State Fair cattle competitions are serious stuff


To the unsuspecting Minnesota State Fair visitor, Faith the cow may not look like much right now. She apparently sat in cow flop in the last few hours. But this tush is bovine gold.

A cow’s hind quarters and udder make up the bulk of the percentage of what separates one show cow from another, and Faith is champion material.

Joel Koch of Wright County revealed that Faith is the best cow he’s ever shown, much to the chagrin, perhaps, of his competition. Earlier this month, Faith won grand champion at the Wright County Fair, unusual for a Jersey cow in a land where Holsteins rule.

Joel Koch with Faith. MPR Photo/Bob Collins

“There’s always rivalries,” Koch said when I stopped today to relive my youth of county fairs and see if things in the cow barns are what I remember from 50 years ago.

If it’s not the Holstein people vs. the Jersey faithful, it’s one family against another, good natured but a rivalry nonetheless. If you show Holsteins, you don’t forget the day a Jersey cleaned your clock.

This fair business is serious stuff. There aren’t as many farm families as there once were in Minnesota, so in rural county fairs, the competition is more focused. “It’s pretty much my family against another family these days,” Koch said. But he doesn’t live on a farm. He lives in town and boards Faith at a nearby farm.

For the casual cow fan, watching cows being judged is maddeningly dull. The human walks the cow around a ring, and then they line up, preferably in something of a “show stance.” The judge looks for things like the “fullness of the udder,” Koch said. After 15 minutes or so, it’s all over. You get a ribbon and bragging rights until the next fair.

Friday is a quiet day in the cow barn at the Minnesota State Fair. The 4-H kids had the run of the place earlier this week, but their judging is over now and they’ve mostly moved out and the older “cow people” have moved in. Tomorrow will be “open judging.”

You can only show your cows in 4-H up to a certain age. Koch is past that age now so he’s competing with Faith on a higher level. Some time tomorrow he’ll start cleaning her up and it’ll be on. If he’s nervous about it, he’s not showing it. 

In the cow barn, however, the tension is real.




Update Sunday 9/1/13: I checked on Faith today. She’s now a Minnesota State Fair champion.