Purchase photos

A tradition of milking

9/11/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

HUTCHINSON -- It's not your typical mother-daughter trip out of town to go shopping for a prom dress.

But Stephanie and Mesa Eckroat said they wouldn't trade their time together this week for anything.

Mother and daughter were going to use some of their precious free time Tuesday to go looking for a dress for next spring's prom for Mesa, a senior at Hays High School who likes to get started early on such things.

"I want to get it over with so I don't have to think about it all year," Mesa said of the prom dress excursion.

Most of their time at the 2012 Kansas State Fair the past few days has been spent keeping things in order at the milking parlor at the fairgrounds.

Stephanie is manager of the university farm at Fort Hays State University, which is in a partnership with the state fair and the Kansas Dairy Association in taking care of milking demonstrations at the fair.

She's in her 16th year of heading up the project, and her oldest daughter has been with her every step of the way.

"She was 11รขÑ2 the first year I came," Stephanie said.

"I can't remember coming to the fair and not being here at the dairy barn," Mesa said.

The Eckroats arrive at the fair each morning between 6:30 and 7 to begin their day that includes milking the four cows from the Fort Hays herd twice, including five public demonstrations each day, every hour on the hour beginning at 10 a.m.

When they have a free moment -- and there aren't many -- they enjoy their time hanging out together.

"We go look around the fair," Mesa said.

"And sometimes take a nap," she added while tapping a lawn chair sitting in a stall next to two young calves they take along to the fair for petting.

"Naps are good," Stephanie agreed. "Naps are real good."

It's understandable why the Eckroats might need a power nap a couple of times during the day.

Upon reaching the fairgrounds in the morning, they clean and sanitize the barn, clean the stalls and feed and wash the cows.

At approximately 9:50 each morning, two women in white coveralls emerge from the dairy barn and make the short trip to the milking parlor next door.

While Mesa takes care of the milking portion of the demonstration, Stephanie is on the microphone outdoors, explaining the milking process to the crowds, which normally fill the stands outside the see-through glass of the parlor. They also hand out educational material about the milking and the benefits of milk in a daily diet.

Stephanie talks about the different breeds of dairy cattle (there are six), at what age heifers are milked for the first time (2) and how much milk a cow produces each and every day (from 8 to 10 gallons).

After the last milking demonstration of the day, the Eckroats have a little time to do laundry and grocery shop until approximately 5.

Following the evening milking, the feeding and cleaning process is much the same as in the morning. If they're lucky, the Eckroats can reach their hotel by 9 p.m. But some night's it's 10:30 before they get a chance to clean up and hit the sack for a few hours before starting the process all over again early the next morning.

It's a trip to the fair like no other. But it's become second nature to the Eckroats.

"It would seem really weird coming and not doing this," said Mesa, who is in her third year of taking a shift a couple days during the week, in addition to helping out on both weekends of the 10-day fair.

"I can't imagine not coming to the fair and not milking," her mom added. "When that day comes, I might not be able to come to the dairy barn."

It doesn't appear they have to think about that day any time soon.

Mesa plans to major in accounting and minor in ag business at Fort Hays next year. And, of course, she will work the fair alongside her mother.

"All these people I've gotten to know," Mesa said. "They're like family."