Representatives from four colleges wrestled cows to a standstill on Tuesday as part of St. Paul Rodeo’s annual wild cow milking contest.
The traditional rodeo contest entertained a crowd gathered to watch the evening’s professional bull riding events. The audience – a few hundred strong – broke into cheers and applause as cowboys herded ten black cows into the area.
Most knew what to expect: a roper on horseback would lasso a cow from the galloping herd, allowing the contestants to dash forward and drag the irritable animal to a halt long enough to coax a trickle of milk into a bottle. All teams participate simultaneously in the timed scramble, and the first to finish wins.
When announcer Justin McKee rattled off the competing schools in his Oklahoma twang, fans of Chemeketa Community College, Oregon State University, University of Oregon and Linn-Benton Community College whistled and hollered their approval.
Cameras flashed from the grandstands as the teams strode into the arena, outfitted in mandated western shirts and jeans. Stadium lights illuminated the action now that the golden evening light had darkened to cool blue.
The second the contest started, ropers kicked their mounts into a trot, lassos whirling as they tried to snare a cow.
Not used to being handled or milked, the cows stomped and butted contestants as they tried to secure the animals by wrapping arms about their necks and dragging them to the ground.
In moments the timer sounded and the chaos was over.
Two Chemeketa graduates, Emily Kirk and Nathan Young, won first place. University of Oregon and Linn-Benton came in second and third, respectively. Oregon State didn’t qualify for placement.
With no strategy and no practice, Kirk and Young were surprised by their success.
“We literally just went into the arena and did it,” Kirk said. Their roper, Phil, gave them a few pointers, but the rest was experience with livestock and instinct.
Both hail from Skyline Ranch in Salem and, on a whim, had signed up for the cow milking contest three weeks earlier.
“She just said, ‘Hey, let’s do this!’” Young said.
Ranch work is all both of them know, and all they expect to ever do. They attend St. Paul Rodeo every year but participated for the first time this year. They come to watch the demonstrations of skill and soak in the energy of the crowd.
But being out in the arena, Kirk said, was totally different.
“It was awesome,” she said, with a swift elated grin. “Epic.”