The unsung heroes of the Ohio State Fair

Ohio State Fair 2015 dairy champions
Ohio State Fair 2015 dairy champions

In every walk of life, there are unsung heroes. They may choose to shun attention or they are simply forgotten somewhere in the shuffle.

So here is a tribute to a group of “heroes” at the Ohio State Fair.

Dairy team

The OSU dairy judging students manage the parlor during the state fair. Of course they do feel appreciated and know a valuable service is provided, but it is also an educational endeavor.

This is my 10th year to collect all those unsung heroes and place them in that secure southeast corner of the Gilligan complex where the windows line the wall and invite everyone to take a sneak peak at how we milk cows.

Planning begins long before that first cow is ever milked on the fairgrounds.

The judging students (candidates) come with diversified backgrounds and interests.
With busy schedules, they must plan their summer around jobs, internships, global excursions and yes, even their home farms.

It is strictly on a volunteer basis and their pursuit of dairy judging experiences.

For 13 days, they arrive prior to 5 a.m. and then close the doors around 7:30 p.m. — often later.

On show days, double duty is required to insure that all cows can be milked after their respective classes.

Between taking milk samples and recording each milk exhibitor’s number in a notebook, they manage the parlor area and the dump station for those who milk in their stalls.


In all of that daily activity, a learning experience is evolving.

Students begin to learn about their customer’s needs as well as the consumers who stare into the parlor windows. It is all about interactions and connections.

As the business of milking takes place, so does some indirect bonding. Introductions are made, stories are shared and the “showing” experience binds the generations.

As the “go between,” I am glad to share lots of information about the kids, but I can also share connections and historical events about the exhibitors, too.

Quickly the mundane tasks of parlor work become more enjoyable as everyone shares camaraderie over the flow of milk.

The students also are expected to sit ringside with me and discuss classes.

Without pressure, we can discuss many variables, listen to official reasons, and even respectfully argue a placing or two.

If the parlor is open, students just continue to trade places.

Even during the Holstein Futurity, we do a little betting in a small, but legal lottery contest and then rush back to open the parlor for customers.

Issues arise

It is a challenging task to control the finer details of the parlor and dump station.

True to Murphy’s Law (and the observation that if something can go wrong, it will) not every day goes smoothly.¬†Mistakes are made, some are averted and others are corrected.

Each comes with a learning curve and the joy of knowing that a pro-active approach is a much better alternative.

Some of the issues that can and must be dealt with are clogged drains, equipment and human malfunctions, dropped clamps in the tank, delays with the milk hauler and the students, misplaced items, and the heat aggravates those on two and four legs.

Somehow, someway, as we all maneuver through the fair, these kids learn much more about practical problem solving and how to manage a business than they ever imagined. They discover that an education can and does take place beyond the walls of a campus classroom and that personal satisfaction is a grade they can relate to.

Often, they are given the test in the parlor before they even learn the lesson and it is fulfilling to provide positive direction as it all unfolds.

Later, as they go onto judge and give reasons, I am absolutely convinced that the state fair parlor provides them with transferable skills they can use in the pressure and stress of a contest.

Parlor management builds humility and team experiences that can lead to “coachable” students.

Investing in a future

In summing up the parlor experience, I can think of no other activity at the state fair or even within the OSU Animal Science Department here or at other ag universities that comes close to what these kids set out to accomplish.

They are not just living off of your generous donations and endowments or university funds, but are investing in their future by playing an active role in earning and learning for their trips and judging experiences.

As an industry, pat yourselves on the back for being involved and acknowledge that you are teachers by your example and the direct connections you can have with this group.

From Dr. Spike creating this opportunity years ago, the tradition and challenge remain the same. This parlor has collected more than milk, it has harvested potential.

So to the unsung heroes of the milking parlor crews, past and present, let me sing your praises in my best “Adele” voice and state in the lyrics that I am mighty proud of you and the promise of your future involvement with this industry. Go Bucks!


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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.



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