HARRISBURG — Sweat beaded on the forehead of Allyson Balmer of Manheim as she slowly paraded her red and white Holstein heifer Sacha around the dirt floor in the Pennsylvania Farm Show’s Equine Arena Friday morning.
“Showing is a workout,” the 19-year-old Balmer said.
Sacha, who had been pretty much tethered in a straw pen in an unheated hall of the cavernous Farm Show complex for three days, was a tad rambunctious.
She’d rather be back on her pasture outside of Manheim, where she was free to run, not tethered in a thick bed of hay, gawked at by the public, as she had for three days.
But the judge wasn’t grading Sacha’s demeanor. He was looking to see if the year-old heifer stood square on her feet and had nicely angled rib bones.
As Balmer circled slowly, clutching her cow’s halter firmly for control and reassurance, the judge sized up rear and side profiles and how stoutly the cow carried her weight.
The 19-year-old Balmer, who has been showing dairy cows since she was 8 years old, bought Sacha at a Franklin County 4-H calf sale in April with money saved from working odd jobs on farms. The cow’s breeder full name is Peckmans Java Sacha Red.
In the ring, like all the other handlers, the 2014 graduate of Manheim Central High School wore a white button-down shirt and white jeans.
“You don’t want to dress flashy and distract the judge,” Balmer said afterward. A button down shirt collar added a touch of professionalism.
Balmer was glad that judging day had arrived. Not that she hadn’t enjoyed every minute of the three previous days.
She loves it all — reconnecting with friends from all over Pennsylvania on the show circuit, designating someone to make a nighttime munchie run to McDonald’s, checking out the competition — even sleeping on a cot in the cold next to Sacha.
For hours on end, over and over she invited hesitant kids and their parents to touch the cow, to see that it is soft and cuddly, not just something big and scary.
Education, she says, is important and a duty for those who raise livestock.
Balmer grew up on a dairy farm in Lebanon County but in 2009 her parents sold the farm and instead leased land for crop farming in Lancaster County.
So she rents part of a barn and pasture near Manheim to pen Sacha and work with her.
Taking care of and training a cow is time consuming. But Balmer makes time between being a college student and her job as a Penn State Extension intern crop technician.
“Each cow has its own personality,” she said. “One was so affectionate she would see me and give me hugs by wrapping her head around me.”
In the end, Balmer and Sacha won a fourth-place ribbon out of eight competing red and white Holsteins.
That’s about what Balmer had expected. She already knows her animal’s flaws: hip bones are overly angled, causing her hip to dip slightly. And the heifer is a little overweight as she is presumably in the early stages of pregnancy.
For her first calf, Balmer chose a bull with genes that will hopefully counteract some of those blemishes and result in an even better cow, structurally anyway.
But, winning ribbons isn’t what it’s all about, anyway.
“Ideally, you want first place — that’s the goal,” she said. “But for me it’s not really about first place. I love showing cows. Being able to experience it with my friends and family is more important to me than the ribbon, in the end.”
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