Johanna Kiska's prize poultry already had won a few hundred dollars in 2012 before heading to the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg with this year's hopefuls, and her track record at the state event suggests she's poised to win a few more.
In fact, if she keeps at it, she could end up filling a house with trophies and ribbons. Johanna, of Ashley, is 11, and has been raising and displaying birds successfully since she turned 5.
Trophies aren't the only reward, either. There's the money, too, her father Jack Kiska said in a telephone interview Friday.
I think we did four fairs last year, Jack Kiska said. She won close to $300. And for Johanna, it's pure profit. Dad foots all the bills for birds, bird feed and transportation to those shows.
I probably spent twice that on feed and gas, he laughed.
Jack Kiska, who runs Kiska Photography in Ashley, said he got into raising poultry for show after seeing them at area fairs and talking to the exhibitors.
It's interesting to have them around, he said. They're almost like pets. People think you raise them for eggs, but they are small birds, they get to know you, they stick around when you walk by them.
The Kiskas took 28 birds to the state show Friday, but Jack insisted it's not as big an undertaking as it sounds. They fit in the back of my van; they're mostly bantams.
The father-daughter team planned to stay in Harrisburg overnight. Poultry judging will be held today, opening day for the show spotlighting all things agricultural. The birds will stay on display for visitors through the event's final day, Jan. 12, but the Kiska's don't have to stick around.
They take care of the poultry, Jack Kiska said. It's not like other, larger animals that have to be cared of by the owners.
Jeff Bloss already had won a first place at the show before it started, and he never had to leave his Hollenback Township farm.
The Pennsylvania Forage and Grassland Council sponsors Ag Progress Day, Bloss explained, referring to what the council calls one of the largest and most educational agriculture shows in the East. Bloss started entering samples at Ag Progress about six years ago, and entries are automatically eligible to be in the state Farm Show.
By Friday, Bloss' alfalfa later cutting (you can get four or five cuttings a year) had won first place in the Hay & Straw, Field-Cured category.
He's done better. Bloss said he has won grand champion awards three times at the state show – an award more commonly given to growers in the farm-rich southern counties such as Lancaster.
Winning in the Hay & Straw competition can be lucrative. Good feed can be hard to find, and other farmers will sometimes seek out winners, willing to pay a premium for their crop.
Bloss said he received calls from people as far away as the Carolinas after winning a grand champion title. But he raises alfalfa primarily to feed his 72 dairy cows, and any extra is stored away for emergencies.
What makes an award-winning alfalfa? You have to start with a good stand of the crop, Bloss said, in good soil. But how you harvest and handle it is important, because it can affect moisture retention, and judges look for color and leaf retention as well as a chemical analysis of protein, fiber and other qualities essential to good livestock feed.
With poultry, it's mostly about color, shape, weight and feathers, Jack Kiska said. Buying good birds is an essential start; raising them properly and picking the likely winners from those you have is also necessary.
So how does Johanna come up with so many winners when she and her father are entering the same shows? Jack Kiska laughed.
I make sure she gets the better birds.
Highlights: Show is largest indoor agricultural exposition in the country, with nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits.
When: 96th edition opens today and runs through Saturday, Jan. 12.
Where: Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, 2300 Cameron St., Harrisburg.
More information: www.farmshow.state.pa.us