Finding beauty in the beast Cows: At Timonium, bovine queens compete in a pageant to determine which is the fairest of the fair.

September 03, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Cherisse, in her quest to become Supreme Champion Animal at the Maryland State Fair, did yesterday what all competitive cows must do.

She wore makeup.

Squatting under Cherisse's rump with the intensity of a surgeon, one of her tenders dabbed Hydra Perfecte Concealer -- a nice creamy beige color -- to her udders. Four helpers looked on, giving advice.

Nope. Wait. Over to the left. You got it. Add another touch. There.

The team, led by owner Doug King, was far from finished after this quick make- over -- with only 15 minutes to go before the big competition in the dirt ring, these farmers had to give their Brown Swiss cow contestant the works.

One helper spray-painted her hoofs black. Another teased her auburn tail and spritzed it with hair spray. The hair on her back got a buzz-cut and her hulking body was covered with fly repellent so she wouldn't twitch. Someone even glued her milking gear, to make it point just so.

"This is just like the Miss Maryland contest," said King, a Damascus dairy farmer, after wiping his brow with a red bandanna and getting a look at his cow from just about every angle. "They've got to look good."

The Supreme Champion Animal contest was not quite what its title suggested. There were no chicken-goat showdowns or bull-sheep title matches. Even Bud the Wonder Pig stayed on the sidelines.

No. This competition was just among cows.

Six of them -- Jersey, Holstein, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Milking Short Horn -- circled the ring at the Cow Palace. The judges analyzed. The showplace hushed. The dairy princesses waited, crowns aglitter, to deliver the trophy bowl.

Even the cows seemed to get that this was a big deal. None of them mooed.

This dairy cow contest, now in its 10th year, is what some call the highlight of the State Fair. Nearly 300 people filled the palace.

Still, it has been a challenge to bring crowds out since several Baltimore-area counties sent children to school last week. The fair's numbers were expected to fall roughly 40,000 short of last year's 530,059, said fair spokesman George Wills.

"We wish the schools would make the State Fair more a part of kids' education," Wills said yesterday, the last day of the fair. "Some city school system kids have never even seen a cow before."

The Cow Palace was the perfect place for bovine newcomers. In more than 1,000 pens just off the show ring, beefy specimens of all kinds swished their tails, looked on dreamily with big cow eyes and performed an astounding array of bodily functions.

But the supreme contest offered the peak cow experience. The contestants were all nearly perfect specimens, with swollen udders and lean bodies with ribs and hip bones bulging from under glistening, smooth hide.

To win the supreme contest is more than just a point of pride. Owners' dairy farms are given national recognition, and can make plenty of money off the sale of the winner's embryos.

As he waited by the side of the ring, King watched his competition. The fiercest challenger -- a Holstein the size of a John Deere -- was positively preening. With a herd of fine dairy cows, King was able to enter two contestants -- Cherisse and a petite caramel-colored Jersey named Jeanna.

The announcer approached the microphone. "We hate to take anything away from any of 'em," he said. "But we just had to pick one -- one who has stood the test of time."

Jeanna. The Jersey.

King made a tiny gasp and then let out a delighted "Oh!"

His prize-winning cow did what cows do. She just stood there.

"She's a beautiful, beautiful cow," King said, leaving to meet Jeanna in the center of the ring with Michael Heath, her co-owner. She'll be the toast of the town this fall at the National Dairy Show in Madison, Wis., they said.

King talked about Jeanna to strangers and told them to pet her coat. He even tried to get out of the shot when a photographer approached, leaving the cow to bask in the spotlight alone.

Off to the side, Cherisse let out a hot gust of cow breath. No one huddled around her as her tenders led her back to her pen. Later, they would wash off her makeup, feed her some sweet beet pulp and call it a day.

Could she have felt just a little dejected? A tiny bit like, heaven forbid, chopped liver? In cow lovers' minds, anything's possible.

"In some ways," King mused, "they're just like people."

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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