A Yankton man had something to crow about at this year’s South Dakota State Fair.
Reynold Loecker, who has been raising and showing bantam chickens for more than five decades in South Dakota and beyond, pulled off a huge win when his bantams captured all six classes of the bantam chicken division, as well as one of his birds being declared the best overall fowl of the fair.
Loecker told the Press & Dakotan he’s been raising chickens nearly all his life.
“I just turned 80 in July and I’ve been raising what you’d call pure-bred show-type birds probably 65 years,” he said. “I’ve shown at the state fair 54 years without missing a year.”
He said he’s enjoyed the experience over the past five decades.
“You meet so many different people when you go at it as long as I have,” he said. “You make a lot of good friends and a lot of good contacts throughout the area, the state and even out of state. Everybody has a hobby, and this has more or less been my hobby.”
It’s a hobby that has seen him recognized as a master Exhibitor and Master Breeder with the American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association.
“I was inducted into the American Poultry Association’s Hall of Fame a few years back,” he said. “The only thing I have left that I can achieve yet is the Lifetime Achievement Award with the American Bantam Association, and with the wins I’m getting this year, I may obtain that yet this year.”
Loecker hasn’t limited himself to showing chickens in South Dakota either, making it to many competitions in places such as Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Over his time showing, he said that he’s noticed one major trend
“There’s probably been more emphasis on the bantam chickens, which is what I raise,” he said. “They’re the miniature, small version of the breed. It seems a lot more people have gone that route, mainly because you can keep more birds in a smaller area, they take less feed and they’re just easier to transport.”
He’s also noticed that an increasing number of people have thrown their hat into the ring come fair time.
“More people have gotten into the competitive part of it and are trying to produce birds they can show, exhibit and compete with,” he said.
In the past, Loecker also spent 32 years teaching in the Yankton School District, but helping youth went well beyond the classroom for him.
“I provide a lot of young chicks for kids to use for their 4-H projects, and I judge a lot of county fairs and I’ve judged some state fair 4-H shows,” he said. “I’m still doing some of that every summer, and I always did that when I was teaching, too, during the summer. That was one of my summer jobs — doing a lot of the fair judging.”
In his 54 years of showing bantam chickens, Loecker said he’s won dozens of times across the six classes of the bantam chicken division at the South Dakota State Fair. The classes — Modern Game, Old English & American Game, Single Comb Clean Legged, Rose Comb Clean Legged, Feather Legged and All Other Comb Clean Legged — are mainly based on the physical characteristics of the birds.
“I’ve always had some champions almost every year at the state level and in other shows that I go to,” he said.
However, there was something special about this year’s state fair for Loecker.
“This was the first year that I ended up winning all six classes and the champion bantam — and that bird also went on to be the champion of the entire fair,” he said. “I think there were 923 entries this year.”
He said that it was a bit of a shock to sweep every class in the division.
“It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing that you would ever be able to win every class,” he said. “I’ve always had some wins but never a clean sweep of all six divisions and get the champion of the show out of that. They also pick what’s called the champion trio, which is a male and two females, and there’s usually quite a number of those. I also had the champion trio in addition to the other wins.”
Besides sweeping all six classes, Loecker’s bantams also had two second-place wins in their respective classes.
Though the state fair only ended a few weeks ago and produced a milestone victory for Loecker, that didn’t mean he was about to slow down.
“I followed up the state fair,” he said. “I went to New Ulm, Minnesota, to the Brown County Poultry Show the week after the state fair, and I had the champion and reserve champion bantams up there, too.
“It’s been a good year.”
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