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Dairy shows provide a second home, extended family

Michael Dean for Progressive Dairy Published on 15 September 2021

It was Friday, August 11, 1989. My 13-year-old self, dressed in jeans and a tight-fitting yellow polo shirt, sat restlessly on the bleachers of the livestock arena during our county Farm Show awards ceremony. I didn’t want to attend. Truth be told, I argued with my mother about going altogether (and about wearing that yellow shirt); after all, I had not received any awards that year anyway. No new halters or trophies for me – just an opportunity to watch everyone else who fared better than me win their prizes.

Finally, the moment arrived for the last presentation: the highly coveted Eagle Bowl. This award, sponsored by the local newspaper, is given to a family based on variety and quality of entered exhibits, as well as volunteerism at the Farm Show and good sportsmanship. I always wanted to win it, and every previous year my heart would beat anxiously waiting to hear the winning family announced.



Curious as to who the winner would be, and yet trying to focus on the giant ice cream sundae that was to follow the awards (ice cream is usually the best part of any night), I waited, ready to clap for the family that would be the recipients of this prestigious award.

The announcer began describing the winners without using their names, and those folks sounded a lot like my family. Shock struck when they called us forward to receive the award. As the crowd clapped and cheered, I was overcome by the realization that I may not have won Grand Champion, but I still won. No, I didn’t win – my family won the honor. All of us.

Now these many years later, the Farm Show grounds and the numerous people there continue to pull on my heartstrings each summer, calling me home. This place of community, agricultural exhibition and natural beauty is beyond doubt a home away from home. Every August for as long as I remember, I have spent the week immersed in my second home attached to not only my biological family but my Farm Show family as well.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” so the old adage goes. Other dairy exhibitors are that village during Farm Show week. “Stay in the barns” is a commonly heard phrase at our show. The three dairy barns are connected, and most children are allowed to wander throughout the barns to visit with friends. We play cards, tell jokes and scheme a prank or two on each other. It’s always more fun to fork manure for someone else than it is to remove it from behind our own animals. Need a hand unloading the hay and feed from your truck? Someone is always available. We look after each other and each other’s families. Forgot your show harness back in the barn? Here, take mine. Are you hungry? Here, I bought doughnuts; help yourself.

The Farm Show is a small convention full of wisdom and life. We share our ideas and tactics, learning and growing from each other not only as children but as adults wishing to try something new and to improve our own systems at home. Only other dairy farmers understand the struggle of day-to-day life in their shining triumphs and unfortunate disappointments. Other exhibitors become our support system offering advice and encouragement in the roller-coaster ride that is the dairy industry. After the craziness that is show week, we go back to our farms, except our friends aren’t physically there to talk to and share a laugh.


During an awards presentation at the All-American Dairy Show, one of the recipients commented that the loneliest feeling in the world was walking through the barns after the exhibitors had all returned to their farms. Having walked through the empty barns at my local Farm Show grounds after the show, I can confirm this fact. The sound of laughter, the humming of fans and the mooing of cows are like ghosts frozen in a moment of time. They are echoes of what was, the mountaintop experience we look forward to all year, gone with the slam of the livestock trailer door.

As a member of our show’s awards committee, I now have the honor of helping to select the Eagle Bowl family each year. And as I sit at that ceremony, like I did years ago, a lump forms in my throat and chills run up my spine as the winner is announced. It doesn’t have to be my biological family to move my emotions; they are members of my show family. And, maybe my shirt is even a little tighter than it used to be, but it doesn’t really matter. After all, I’m just with my family, hanging out at home.  end mark

Michael Dean is a dairy farmer in Chicora, Pennsylvania. He and his family operate Ro-Ann Haven Farm LP, milking 50 Jersey and Brown Swiss cattle. He is a member of the Butler Farm Show Association, serving on the awards and dairy committees. Additionally, Michael has served for 20 years as a dairy show announcer at local and regional shows, as well as the All-American Dairy Show. Beyond the farm, he is the director of music for Mount Chestnut Presbyterian Church in Butler, Pennsylvania.