Story County’s 2018 Fair Queen is a petite beauty who surprisingly spends much of her time working with big, mud-loving pigs.

That’s right, Ashley Kahler, 18, of Cambridge loves her pigs, which her family shows at many events throughout the year. “Pigs are like my main thing,” she said, and she doesn’t worry that most outweigh her pretty quickly in their growth process. “They’re so tame, I don’t even worry about it.”

“They all actually have their own personality, as crazy as it seems, and that’s always fun (to see)… Some are stubborn, but some of them are sweet. Sometimes you rub their belly and they just flop over, and their favorite treat is marshmallows,” she said.

Ashley’s family works with all their show pigs in the barn on their property near Cambridge. They don’t farrow pigs, she said. They buy them when they’re about 60 pounds and then raise them to 300 pounds or more.

“It’s kind of a family thing. My grandpa used to own a buying station (for pigs) a long time ago and that got my uncle involved in pigs, and he got my sister to start showing pigs.”

Actually, a lot of her cousins show pigs, Kahler added. “We all see each other at the state fair,” she said, “and that is a lot of fun.”

This year, when Kahler’s cousins see her at the Iowa State Fair, they will have another thing to be excited about. She will be one of the county fair queens competing for the title of State Fair Queen.

“I’ve talked to a couple people (about the state fair competition) and will meet with a few more (people) this weekend about what all goes on with that,” she said, when reached by phone on Monday in between events. “I’ve heard it’s (the state fair) a super fun experience and is jam-packed (with events), but that you meet so many new friends. I’m really looking forward to that.”

Kahler is the daughter of Wade and Pam Kahler, and the younger sister of Katlyn Kahler. Katlyn, 23, just graduated from Iowa State University, which is where her sister plans to go, too.

“We (her sister and herself) both were in 4-H together for a while. When I was younger, she was the person I looked up to. It was really fun when we were both at the same ages to be in 4-H together; we got to share some great moments together.”

Like her sister, Kahler is excited to attend ISU. “I’m really passionate about agriculture and want to major in animal science and do possibly a double major with that and ag communications,” she said. She also wants to be on the Iowa State Livestock Judging Team, which her sister was part of. “I met with the livestock judging coach; it was really fun. That’s something I’ll definitely be interested in.

In the meantime, Kahler has a year of high school left, as she will be a senior at Ballard this fall. At Ballard, she’s stayed busy during her high school years. “I’m in FFA, so I’m really excited for that, and I will do a lot of activities with that,” she said. She’s also been on the tennis team, been on the color guard (flag) team, been on the student council and been in the band. For her last year, she said, she’s narrowing her activities. “I’ll definitely do FFA and probably tennis. But FFA is my big thing.”

She’s also, during her school years, been very active in 4-H with the Palestine Peppy Pushers, the Ballard-area group that she joined in fourth grade. Her mom, Pam, has been one of the leaders of the club. One of the things as a younger 4-H member that she always remembered “was seeing the county fair queen as someone I looked up to. Throughout the years, I’ve gotten a lot from 4-H and done a lot in the county fair.” She ran for fair queen this year, mostly, she said, because she saw it as a way that she could finally give something back to the organization.

This past week, she’s definitely been busy giving back. At the fair, she’s been handing out ribbons at many different shows, doing the celebrity bottle bucket calf show, judging the bottle bucket costume contest and talking to many, many people, including a lot of younger 4-H members.

“I would say the most fun part of being queen is talking to the younger members and the little girls who come up to you and look to you as their role model. It’s really fun to get to know the younger (4-H) members and other 4-H members throughout the county.”

Also at the fair, she’s busy with her own showing of pigs, a cow-calf pair and her work as a member of the Story County Youth 4-H Council.

But, none of her achievements in 4-H and in becoming the fair queen, she noted, would have been possible without a few people.

“I’d like to thank Anna Sheets and Abby Maxwell for helping coordinate the queen contest, and both of my parents for all of their support and everything they do for me, and my sister for always helping me out when needed. And then I’d also like to thank all of my ‘showing family’ for helping me when I get busy and making sure everything gets done.”

The Iowa State Fair, which is where Kahler will be headed soon, takes place Aug 9-20 at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.