GRAY, Tenn. (WJHL) — For more than two decades the baby duck slide has been synonymous with the Appalachian Fair.
People wait for hours at the Barnyard Nursery to watch hundreds of ducklings go down the slide.
“Every night it will be out the door,” said Appalachian Fair Manager Phil Booher. “They’re cute and everybody likes to see the ducks.”
The baby duck slide is the heart of the fair, even becoming the fair mascot in 2016.
“It was because we did the slide here,” Booher explained. “We’ve had this in place for a long time so it was just natural that we use ‘Appy the duck’ since everybody loves the ducks.”
The ducklings were donated by Metzer Hatchery and were only a few days old when they arrived at the fair.
“They’re shipped directly from a hatchery. Usually that’s an overnight shipment. So, they arrive within 48 hours at the most,” said Walter Malone, who volunteers with the duck slide. “The baby ducks arrived the middle of last week to give them a few days to get acclimated here at the fairgrounds and they began swimming a little bit in the last day or so to kind of get ready for the performance for the week.”
They then have to train for the slide.
“Just like anything you’re trying to teach your dog or a young child, it takes a few rounds of practice to get good at it,” said Malone. “The ducks will come out of the mill, then go around the ramp and they have a little feed that’s been waiting for them at the top of the ramp as they go for that feed, they then proceed down the slide and enjoy a splash into the pool below where they love to swim. Ducks love the water. That’s their favorite part is that finale when they get to enter the water.”
They’ll have the routine down by the end of the week.
“They’ll go through in different groups so they’ll have a chance to both play and get some rest throughout the week,” Malone said. “We try to rotate them through to make sure there are ducks swimming fairly regularly throughout the night, especially prior to and following the concerts.”
While the ducks are precious and entertaining, they also help to introduce kids, and adults, to agriculture.
“The fair is a lot about agriculture. We know that’s why fairs were started throughout the state. While we hope everybody enjoys the entertainment, the rides, and the great foods all week, we do want folks to remember that agriculture is what makes this all possible,” Malone said. “It feeds us, provides the food, the clothing, and all the things that make the fair and each day of our lives possible.”
You can take one of the ducklings featured on the baby duck slide home with you. They cost $6 each and come with a bag of feed and care instructions.
“The money goes to scholarships here at the fair and there will be a table set up in here that you can buy the ducks at,” said Booher. “Fairs were all started to be agriculture-oriented and we want to keep that going and that’s the reason we have it here.”