By: Alyssa Murphree, March 29, 2017
A-Day is fast approaching, and for some DelVal students, a significant part of the weekend is the dairy show. Each year, all students regardless of major are welcome to work with and show a dairy cow at the fair. Last year, I took advantage of that opportunity, and while I may not be showing this year, it surely was an experience for the books and one of my most memorable ventures I have taken on at DelVal.
Having been a fan of Jersey cows for as long as I could remember, I reached my hand into a cup to pull out the name of my cow last February. I drew a little Jersey named Sahara. Or as she would often be referred to as, her many aliases such as her registered name “DVC DeaconP Sahara”, “Dusty Dunes of Hell”, or “Snahara” (snail Sahara).
Many, many hours a week were dedicated to the care and training of Sahara throughout the spring semester leading up to A-Day. I would brush her, bathe her, and practice our “show ring” walk and setting up out in the dairy’s driveway with my friends and their cows. One um, special trait of Sahara’s is her desire to lick *everything*. She would lick walls, fences, tractors, and she was especially fond of licking the gravel driveway. She would leave a trail of slimy cow drool wherever she licked, hence “Snahara”. I also possess many videos that friends have taken of me almost being run over by Sahara as she would explode into bucking fits and flail through the air. Cherished moments indeed.
The morning of the dairy show, we arrived at the dairy barn at 5:30 AM to get our cows, give them a quick bath, and gather for our parade up to the quad where the show would take place. The walk up was challenging and overstimulating for Sahara, and an experienced cow person had to take over for the sake of my own safety and so that we’d actually make it up there. Once we got to the show tents, I tied up Sahara, went and got changed, and then it was time to wait until my class. But until then, it was a collective effort by all to watch the cows’ tails. If anybody was pooping, you’d have to hold their tails out of the way and clean it up as soon as possible to keep the cow, and every other cow around them as clean as possible.
Before each class, everybody had ten minutes to make finishing touches to groom their cows. All of the body and udder clipping was done a couple of days prior, so this was your chance to touch up any clipping as well as fluff the tail, blow off dirt with the blow dryer, whiten up any areas with baby powder, clean their hooves, and wipe off any excess dirt/snot/manure. This short grooming period was one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced. I felt like a competitor on “Chopped” as we were given a ten second warning, and then dropped everything we were holding as “time’s up!” was called.
Because of Sahara’s behavior earlier in the morning, I was incredibly nervous going into the ring leading this ticking time bomb of a cow. In fact, somebody had to lead her in and out of the ring for me each class because she was so out of control until the moment she stepped foot into the actual show ring. The first class for us was beginner division fitting. Fitting is when the grooming and preparation of the cow is judged. Myself and the other competitors in my class walked around the ring and then stood in a line up for the judge to inspect closer. Once the judged finished pinning the class, the results were announced. I won! The judge made comments for each entrant and praised my close clipping on the ears and udder. I would like to thank my genes for this one, as my mom was a professionally trained dog groomer and most likely blessed me with swift clipper handling skills.
The next class was immediately after, which was Showmanship. Showmanship is judged based on how well the handler presents the cow by leading and setting up. In this class, I was pinned third out of five, which I was still pleased by, especially for having Sahara in control the entire time.
Since we had won one of the fitting classes in the beginner division, we had to wait for our championship class, where all of the class winners would face off for the best fitter in the division. The judge inspected us even closer this time, and for much longer. I was hoping to do well, but I never imagined that I would be named division champion at my first dairy show! This was such an exciting moment and it so incredibly rewarding considering all I’ve been through with this cow.
By the time we finished, it was around 5:00 in the evening. The cows were cranky from it being past their milking time and the remaining cows on the quad had to begin the pilgrimage back to the dairy. This is where things went from triumphant to terrifying. Sahara could not go more than ten feet without bursting forward and dragging me. That was if she decided to move at all. Backup was called in and we led her one person on each side. Once we got slightly past the tunnel leading back though, things became dangerous. Sahara started dragging both of us and would fall to her knees. More backup had to be called in as we stood stranded on the side of the road. Every other cow had long since made it back to the dairy. An experienced dairy guy and the girl who had been helping me each took a lead rope of Sahara’s and we all just RAN back to the dairy. Before this day, I did not know cows were capable of running a four-beat gallop. But that was before I was literally sprinting behind my cow, choking from laughing so hard and being out of breath running after them.
In the end, Sahara made it back to the dairy to be milked and I made it back up to campus where my day was not yet over, as I still had to help clean up. My friend I was on clean up duty with, who had also been showing a cow that day, and I were drunk with exhaustion as we fumbled our way through campus, stacking chairs and moving bleachers. Present day, I have my dairy show ribbons, including the big purple champion ribbon, hanging among my horse show ribbons above my bed. As for Sahara, she is now cannulated, which means she has a port-like device which allows students to look into her stomach, so she is no longer presentable for showing. While I may never show Sahara again, I do hope to show another cow next year once my schedule lightens up, but the memories of my crazy, slobbery, Jersey cow are fond ones.