Some kids look forward to a summer filled with boating, camping and family vacations but, like many farm kids, the highlight of my summer as a kid was the county fair.

Coffeen peggy
Coffeen is a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

I was certain the Green County Fair in Monroe, Wisconsin, was the best fair in the world. Each year, I would look forward to the tractor pull, rodeo and an up-and-coming country music singer in the grandstands.

We even had Kenny Chesney in his younger days, back when he still had hair and before he traded in his cowboy boots for beach sandals. Of course, we had a carnival and great food … like the Optimists Club’s ooey, gooey hand-battered, deep-fried cheese curds and the Green County Ag Chest’s homemade cream puffs, but to me the fair was about much more than that.

There were many life lessons to be learned at the county fair. How to win gratefully and lose graciously; how to balance multiple duties, like running between shifts of barn duty and the 4-H food stand; how to educate the public on where their food comes from; and how to make friends that last a lifetime.

Perhaps one of the best lessons I learned at the county fair was how to strike a deal. No, I am not referring to heckling with the carnival workers to win a stuffed animal. When I was 10 years old, I had my eyes on a different prize: a shiny trophy with a little gold cow on top.


Trophies were always awarded in the showmanship contest, so I worked my hardest to wash, clip and train my calf. When the big show day came, we made our way through the ring and were pulled second in the lineup.

I smiled from ear to ear, brimming with excitement to receive my very first trophy for being among the top three in the class. As the dairy princess handed out the awards, I watched her present a beautiful marble-based trophy to the first place exhibitor, and as she approached me, she reached out with a warm smile and said, “Congratulations, here is your halter.”

Halter? Apparently, the local farm store had donated leather show halters for all second-place showmanship winners. At this point in my life, it was perhaps the biggest disappointment I had endured, which was why I couldn’t believe my ears when the little red-headed girl standing in first place looked at the halter and said with envy, “You got the good prize.”

You see, this young lady and her family showed their registered Holsteins all over, and she had already brought home many trophies for her beautiful cattle and high-level showmanship skills. Another trophy would just sit with the others on a shelf, but a new show halter was something she could use.

At that age, I could not appreciate the practicality of a halter, and when she asked if I wanted to trade, I couldn’t pass up the offer.

So right there, in the middle of the show ring, two 10-year-old girls struck a deal. As soon as we got outside, we traded prizes. I proudly hung that trophy with a piece of baler twine above my calf in the barn, and she displayed her new halter. Neither of us could have been more pleased.

In the years that followed, the other little girl continued topping classes at the county fair and much bigger shows for the rest of her 4-H career and beyond. Today, she travels the countryside as a renowned dairy cattle photographer, and I can’t help but wonder if she still has that halter, which I am certain she put to good use.

As for me, I still have that trophy back home in the bedroom of the house where I grew up. I went on to earn plenty more trophies with little gold cows on top, but there will always be something special about that first one.

So this summer, take a break from milking cows and field work to enjoy a day with your family at the county fair, where memories are made and lessons are learned that last a lifetime. PD

peggy coffeen