Katy Leonard keeps the chain tight on her Holstein dairy cow Margarita, occasionally flapping the ear or squeezing the nostrils of the 1,100-pound animal.
The judge is looking over the black and white cow marched into the county fair show tent with other cows, and since Margarita likes to fall asleep, Katy is making sure the cow looks her best by keeping her awake. She pushes on its left shoulder to make her stand up straight.
After ribbons are awarded, the 15-year-old Fauquier girl quickly hands off the one-year-old Heifer –a young female cow that has never had calves — to friend Joshua Clemons to fetch her two-year-old Holstein Cece.
“Did you win? Did you lose?” he asked.
“I won,” she said.
Indeed, Katy already had a bunch of red and blue ribbons packed into her back pockets before she showed off her best cow, the 1,500-pound Encore Mattie, who was named “Supreme Champion” in Tuesday’s youth dairy show at the Prince William County Fair.
“When this cow walked in, it really caught my eye,” said judge Joe Stowers. “She’s what the other cows should be dreaming of at night to be.”
The cows are judged on overall appearance and health with factors such as frame, depth of chest and shape of the udder.
Katy’s Cece also won her class. Katy also won for her showing skills Monday night.
“She’s paid her dues. She didn’t get too many ribbons when she started,” said Carol McComb of Loudoun, who has been active in 4-H Club for 30 years.
Katy started showing cows when she was 5 years old. She and her sisters Sarah, 17, and Elizabeth, 12, take care of 20 cows between them.
The Leonards have been coming to the county fair for decades. The family operates a 1,800-acre farm, Al-Mara Farm, in the Midland area of Fauquier County. The 51-year-old farm has 725 cows, nearly half of them milking.
The show season has meant the girls haven’t been home much this summer. It ends in late September with the state fair, where last year Encore Mattie won second place in the youth show.
The family sleeps in a camper and gets up at 6 a.m., the girls at 7 a.m. if they can ignore their parents, Katy said, before they get to the daily tasks milking, feeding and cleaning the cows. The cows must be milked twice a day. On Tuesday, Encore Mattie was milked last at 1 a.m. so her udder was full for judging Tuesday afternoon. Katy said her mooing was to tell of her discomfort.
“A lot of people ask if it hurts [the cows] to milk them, which it doesn’t, it’s a relief,” she said.
The girls get to name the cows, picked for the fun of hearing them at shows. The theme of drink names has been going for awhile — Margarita, Bourbon, and Whiskey — the next theme could be major cities, Katy said.
The girls are financially responsible for the cows. Katy picked out and bought Encore Mattie as a calf with her mom’s help. Cows typically live six to seven years, sometimes 10 years, and when they get sick, they’re sold to slaughter.
Katy knows this.
“They’ll become McDonald’s hamburgers, basically,” she said.
But three years ago she lost one of her best cows, Joleen. Katy decided to take some of her earnings — they get around a penny a pound for a cow — to get a new favorite pet, a horse. Now she has two, Casey and Gus.
Her sister Elizabeth has chickens and sheep. It’s thought she might carry on the family farm. Sarah is a senior in high school and is undecided what do pursue, maybe agricultural lobbying. Katy wants to be a veterinarian.
As far as the fairs go, winning is not as important as hanging out and meeting new people, she said.
“We make friends everywhere we go,” she said.