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Alexandria girl will show goats at Minnesota State Fair thanks to BELLE grant

Hayden Lennes, 12, of Alexandria, is one of 16 recipients who received a $500 grant

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Hayden Lennes poses with goats leased by her cousin. She will show goats at the Minnesota State Fair, which begins Thursday, Aug. 25, and ends Monday, Sept. 5.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — Hayden Lennes, 12, of Alexandria, will show goats at the Minnesota State Fair after receiving the Beginning Exhibitor Livestock Learning Experience (BELLE) grant a year after her sister, Reagan, received the same one.

"I was surprised," said Hayden. "My aunt didn't know really know if I was actually going to get it because my sister got it. But, when I got it, I was really excited."

In 2021, Reagan Lennes received a letter informing her that she was selected to receive the BELLE grant from the Minnesota State Fair Foundation for her work in 4-H and experience showing pigs at the Douglas County Fair. Her sister, Hayden, received the same grant for similar achievements a year later.

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Hayden Lennes poses with a goat on her cousin's farm.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Farming and a passion for animals run in the blood of the Lennes girls. Also in 2021, their grandfather, Warren Engelbrecht, father of Hayden's mom, and his family were honored through the Minnesota Farm Family Recognition Program for their work with humanely raised, non-antibiotic hogs and their contribution to the community through the Viking Sportsmen Club, FFA and 4-H.

Hayden loves animals, so much so that she dreams of taking care of them as a veterinarian, but for now, showing them at fairs will have to do. Her show animal of choice is goats, unlike her sister who preferred pigs.

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"I really don't like showing pigs," said Hayden who first became interested in showing goats after watching her cousins. Eventually, they took her under their wing and she did her first open show which she "really liked."

An open show is available to anyone who wishes to show an animal regardless of age or affiliation with 4-H and FFA.

The goats Hayden will be showing are housed less than a mile from her family on her cousin's farm. She makes regular visits to practice walking and "setting up" the goat to prepare for this summer's showings. She said the hardest part of showing is making sure the goat doesn't run away. Although, she says that doesn't happen to her often.

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Curious goats exit their living quarters to explore their surroundings.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

At the county fair last year, Hayden won the reserve champion for how she presented her goat and the way she answered questions about the body parts and the quality of its health and care.

"Start with saying you give it water," said Hayden's mom Lisa Lennes. "That's the most important thing."

Hayden says it means a lot to her to go from open shows and county fairs to the state fair. She added that although the competition may be harder, she looks forward to the niceness of the facility and the number of animals she will be surrounded by.

Along with receiving financing for the costs of showing animals, the grant also pairs Hayden up with a mentor who offers tips and advice to prepare her for the state-level competition. Her sister told her to "always be smiling."

While the grant guarantees Hayden a spot at an open show during the state fair, she will still have to pass the interview portion at the 4-H county level showing if she wishes to show with the 4-H group at state.

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Hayden is one of 16 recipients of the BELLE grant. The grant is funded by the Minnesota State Fair Foundation to Minnesota residents between the ages of 10 and 18 who have never shown animals at the state fair.

According to the Minnesota State Fair website, "The Minnesota State Fair is committed to showcasing our state’s finest agriculture, and we recognize the importance of cultivating youth experiences in the livestock industry. We also understand that exhibiting at the Minnesota State Fair can stretch the family budget."

Reagan Lennes, a 12-year-old swine exhibitor from Alexandria, received the BELLE grant, Beginning Exhibitor Livestock Learning Experience, on May 5 from the Minnesota State Fair Foundation for her work with the Lake Mary Troopers 4-H Club and her experience in showing pigs at the Douglas County Fair.

The grant awards $500 for large-animal exhibitors — goats, beef and dairy cattle, horses, sheep, swine and llamas — and $250 to small-animal exhibitors — mostly rabbits and poultry.

To be eligible for the BELLE grant, applicants must:

  • Complete the online application.
  • Be a Minnesota resident between the ages of 10 and 18 as of the first day of the state fair, who has not previously exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair.
  • Submit one letter of recommendation from a trusted source who can speak to your livestock show and animal care experience.
  • Participate in the 4-H, FFA or open class show of their preferred species during the Minnesota State Fair.
  • Sign the BELLE grant code of conduct upon being selected for the program.
Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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