Competitions, both serious and silly, are as much a part of the Howard County Fair as funnel cakes and Ferris wheels. From prettiest animal to fastest pie-eater, new winners are crowned every day. And watching can be nearly as much fun as competing.
To celebrate the 25th annual Cow-Milking Contest, organizers Charles and Judy Iager did something different this year. Normally, they invite members of the audience to try their hands at pulling milk from the patient bovine participants. This year, four "celebrity" milkers were chosen instead: Martha Clark, Laura Warfield, Susan Day and Ann Moxley, all spouses of past fair presidents.
The Iagers, who own 150 dairy cows at Maple Lawn Farm in Fulton, always dress for the occasion, with Judy pulling on a cow costume, and Charles donning white pants and shirt, a black bow tie and a cap to look like a milkman.
"Start milking," Judy Iager announced, and the contestants got to work. Clark, a longtime Howard County farmer, quickly took the lead, with a steady two-handed pulling motion that yielded long streams of milk. The other contestants were less successful, sometimes getting a squirt or two in the bucket, but generally looking tentative.
When time was up, the milk buckets were weighed. Warfield and Day came in at 1.7 ounces. Clark's bucket weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces. But how did Moxley collect 5 pounds, 12 ounces of milk?
A peek in the bucket provided the answer - she had supplemented her meager collection with chocolate milk- even though the rules specifically stated that chocolate and strawberry milk were cause for disqualification.
"My cow gave chocolate milk," Moxley said, laughing. In reality, she had secretly carried the milk in her tote bag, and dumped it in the bucket as a joke. "Just to keep it fun," she said. Clark, who did not augment her bucket, was declared the winner.
Costumes take prizes
The Pretty Animal Contest isn't really a beauty contest. Clever costumes are what is being judged - in the categories of most creative, funniest, prettiest and most original. It looked as though M and M, the pony being ridden by 4-year-old Brenna Siperko of West Friendship, had a winning ensemble.
M and M was covered from mane to tail with purple paint. Her hooves were purple, and jewels were affixed to her hooves, rump and bridle. A silver-painted unicorn horn protruded from her forehead. Brenna, meanwhile, was dressed as a swan princess, complete with feathers, tiara and long earrings.
"She loves Swan Lake and she loves princesses and she loves unicorns," said Jennifer Siperko of her daughter. It had taken about 35 cans of hairspray paint and several hours to get the desired effect, she said.
M and M was competing against 14 other entrants, including goats, dogs, bunnies and even a merino ram named Ash.
Jessica Gaunt, 13, of Mount Airy had dressed her Beagle-mix dog, Lady, as Princess of the Gypsies in lavender tulle and a purple plastic-bead necklace. "I was digging through some of my old costumes, and I just kind of found this," she said.
One by one, the contestants paraded around the show ring with their owners, as judges Cathy Weaver and Megan Hill read the narratives that explained the costumes. M and M became skittish when her turn came, and Brenna was eventually taken off her pony. Still, she won for most creative costume.
The other winners were Amy Bodine, whose "bride rabbit" was deemed prettiest; Allison Vanisko, whose "butterfly cow" was most original; and Andrew Hough, 3, and his dog, Breyer, for funniest. Breyer was dressed as Wonder Woman, and Andrew drew cheers from the crowd when he took off his shirt to reveal a Superman costume underneath.
So what do a father and son do after scarfing down two pies in a matter of minutes for the fair's Pie-Eating Contest? Go out for lunch, of course. "I'm hungry," said Kirby Goodwin, 17, of Eldersburg, who won the contest in the 13-17 age category, but then lost to his father in the final eat-off.
The pair headed out for cheeseburgers and French fries, but they probably wouldn't get pie for dessert, Goodwin said.
About 100 contestants gobbled down 4-inch apple or cherry pies in the increasingly popular event. Participants need to keep their hands behind their backs and eat every last scrap, even the bits of crust that fall on the table.
Eight-year-old Bailey Thomas, who won last year, placed first in the 5-8 age category, and 10-year-old Dustin Walker, a newcomer, took the top spot among 9- to 12-year-olds. The Bushy Park Elementary School fifth-grader said he doesn't even like cherry pie, but he ate it anyway.
Goodwin said his award-winning technique was simple. "I just opened my mouth as big as I could." But he was no match for his dad, 43-year-old Don Goodwin of Finksburg, who took the championship in an eat-off among the four age-category winners.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," said announcer Blair Hill, as the contestants put their hands behind their backs and got ready to eat. When it was all over, the pie-eaters looked a little sick. "We ate a lot of pie in the last five minutes," Don Goodwin said.
Eight days of animal shows, exhibits, rides, contests, entertainment and demonstrations.
Aug. 4 through Saturday , 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Howard County Fairgrounds, 2210 Fairground Road, West Friendship. Take Exit 80 off Interstate 70.
$5 for those ages 10 and older, $2 for those ages 62 and older; free for children younger than 10.
Free at the fairgrounds.
www.howardcountyfair.org, or 410-442-1022.