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Dairywoman's favorite cow becomes her bridesmaid

Callie Curley Published on 22 July 2015

Bride and favorite cow

A wedding is a day to be remembered and cherished forever by a couple, surrounded by friends and family. It is one of the most important and happy days in a person’s life. For Caroline Conley of Sayland Dairy in Jonesboro, Tennessee, this day could never have been complete without a special lady in attendance.

That’s why 8-year-old Holstein Sayland Annabelle Roxie was included as an honorary bridesmaid in Caroline’s June 20 wedding to Ethan Buckingham – making the day all the more memorable for the newlyweds and the guests in attendance.

Ethan and Caroline met in middle school at Boones Creek Christian Church and became close friends while attending Daniel Boone High School together. According to Caroline, their recent wedding is a result of many years of them playing hard-to-get – and then of a relationship built upon a foundation of strong friendship and many years of knowing and being there for one another as the very best of friends.

“Our junior year of high school, I asked Ethan to dance at our prom, but he turned me down,” she recalls. “After that I decided that I was going to make him feel sorry for telling me no – not very nice, I know! He even asked me to senior prom as his date, and I turned him down. Five years later in June 2012, we officially started dating. Instantly, we knew it was something that would never fall apart.”

The couple married on June 20 after a nearly 14-month engagement – an engagement that took place five years to the day of the senior prom Caroline turned Ethan down to.

Growing up in agriculture, many might say that a wedding day, though important and memorable, isn’t the first time you commit yourself to another individual for better or worse. Long summers of leading, washing and fitting dairy animals for shows is, in some ways, quite like a marriage itself.

Long before husbands come along and wedding bells ring, farm girls and their dairy show calves share secrets, smiles and frustrations as they learn and grow together throughout the show season and beyond. Together, they suffer losses, enjoy triumphs, work through challenges and, along the way, create a bond that truly is lifelong. To this, Caroline and Roxie are no exception.

“I showed Roxie when she was an intermediate calf and yearling,” she says. “When I was working with her before the shows, I would just sit in her pen and talk to her for hours. At her very first county show, all of us girls piled on her and took a four-hour nap – and she never moved. I knew from then forward that Roxie would be my baby.”

Caroline grew up on her family’s dairy farm. Today, 160 Holstein cows call Sayland Dairy home, and the milk they produce is shipped to Ingles Grocery Stores for their Laura Lynn milk.

While Caroline and Ethan do not work on the farm full time, they do stay involved on the farm by helping with paperwork and keeping the office organized, along with preparing the cows for the shows.

In addition to these important tasks, Caroline recently received her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee and is currently teaching kindergarten at Ridgeview Elementary in Washington County, Tennessee. Ethan works as a project manager for Buckingham Development and is a life and health insurance agent for Woodbury Financials. Caroline hopes that one day they will return to Sayland Dairy to live and work.

Caroline and Ethan Buckingham

Caroline, who has a self-proclaimed “cow obsession,” says it came as no surprise to her family that she wanted Roxie to be involved in the wedding – but there were some doubts.

“My family’s reaction was pretty interesting. Some people thought it was neat and others hated it,” she says. “I heard all the normal comments. What if she throws a fit and won’t walk? What if she moos throughout the whole wedding? It was hard to convince people that everything would be fine, but I just never gave up.

“In time, the family all came around, and even if they were skeptical about it, they put a smile on their faces and were excited about it for me. Afterward, many people told us it was one of the classiest, most beautiful weddings they had attended – and there was a cow in the wedding party! So, everything worked out just fine.”

Of the 11 bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen in the wedding, not all come from agricultural backgrounds – but they were positive about Roxie’s part in the wedding, nonetheless.

“They asked a lot of questions about what Roxie would be doing,” Caroline says. “The groomsmen just laughed about whatever I did because they all know me and it was no surprise to them when I said she would be in the wedding.”

Of course, including a 1,600-pound dairy cow in a wedding ceremony requires some careful planning. Although Caroline agreed with her family’s request to not have Roxie walk down the center aisle, Roxie was led to the side of the altar – which, coincidentally, was the barn at Sayland Dairy where Roxie and Caroline’s story began. Roxie also wore a flower necklace to match the bouquets of her fellow bridesmaids. The necklace was more than 8 feet long.

According to Caroline, Roxie behaved herself quite well throughout the ceremony – until snack time rolled around.

“At one point during the ceremony, my husband and I did start laughing because Roxie had gone behind the hay bales that were up for decoration and started eating,” Caroline says.

bridesmaid cow

Wedding guest and family friend Kate Keegan of Chicago, Illinois, first visited the family’s farm in 2000 after losing a bet to Caroline’s father, John, which meant she had to fulfill his challenge of traveling to Sayland Dairy and milking a cow – something she had never before dreamed of doing.

“That weekend, they introduced me to how charming southern living was,” Keegan says. “The local pastor, David, who married Caroline and Ethan, came out at 5 a.m. to take pictures of me attempting to milk a cow. They introduced me to many components of the farm, including how the automated milking machines work and how to ride a tractor. But the best part of the Conley family is illustrated to anyone who comes in contact with them, especially when they are at Sayland Dairy. I am truly the lucky one to have lost that bet way back when!”

Keegan’s experiences with the Conley family and everyone at Sayland Dairy left her unsurprised at Roxie’s role in the wedding. She had heard mention of flowers being ordered for Roxie, but didn’t know the cow would be a part of the ceremony until she came meandering down the side aisle the day of the wedding. Like most of the wedding guests that day, Roxie’s part in such a special day brought a smile to her face.

“Hearing that Caroline had been showing Roxie since she was a little girl, my heart melted just a little bit more,” Keegan says. “The wedding was a perfect blend of fun, southern charm, farm magic and most of all, love. Roxie's involvement in the weekend's festivities just further illustrated those traits.”

For brides-to-be who imagine their favorite bovine beauty at the altar beside them, Caroline has a few tips.

“My biggest suggestion would be to not let people talk you out of it,” she says. “I wouldn’t have wanted my wedding without her! It’s your day, and the people or cows you want to be there should be. Although having your cow in the wedding will take over the day, don’t forget what the day is truly about and remember that you are marrying your best friend, and that’s what it is all about.” PD

Callie Curley is a communications student at Penn State University – Berks campus.

PHOTO 1: “I wouldn’t have wanted my wedding without her,” says Caroline (Conley) Buckingham of her favorite cow, Roxie. Photo by Jessi Pansock, courtesy of Caroline Buckingham.

PHOTO 2: Caroline and Ethan Buckingham were winners of a Progressive Dairyman photo contest earlier this year. Photo provided by Caroline Buckingham.

PHOTO 3: Rather than carrying a bouquet, Roxie the bridesmaid wore a wreath of flowers around her neck. Photo by Jessi Pansock, courtesy of Caroline Buckingham.

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