The air is filled with the mixed smell of barn animals and BeaverTails. Hay covers the ground of Brandon’s Keystone Centre while horses neigh from their stables. Children lean against metal fencing at the petting zoo and reach their arms toward goats and sheep.
Terrilyn Gerbrandt owns the mobile petting zoo, Rocklin Farm, that has been part of the fair for the past five years. Gerbrandt says they are the largest in Manitoba and have been doing events since 2008.
“We started having animals because we love raising them,” Gerbrandt says. “Then people just began asking us to bring them places because there weren’t many people at the time doing it. There still isn’t.”
Gerbrandt says kids aren’t learning enough about animals nowadays because they aren’t being raised with them.
“Most kids are raised in town and we’re finding more and more don’t know what animals are,” Gerbrandt says. “We had a young girl come here last summer, who was probably fifteen or sixteen, and asked one of my staff carrying a rabbit what kind of chicken it was.”
Vicki Derksen waits in line with her daughter and niece to spend five minutes in one of the petting zoo’s enclosed pens. Derksen has attended the fair with her family for the past three decades and says it’s a tradition she’s passing onto her daughter, Quinn.
“My siblings and I used to come with my grandparents when we were young,” Derksen says. “There’s thirteen grandchildren in my family now – my brother, sisters and I all have kids – so we just meet here every year. The kids love it and count down the days.”
While Derksen talks, her niece, Shelby, stands beside her holding a guinea pig.
“I wish I could take you home,” Shelby whispers to it before placing it down.
Quinn walks across the wood shavings and through the crowd of children playing with ducks, chickens and other small animals. She returns with a rabbit in her arms.
“I like the petting zoo and the Super Dogs,” Quinn says. She laughs as the rabbit nibbles at her finger. “If I could, I’d bring home a white, fluffy bunny.”
When their five minutes are up, Quinn gently puts the rabbit onto the ground. She heads toward the gate while a group of guinea pigs scurry past her feet. They’ll be back next year.