When I was nine months old my parents entered me in a baby contest. I placed third. As more than two others were vying for the honour of top baby, I consider this a respectable result. It turns out I’m not the only member of our family with beauty show credentials, either. Our family dog may have been a thoroughly ill-disciplined scamp, but his grandfather was crowned supreme champion at England’s famed Crufts dog show back in 1978.
Farming livestock also have their own form of beauty contest by way of the agricultural show. I grew up in an extremely rural area of England surrounded by farms, tractors and lots of mud. I would go so far as to say I have attended enough livestock shows to know what to expect when farm animals are herded together, shown off and judged. But nothing prepared me for the experience of a cow show in Gstaad.
Miss World for cows
The Swiss have a reputation for excellent farming practices, small herds and extremely happy cows. We regularly see cows frolicking and high-kicking in the fields, so the farmers are clearly getting a lot right. It follows they would want to show off their beasts to their peers and the public at large. Yet to call this a ‘cow show’ feels like I am selling it short. A ‘cow pageant’ seems more appropriate. Think Miss World for cows and you’re on the right lines.
As you might expect, the cows are registered in various classes (breed, size, age and so on) and the judges award points to each animal for things like its overall frame, feet and legs, udder and teats. So far so ordinary.
What I have so far neglected to mention is that the Gstaad show featured the cleanest, most sparkling – I use the word advisedly – cows I have ever seen in my life. Cowhides, hooves, tails, ears, everything had been preened and primped to perfection – exactly as if they’d come straight from a spa treatment at a fancy hotel. Buckets of hot water and cleaning materials were on hand for any – ahem – calls of nature and we even saw gold glitter spray being applied to the rumps of several animals, exactly as if they were about to star in a music video. I kid you not.
The whole event was a huge celebration with the exhibiting farmers joined by their families, all kitted out in traditional Swiss dress. But this was more than just a jolly outing. These events are professionally run and held in extremely high regard.
An information supplement is even published in the Anzeiger von Saanen, listing all cows being presented at the numerous shows across the region from Gstaad to Saanen to Gruben to Gsteig to Feutersoey to Ebnit to Bissen and more.
If you get the opportunity to attend one of these events, I encourage you to go, even if you don’t know the least thing about cows. Being in the midst of such a quest for excellence is compelling; I guarantee you won’t regret it.
The enthusiasm and dedication of the farmers who participate in these shows is without question, though I imagine there’s a healthy dose of rivalry between the different entrants too. Much like the spark of competition which I suspect flared between the parents at the baby show all those years ago. Just without the glitter spray.