Friday, October 11, 2013

Excuse me, are those Dalmatian cows?

Growing up, I always looked forward to showing my family’s dairy cows during the “fair season” that ran from late summer through mid-autumn. Blue ribbons, clipping and grooming, friendships made in the barn that turned into rivalries once inside the show ring…all happy memories. The most vivid of these memories has has nothing to do with ribbons or showmanship, though, but is of a question I was asked at the 1990 West Alabama Fair in Tuscaloosa.

The Holstein breed show had ended, and my heifers were bedded down on some straw in the barn adjacent to the show ring. The barn was open to the public, and a steady stream of "city folk" filed past my heifers and I. Wide-eyed kids my age who apparently had never seen a cow before would ask to pet my heifers, while many of their parents looked as if it was their first close encounter of the bovine kind as well. As I sat on a hay bale between two of my heifers thinking how envious those city kids must be, a tall, thin, dark-haired gentleman wearing glasses approached and asked me the one question I’ll never forget...

“Excuse me, are those Dalmatian cows?”

Now I’ll admit, as an 11 year old kid I was really annoyed by this question. After all, how could a grown man NOT know that Dalmatians are dogs and that these were Holstein heifers? For a split-second I thought of giving a smarty-pants answer like, “Yeah, they love riding on fire trucks!,” but instead simply and dryly replied that they were actually Holsteins. My father and a few other dairymen within earshot responded differently. One immediately spit out a mouthful of boiled peanuts in a fit of laughter, while the others managed to at least muffle their laughter until the man had passed by.

my sister & I with a couple of "Dalmatian cows" (1991)
Looking back, I guess that was the moment that I realized not everyone knew about agriculture. It took me a few years to grasp the significance of that fact, and as an adult I have learned not to be surprised by some of the questions I’m asked. After all, most Americans have not had much (if any) direct experience with agriculture, and fewer and fewer students receive the benefit of agri-science classes in their schools. The responsibility falls upon those of us involved with agriculture to inform the rest of the public about our industry, and it is a responsibility we all need to take seriously and embrace.

So to all of you non-farmers that might read this blog post, please don’t shy away from asking your questions. We "aggies" are are eager for the opportunity to share our knowledge with you…just please forgive us if we occasionally crack a smile or chuckle at some of your questions.

Especially if you’re asking about Dalmatian cows.


Rodney's Saga said...

When I worked at a petting zoo, I had to say, with a straight face, "No Ma'am, that's not a horse, that's a cow." Education - that's our mission.

Wild Woman said...

Found your blog through the AL bloggers link-up! Great post! Looking forward to reading more. I'm a "city girl" but definitely have a romanticized view of farm life. Was there ever a time when you wanted to move away & live in a big(ger) city? Also, Hail State!

Will Gilmer said...

Ha! That's sad and funny all at the same time.

Will Gilmer said...

WW: I thought I might chose a career that would necessitate moving away from the farm, but I switched my major to Agriculture six weeks into my first semester at MSU and was happy to come back to the farm once I graduated.