How Now Pretty Cow: The tale of a Pretty Cow Judge


She was smartly dressed as she stared at me with her big brown eyes. I blushed a little, trying to stay out of her way. The kid who was with her was cute, too. I smiled at them as they passed. I could feel a few drops of nervous perspiration on my forehead.

She was pretty. Very pretty.

Who was I to judge? Well, actually, I was a judge. She was a cow and was part of the Pretty Cow Contest at the Mississippi State Fair. I put down my scores on the sheet as the next contestant moooved my way.

The Mississippi State Extension Service puts on the annual Pretty Cow contest to promote the dairy industry — so all the cows’ costumes have a milk theme. I looked at the kid and grinned. She smiled back nervously as she kept her pretty cow calm.

“Good Cow.”

The bovine beauty parade continued.

The next cow wore a sign with the slogan, “Make Milk Great Again.” The young man leading her looked like Donald Trump might have 65 years ago. Orange hair. Red tie. Suit. Once again, I wrote down my scores (I think that cow got fourth — although the Russians said it really won). Another cow came up to me without a costume (a naked cow!). She was being led by the cutest little kid in a Holstein cow outfit. Or maybe it was a dog costume. I don’t know. All I know is he was so sweet my teeth nearly rotted. He got an Honorable Mention. Then there was a cow with a baseball hat. One in fairy wings. One as a soda fountain.

There was nothing cheesy about these cows.

People often ask me, “what experience do you have judging bovine beauty?” I usually make a bad joke or deflect — but truthfully, not much (I’m a child of the suburbs who once milked Rosebud the cow on a field trip). Most of my cow judging acumen is from years of on-the-job-training. But as trivial as the job may seem, it’s one I take seriously. Being a Pretty Cow Contest judge is at the top of my resume above being a two-time Pulitzer Finalist. It’s a major perk for a minor celebrity.

Up next: Two astronauts with boxes on their heads led out a cow with a space shuttle on her back. She shot me a look. It didn’t take a cow whisperer to know she was annoyed. The weather was hot and her patience meter had obviously run out. She bucked a little but the kids tugged on her lead and quickly got her under control. The other judges and I wrote our scores down as she toured the ring.
Then all heifer broke loose.

The space shuttle cow had had enough. She bucked out of her costume and kicked backwards. The kids remained calm and wisely released her lead (as opposed to being drug to Gluckstadt). She sped around the ring, JUMPED the gate and ran out of the arena into the pens area. “Holy Cow!” I thought as I scrambled to get out of the way. Thankfully no one got hurt. It was the first issue I’ve seen in over a decade and a half of cow judging. I am not convinced a cow can jump over the moon.

I quipped, “Houston, we have a problem.”
(I milked it for all it was worth.)

A few minutes later, space shuttle cow had calmed down (no mad-cow jokes here, cattle folks take that sort of thing seriously.) The kids and their mom led her back into the ring so she could receive her well-deserved first-place prize. Later, the mom said that she was normally a calm cow but that she was starting to go in heat. I nodded politely. It was more than I needed to know.

The other judges and I handed out the ribbons. (I can feel the looks of the kids and the cows burning through me. Did I make a good decision?) As much as I hate the fact that anyone had to lose, I was proud of them for having the courage to walk out into the ring and compete. It’s their big moment and mine, too.

We live in a homogeneous word where everything looks the same on our screens. Maybe that’s why I like the Pretty Cow Contest so much. It’s kids, their parents and their cows. It’s sawdust and cow patties. It’s winning and losing. It’s real life.

It’s udderly Mississippi.

About Marshall Ramsey