By Lacey Watt
INDIANAPOLIS – At the Indiana State Fair, crowds of people bounce from booth to booth in the early hours of the day to experience the smoldering sun, sweet aroma of many fried foods and different kinds of entertainment put on throughout the day.
But off the busy main path is a little side lot next to the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand, with hay and straw covering the pavement. The lingering smell of fair food gives way to the earthy smells of chickens and cows, which fill the stalls in this lot. And among them, four Indiana “celebrities” are ready to grab and pull some teats.
Yes, it’s the cow milking contest.
State Trooper Pat O’Connor takes his turn milking during the contest. O’Connor placed last in the contest with one-third cup of milk. Photo by Haley Carney, TheStatehouseFile.com
The four competitors were Indiana First Lady Janet Holcomb; Miss Indiana State Fair 2019 Halle Shoults, a Purdue University junior from Oxford; RadioNOW 100.9 host Joe Pesh; and Indiana State Police Trooper Pat O’Connor, who is in charge of security at the fair.
With about 40 fairgoers cheering them on, each competitor was called up to the milking area, where they had one minute to squirt as much milk as possible from the unnamed cow from the Purdue agriculture department. Despite the heart-shaped spot on her forehead, her heart wasn’t into the competition. She wasn’t in the mood to cooperate, moving from side to side and putting her back feet in the bucket to tip over whatever milk had been squirted in.
Perhaps, though, the Purdue cow didn’t like being handled by rookies. Of the four, only the first lady had ever milked a cow before.
Pesh, originally from Howell, Michigan, said he’d been involved with farm animals since middle school and, despite this being his first time with his hands on an udder, was ready to try.
RadioNOW 100.9 host Joe Pesh talks to the cow before the timer starts for the competition. Photo by Haley Carney, TheStatehouseFile.com
“I’m a very competitive person in general,” Pesh said. While he was new to milking, he said he and his wife wouldn’t miss coming to the State Fair.
“There is so much history and fun,” he said. “Also, the food is amazing.”
He tied with Holcomb for second place, with each managing to draw a half-cup of milk. O’Connor finished last, with a third of a cup and Shoults got the blue ribbon for getting three-quarters of a cup of milk.
“It was so much fun,” Shoults said. “I show horses, so I’ve never milked a cow before. We powered through and had such a good time.”
Miss Indiana State Fair 2019 Halle Shoults poses with her first place ribbon she won in and the milking contest. Photo by Haley Carney, TheStatehouseFile.com
Community volunteer Jennifer Cross of Zionsville came to support her friend Holcomb, cheering her on in the front row.
“I enjoy the food and craft displays,” Cross said before heading off to the dairy barn with a few other friends in search for a hash brown grilled cheese.
While the milking contest is over, fairgoers can find a multitude of events up until the last day of the fair on Aug. 18.
“I think it’s a great way to spend a summer day,” Cross said.
Lacey Watt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.