State Fair Board Stands By Steer Disqualification

"Pickles" the steer remains disqualified. The Iowa State Fair Board of Directors has refused to reverse its earlier decision to disqualify grand champion 4-H animal. Rod Swoboda

Published on: Mar 1, 2004

The Iowa State Fair Board decided on February 20, 2004, that it will not reverse its decision made in 2002 to disqualify a steer named "Pickles" as the grand champion 4-H steer at the 2002 fair.

The board's unanimous decision came after the board met Feb. 20 to discuss legal issues in the case. Pickles was disqualified two days after winning the grand champion ribbon in 2002. The board acted after questions were raised about the steer's identity.

An expert told the board in 2002 that nose prints showed the steer was not the same one that owner Jenna Sievers of New Liberty, Iowa, had weighed in for Scott County 4-H officials eight months earlier.

Sievers, now 17 years old, and her parents went to court and asked for and were granted an emergency order that allowed Pickles to be sold at the fair's Sale of Champions. The $12,800 that Sievers would have received for Pickles has been held in escrow until the identity dispute is resolved.

In November 2003, state Administrative Law Judge John Priester ruled that the Fair Board had incorrectly disqualified Pickles and sent the case back to the board for further review. In February of 2004, the board heard the legal arguments about whether Pickles is really Pickles.

Why the board won't reverse its decision

After the unanimous vote to reverse Priester's ruling, Fair Board President C.W. Thomas of Guthrie Center said the board reviewed the evidence and based its decision on three factors.

First, nose prints taken by Scott County 4-H officials on Dec. 28, 2001, of a steer the Sievers claim was Pickles, did not match nose prints taken after Pickles won.

Second, there was a very unreasonable discrepancy in the weight registered by the steer between the December 2001 weigh-in and at a livestock show 30 days later.

Third, the Sievers family did not explain why the nose prints were different and offered no evidence that they were from the same steer.

"This was an easy decision as far as we're concerned," said Robert Schultz, another member of the state fair board.

New livestock rules designed to prevent cheating

Thomas pointed out that several board members are experienced cattle producers and could not believe Sievers' claim the calf gained an average of nine pounds per day over a 30-day period. Thomas said the board wants to "keep the playing field level" for all livestock contestants.

In October 2002, two months after the controversy began, the Iowa State Fair Board put into place some new requirements that all 4-H market beef, sheep and swine entries must have hair samples taken for DNA testing. In addition, beef and sheep entries must have nose prints taken, too.

If the nose prints do not match the ones taken earlier, the board will require that the hair samples be tested for DNA to make sure the animals weighed in previously are the same animals being shown at the fair.

Jenna Sievers is the daughter of state Senator Bryan Sievers and Lisa Sievers. Bryan Sievers says the family has not decided whether to appeal the board's Feb. 20, 2004 decision in district court. The steer's carcass is in a freezer at Iowa State University.