What animal can turn its head blue?

Barn tours — free, every half hour, starting in front of the poultry building — rank high on my list of good things about the State Fair. I grew up on a farm, in daily contact (and sometimes combat) with chickens, but I never knew where the chicken’s ear was located until I took the barn tour. The guides are full of fascinating information and stories about the animals at the fair. Even though Barn Tours is a California operation, they can still fill forty minutes with fun facts.

Take the cow, for example. Did you know that one cow’s hide can produce 20 footballs? I’ll bet you thought that pigskins were made from pigskin. Not so, our guide assured us. Pigskin refers to the old days, when people played ball with a pig’s bladder (separated from the pig, of course, and cleaned and inflated.) Today’s footballs are made from cow hide, as are basketballs (14 to the cow.)

I thought I knew something about sheep and goats. After all, when I was only nine years old, I won grand champion at the county fair with my ewe lamb, and Frisky, the family goat, frequently terrorized me by pinning me against the barn door. But I didn’t know that there are at least two breeds of sheep that have hair instead of wool (Dorper and Katahdin), or that they shed their hair like dogs. I also didn’t know that the floppy ears on goats mark them as animals that originated near the equator. Big ears are an air-conditioning adaptation for animals in hot climates, allowing lots of surface area for blood circulation and cooling.

I could go on … the tours last for about 40 minutes. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few of the questions that started the tour:

Do fish get thirsty (and how do we know?)

Why do so many people drink warm milk?

What animal helps to clean up oil spills?

Oh — that animal that can turn its head blue? It’s a male turkey, strutting his stuff.

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