Echoes of ‘44:

A Nostalgic Look at showing cows at the Delaware County Fair


Ralph and Alice Taylor of Walton are experienced - now retired, dairy farmers. They grew up on neighboring family farms - he with Holstein cows and she with a Jersey herd.

Ralph starting showing cows in 1944 at the age of 11; he’s 90 years old now.

Things have changed a lot since then. We rely on automobiles and tractors rather than horses, man has landed on the moon, gasoline rose from 21 cents to $3.99 a gallon, and pacemakers, microwave ovens and the polio vaccine were invented - among other notable advancements in the world.

One thing that has not changed, Taylor said, is cows.

However, the Delaware County Fair has changed, and so has showing cows. Alice Taylor started showing cows in 1950, she said, and she remembers that the parking lot was located where the current livestock barns are - which was in the midfield. “Things were so much different then,” Alice said.

She recalls that there was horse racing on the track in those days - and the only bathrooms on the fairgrounds were on the other side of the track. If you were using the bathroom and a race started, and your showing class was called, you were going to miss your class.

Alice’s family farm, Sunlea, on Gosper Road, had Holstein cows; Ralph - who was the “boy next door” - had a Jersey herd.

Alice recalls one of her first years showing her snow-white calf, “Hey You.” In those days, she said, exhibitors didn’t wash their cows every day at the fair, like they do now. Instead, people used calf blankets to keep the animal’s coat clean. Calf blankets were very expensive, Alice said, so she and her mother, using a 4-H pattern, made their own, and dyed the blanket purple. There were no livestock barns in those days either, Alice said; only tents - and they leaked when it rained. Instead of showing a snow-white calf, she said, she ended up with a purple calf when the blanket dye bled onto Hey You from the rain leaking through the tent. Though the story is funny now, she said, she didn’t think it was funny then.

Ralph started showing with two calves, Annabelle and Agnes.

The two become a couple and operated their own family farm. “This is what happens when you marry the boy next door,” she said. The Taylors will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in December.

When they were younger, they were both involved in 4-H, they said. Now, the fourth generation of their family is going to show dairy cattle.

“Our great-grandchildren are showing. One is showing a Jersey cow and the other is showing an Ayrshire. They didn’t want to compete against one another,” Alice said. “It’s become a tradition.”

The couple got out of dairy farming in 2001, when they sold their milking herd. They raised heifers until 2014, when “it got to be too much,” for the older couple. They miss aspects of farming, like being able to see the stars in the sky at night when finishing night milking. “You miss the animals and the people - though we try to go to the fair and other functions to socialize,” Alice said.

The Taylors intend to be at the Jersey Parish Show Sunday, and “see how it all works out,” for the remainder of the week, Alice said.

She reflects on what motivated them to begin showing cows at the fair.

“It was fun. The competition - especially Jersey folks. They were always the best of buddies but when they got into the show ring, they were competitors!” she said with a chuckle. Showing your animals at the fair, she said, was a good advertisement for a farm. It also affected the sale price of animals. 

“It really was just for the fun of it.”

As their children grew, Alice said, they showed in “stops and starts.” Farming is a good life, she said. “It teaches the younger generation respect and responsibility.”

Alice was vague in answering the age-old question of which is the better breed - Holstein or Jersey?

“It’s whatever people prefer,” she said. These days, she said, colored breeds seem to be more popular. “They also seem to get a better price for their milk, and that helps - because farming today is a tough situation.”