The county fair isn’t what it used to be, at least in many parts of the country. Like that of my home county back in North Dakota, they have been reduced in size to that of nothing more than just a 4-H fair.

The Burke County fair, located in Flaxton, North Dakota, under the direction of County Extension Agent Dan Folske, has done an admirable job of maintaining its focus on 4-H. Under his leadership, the fair is still the centerpiece of the county and continues to showcase all that is good about our youth.

Over the years 4-H has come to dominate most activities at the county fair. This has been without a doubt, the biggest win and greatest achievement in the history of the county fair. It has provided a platform for which the youth of America can still compete and learn from both their achievements and mistakes.

4-H was built on the spirit of competitiveness, for which the county fair has been its greatest contributor. It is on this very principle that 4-H and county fairs can point with pride to an unending parade of champions. And perhaps even more importantly, the stepping stone for moving onto the national scene. But before making that big step, realizing that the real champions are those kids hanging on to the end of those lead ropes; knowing that the way to the winners circle comes by the way of experience.

I can assure you that I speak from experience when I express the accolades of 4-H and association with county fairs. It is with the greatest sense of humility that I credit them both with any and all of the successes I’ve enjoyed in life. Though I’ve known my share of failure, it is the experience of those days that gave me direction in life — became the foundation of my vocation, and taught me to always be competitive — to strive to be the best—and to win without always being the winner.

May 4-H continue to grow and strengthen the county fairs in the tradition for which it has lasted all these many years. The 4-H (Head-Heart-Hands-Health) organization began in rural America in the early 1900’s, about the same time as that of many of the county fairs. This was done in conjunction with congress to have youngsters learn about agriculture, forestry, conservation, and home economics by participating in these various activities. All have benefited from the association of 4-H and county fairs, but none more than that of livestock. 

Today, most county fairs have become primarily 4-H Livestock Shows, for which all of 4-H has benefited from the positive development of individual lives.

But for many farmers and ranchers, the county fair is still the biggest show on earth — nearly 3,000 fairs occupying more than a quarter million acres. Maybe the county fair in your county has shrunk in size, but when combined with others across the country; it’s still quite a show.

No other industrialized country even compares, and no industry is even close to being showcased like that of agriculture. So with 4-H being the centerpiece, it embodies the spirit of farming and ranching like none other.

Having participated in most of the major livestock shows around the country as either a judge or coach, I can assure you that nothing makes the adrenaline pump like that of competing with your peers at the county level — those that you grew up with, listening to folklore of the one that ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ won.

This is unlike that of the professionals, where strangers meet and compete for perhaps the first time, where there is that element of money and prestige that flows like honey. Under the big top it seems more tarnished and tainted — like that of a mutual admiration society. The animal often becomes nothing more than that of a prop for a Stetson and Lizards.

There is probably a place for both, but for me, give me the county fair where I can still wake up to the crowing of a rooster down at the poultry barn, walk down to the 4-H food booth for breakfast, and help catch a run-away calf after being sprayed with cold water for the first time.

All the time, I knew everyone I met along the way. How could you not like your neighbor, as you strolled down the midway holding your sweetheart’s hand, and feeling the magic of the lights, music and festivities?

Like many fairs across the country, the Burke County Fair ain’t what she used to be. But because of people like Dan Folske and Steve Wickenhauser coming together as complete strangers, the fair may be even better than ever.


(insightful stories written by Ken Knight)


Ken E. Knight is the author of the “Knightro Report”, a nationally syndicated livestock-marketing column, which is featured in this publication on a regular basis. Mr. Knight is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a major BS Degree in Meat and Animal Science and a minor in Communications. In addition to being a professional auctioneer, public speaker and livestock judge, he brings many years of corporate level meat and livestock market management and expertise to the industry for which he now serves as an independent voice of shared knowledge and experience.


For more in-depth information regarding the topics that have been touched upon in this report, Knightro conducts livestock marketing seminars on a regular basis. To schedule a seminar, auction, judging, or speaking engagement, please contact Ken Knight, Knightro, W11911 County Road FF,  River  Falls,  WI 54022,  phone  toll free 1-877-KNIGTRO, phone 715-262-8480,  fax 715-262-8480, e-mail [email protected]t; or contact the Midwest Farm & Livestock Directory at [email protected].