Top 10 Fair Questions
Fair season is just about to start. Across Ohio, 4-H and FFA youth are leading heifers, walking pigs, riding horses, and practicing their show-ring smiles as they get ready to compete at their county fair.
I love going to the fair as an exhibitor even more than I like going as a visitor. I get all the fun of the fair – the food, the rides, the crowds – and I have someplace to go back to when I get tired of all the walking. Plus, I get to sit next to our show cows and talk to fairgoers as they come through – my absolute favorite part.
I’ve been asked a lot of questions in the years that I’ve shown. Here are my top 10 – the good, the bad, and the hilarious.
1. Are these all of your cows?
Not even close. While some farms do raise cows just for showing, my family’s farm is a working dairy, which means that when some of us are at the fair having fun, others are back home taking care of the rest of the herd. We take the best of our cows to the fair, to have fun and compete with other farms from around the state.
2. Do you sleep in the barns?
Actually, yes! When we’re at the fair, the cows’ home is our home. I’ve taken naps in the straw with the cows, using their soft clean bellies as pillows – at least, until they stand up. We’ve got a whole setup here: a fridge, microwave, and an entire trunk full of snacks, as well as air mattresses, cots, and blankets.
3. How do you sleep with all this noise?
While the barns seem loud to you, the noise softens to a dull roar after a few minutes for those of us who are in here awhile. Even at night, they keep all the lights on in the barns, but I’ve mastered the skill of sleeping with lights on, fans running, and cows mooing all night long.
4. Why are all the cows different colors?
There are six breeds of dairy cows, and they each have distinctive colors, markings, and sizes. The cows we show are Ayrshires, the fourth most popular breed in the U.S. They’re medium-sized, reddish-brown spotted cows, and they certainly stand out next to the big, black and white cows you usually see – Holsteins.
Other breeds are Jerseys (small and fawn-colored), Guernseys (mid-sized and either solid or spotted yellow-gold), Brown Swiss (large and grey-brown), and Milking Shorthorn (mid-sized and solid or spotted dark brown). Sometimes, cows of different breeds can look pretty similar, but those with an experienced eye for cattle can tell them apart.
5. How old are these cows?
I usually ask this question to little kids or adults who come by and want to pet the little calves or the big cows, and the answers I get are varied and always amusing. I’ve had kids petting a five-month-old calf tell me she’s 10 years old, and adults petting cows ask if Bessy is older than they are. Cows grow a lot quicker than humans, so the funny answers are definitely understandable, but it’s still hilarious to tell a five-year-old kid that the 1,200 pound cow they’re petting was born the same year they were.
6. Where do you shower?
This is a bit of a weird question but it usually follows the ‘do you sleep in the barn’ one so it makes sense. The barns usually have a few shower stalls in the back of the restrooms for exhibitors to use, and others have restroom and shower buildings separate from barns. There’s always a clamor around the too-sparse mirrors and sinks on show mornings, though, so I usually bring a mirror and do my hair next to where we’re prepping the cows.
7. Why do you show cows?
Because it’s fun. Dairy shows are a chance to compare your cows with others in the breed, and a judge decides which ones are the best in each age group. It gives dairy farmers a chance to see what else is out there, so they can take that information back to the farm and use selective breeding to improve their own animals.
I like showing because it’s a chance for me to show off my cow’s traits to the best of my ability, and because I get to see my dairy friends during down time at the fair. Shows are sort of our big social event during the year, a chance to take a bit of a break from farming and have some fun.
8. Why are you wearing all white?
You know, I’m not really sure. I’ve done a bit of Googling and can’t seem to find where that tradition started, but for as long as anyone in my family can remember, dairy exhibitors wear white shirts and white pants to show their cows. I think it has something to do with showing how clean your cow is – if her white spots match your white clothes, then she’s pretty clean. In some shows, we’re allowed to wear colored farm shirts, but everyone comes to the fair with their ‘show whites’ freshly bleached.
9. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get stepped on?
I usually get asked this question when someone sees me walking a big cow around while wearing flip flops. The answer is no, I’m not really scared, but I’m definitely dumb for doing it. Usually my boots are still wet inside from the wash rack, so instead of sloshing around in damp boots I just slide on my flip flops. I’ve been around cows enough that I know how to avoid their feet landing on my feet, but it doesn’t keep it from happening on occasion…but when it does, it’s my fault and I don’t have any room to complain. I’ve had a few broken toes in my time.
10. What is that cow doing?
This is my favorite question because inevitably somebody is doing something silly and it’s hilarious. In the past it’s been directed at a cow playing with her tongue out of boredom, a calf deep in sleep lying flat out on her side with her legs up in the air, a cow pushing her nose against the automatic water cup just to watch the water in the cup fill up and overflow, and a heifer enjoying a stretch that made her back go U-shaped and her tail curl up in a Q. Cows get bored just like people do, but for some reason they’re so much funnier to watch.
If you visit the fair this year, stop in the dairy barns and talk to some exhibitors. We love to answer questions, especially if they’re funny. But a word of warning: If you see someone in white running toward a cow, with a straw-filled bucket in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other, don’t bother them – they’re designated poop-catcher for the day. (And yes, that’s a real job.)