see animals here, you are really seeing two groups: The 4-H animals that are part of youth agriculture education and development, and the so-called open class, which is anybody.

Open classes are typically not as market driven: the chickens and geese are likelier to be from backyard flocks. They don't lay commercially viable eggs and aren't practical for meat production.

And there sometimes are buyers walking around looking at animals at the fair. They don't actually take them home from here, but this is kind of a showroom for breeders and animal dealers for business that gets done the rest of the year. And that can be true for horses and cows and all kinds of animals — even chickens. Show flocks are often getting traded and bred.

Is it always safe to bring these animals back home?

The animals here are checked by vets when they arrive and monitored while they're here. And if animals are showing signs of illness, they're removed. Obviously, bringing in birds and animals from all over the state and housing them together for a couple of days at a time could be a sure way to spread diseases, so they watch these herds and flocks carefully.