Getting a grip at the Cow Palace

With the Guernsey cow tethered to a portable stall, Jo-Ann Chason stooped beside her animal and showed Nicholas Weinel how to milk a cow.

Watching intently as Chason squeezed and milk streamed into the bucket under the cow's udder, Nicholas tried to imitate the motion. He couldn't quite grasp it.


"I didn't want to squeeze too hard because I didn't want to hurt the cow," said Nicholas, 7, of Mount Airy, a second-grader at New Market Elementary School.

It was Nicholas' first attempt at milking a cow, said his grandparents, Dick and Diane Courtney of Eldersburg. It was also his first time at the Maryland State Fair, which opened its 11-day run yesterday at the fairgrounds in Timonium. The 122nd fair runs through Labor Day.


Despite 90-degree temperatures and high humidity, parents, grandparents and day care providers gathered around the stall in the steamy Cow Palace waiting for the under-10 crowd to take a turn at the old-fashioned art of milking a cow by hand.

Kneeling beside Chason, the youngsters listened to her explain the milking process -- grab at the top and squeeze the bottom -- and then showed no hesitation when they tried squeezing. Some of them succeeded, some didn't. Some accidentally sprayed their siblings, and the adults snapped pictures.

Milking came a little easier for Nicholas Blevins, 6, of Essex, who was standing with six other youngsters and his sitter, Tracy West, after his turn. Nicholas had tried it last year when he came to the fair.

"I held on and squeezed and got the milk to come out," he said proudly.

Chason, a member of the board of directors of the Maryland Co-Operative Guernsey Breeders' Association, was taking her first turn at giving cow-milking lessons, although the association has been sponsoring the demonstrations for four years.

For the record, Guernseys are dairy cows that originated on the Isle of Guernsey in the English Channel. There are three million Guernsey cows in the United States, according to the breeders' association.

"We were really busy last year," said Chason, who owns a 60-acre farm in Hydes in Baltimore County. "The kids really love it. They get next to a large animal, and many of them learn for the first time where milk comes from."

Valuable lesson


For 50 cents, the children received a lesson in milking, a sticker that read: "I Milked A Cow Today," and a half-pint of milk donated by a local dairy. The milking lessons will be offered today and tomorrow and again next Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day.

The money from the fund-raiser pays for the association's youth programs and for scholarships, Chason said.

The association started the cow-milking lessons because people were becoming two, three and four generations removed from the agricultural industry and have never had any hands-on experience, she said.

"This way, the children are getting to see it up close and personal," said Chason, who bought her first cow when she was 8 years old. "No one milks by hand anymore. We all use milking machines."

With farmland disappearing in the wake of suburban sprawl, people in the agricultural industry have had to diversify, she said.

Her farm in Hydes is geared for school tours during which children learn about cows and dairies, Chason said. She also grows pumpkins to sell in the fall and hay to feed her farm animals.


Showcasing tradition

Traditions such as livestock shows, horse racing and crafts have been showcased at the fair since it was started.

But the fair also has changed over the years and expanded to include such attractions as musical groups, carnival rides, commercial exhibitions, shows and a food pavilion.

Where milking a cow may once have been a common sight to visitors, it is now a novelty, especially for children who have grown up in nonrural settings.

And it doesn't hold the appeal of other attractions.

After his success at milking, Nicholas Blevins was ready to move on.


"I'm waiting to go on the rides," he said.