PALMETTO — Some frontier shows that travel the nation’s fair circuit introduce youngsters to the milking experience with a plastic cow whose plastic udder is filled with water.
But when Vietnam veteran Michael Sandlofer started his frontier show in 1974 he was determined that he would take his “Cowtown” all over the nation with 18-wheelers hauling real animals, including dairy cows.
That’s why when Mattison Mathews, 5, who attends Palma Sola Presbyterian Pre-School, milked a cow for the first time in her life Thursday night at the Manatee County Fair she remarked of the real cow’s teat: “It felt like rubber and it was hard to get the milk out.”
Mattison’s 7-year-old brother, Lee, who is a veteran dairy man with one other milking experience at a previous Manatee County Fair, was asked if there was one word to describe milking.
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“Squishy,” Lee said.
Sandlofer, who tours out of South Carolina, was delighted to hear the gears in their youthful minds working out the whole phenomenon of milk.
“Today’s kids think milk starts at the grocery store,” Sandlofer said. “What I am trying to do with this agricultural experience here is not only teach them about how and what the cow eats to create milk, but also make them aware how important it is to keep our milk clean and disease free.”
To that end, all the children who milk a cow at Cowtown, which is on the midway next to the historic Harllee Barn, have to wash their hands. Sandlofer uses a microphone as he teaches the children, who seem to excitedly mill around him, that they must also wash the cow’s teats to keep the milk clean, which he does with soapy water.
The milking experience, which is free, is just a part of Cowtown, which will be open during fair hours through Sunday.
Cowtown had many attractions, but the milking seems to be the favorite attraction at Cowtown, which, with its displays of saddles and smithy anvils, has a frontier feel.
Palmetto’s Eli Roddy, 3, stepped up and milked Tillie, a shorthorn cow, and he was trembling when he was done.
“I think he was scared,” smiled his mother, Christina.
Hailey Wall, of St. Cloud, knew right off that milk comes from cows. And she knew that the appropriate container for fresh milk is a stainless steel bucket.
When asked afterward, both Mattison and Lee Mathews said if they had to choose between a cow and a computer they would both take a cow.
“You don’t have to pay for the milk and you don’t have to drive anywhere to get it,” Lee said.
Sounds like the Mathews’ family has a future farmer or two.
Sandlofer would be delighted.